Volunteer Recruitment 101
Nothing good ever gets accomplished alone: the 2019 St Louis Blues, Ms. Frizzle and the Magic School Bus kids, the ’94 Dream Team. It’s no secret that our mission and goals can be accomplished successfully with solid teamwork (and if it’s accomplished alone, it’s more difficult). In the crazy and turbulent world of youth ministry, the same principle rings true: we need a team, specifically core members, to help us lead young people to Jesus.
The only problem is: how on earth do you get anyone to sign up to do this crazy youth ministry thing?
Whether you are a newbie searching for people crazy enough like you to give up their Sunday nights, or a veteran replenishing your team, the struggle hunt for core team members is real. But, there are some tried and true volunteer recruitment principles you can use to find potential candidates.
Who should I recruit?
First things first: not everyone is called to volunteer for youth ministry. We all have different gifts to serve the Body of Christ, (see 1 Corinthians 12:12-31).
When you recruit core members, you will meet candidates with a variety of backgrounds and ages, but the only important qualifier we need to assess is, “Do I think this person can lead young people to Christ?” It can feel like we’re strapped constantly for core team members, but it’s always important to remember that we are looking for gifts beyond “living and breathing.”
So, look out for the people in your parish who seem to have a gift of working with young people.
Here are some solid traits to consider:
- People persons – good at talking with people
- Empathetic and great at listening
- Gifts of public speaking
- High energy
- Good sense of humor
- Proactive and quick thinking
Another important option to consider: former teens of the ministry can be a great fit because of their dedication to the mission: they know what you do, and they desire to give back.
When you are evaluating potential candidates, match the gifts you see with their faith, virtue, and lifestyle: are they seeking a holy life? Are they someone you see at Mass every Sunday? Can you find them in the chapel in Adoration or daily Mass? Does their own holiness inspire you?
Without having unattainable expectations, set the bar high and allow God to guide you to the people He wants to guide your teens.
This is also a good place to address a major lie of core team recruitment: do not pursue only young adults. Young adults are great; their proximity in age to teens helps them understand and relate to the teens well. But, they are not the be-all and end-all of a core team. Many people have a heart for youth ministry and can do it well. So, please don’t focus on the candidate’s age, but rather focus on their gifts: does this person have the ability to lead young people in the faith? Young adults, because of their stage in life, have a tendency to move often, and they may not be involved in the ministry for the long haul. You, my friend, are in the long game of making disciples of Christ, so consider those parishioners in their 30s and 40s. You may get them to maintain their dedication to youth ministry long after you are gone! Now that’s sustainable youth ministry.
How do I recruit?
Now that we have the “who”, let’s get to the “how”. You’ve identified a few people in your parish who you think could be a good fit to lead teens to Christ, but the question is, “How do you inspire them to want to help out?
Here are some helpful tips to get you started:
2) Have a brief two-three minute elevator pitch for youth ministry
To someone who’s never done or heard of youth ministry before (which is likely the majority of your parish), youth ministry at face value sounds about as exciting as watching reruns of Frasier. (Editor’s note: some people in youth ministry love watching reruns of Frasier, Matthew. Alright, let’s return to our regularly scheduled programming.) Always be prepared to give a prospective volunteer a quick rundown of why youth ministry matters. Take a moment to answer the checklist below, and use it as a basis to create your pitch – it will help you stay focused.
- What is the purpose of youth ministry at your parish?
- What do we do to bring teens to Christ?
- How can youth ministry transform a student’s life?
- How can youth ministry transform a volunteer’s life?
3) Keep a file of prospective core members
Yeah, yeah, it sounds creepy at first, but trust me, it works! I keep an Excel spreadsheet on my computer of people I’ve encountered in and around the parish who might be good for youth ministry. If the timing feels right or we need to make a core member push, I’ll check the list and see if God is pushing me to seek any of them out. Be sure to ask your pastor, associate pastor, other staff members, or other parishioners who would be a good fit. Even if you are not in need of core team members now, you will be in the future due to growth of your program, or when a core member leaves.
4) Avoid promotions at Mass or bulletin announcements – be intentional in your invitations
For starters, the plea from the ambo or the church’s bulletin can give off the vibe that you are just looking for somebody, anybody really, to fill the void. What’s more, the kind of people who will email you or approach you about becoming core members after Mass may not be the people who are called to be a core member. Remember: however well-meaning someone’s desire to help may be, not everyone is called to be a core member.
The best kind of recruitment is intentional. Sometimes core members will fall from the sky, but more often than not, you have to intentionally seek people out. Once you have someone in mind, invite them to coffee or lunch during their work day and offer to pay, (if it’s in your budget). Explain the ministry to them and share how their involvement could change lives.
Or get someone’s number from the parish directory and give them a call.
Or approach that potential super star after Mass and strike up a conversation.
Be bold and personal in all of your invitations.
5) Remember this ministry works well within God’s timing, so do not be afraid of the word “no”
I wish I would have known this when I first started youth ministry. Sometimes I wouldn’t reach out to prospective core members, because I didn’t want to risk putting myself out there for rejection. I was fine if a teen rejected me, but another adult? That was embarrassing.
Then a funny thing happened… Every year when I would be looking for more core members, I’d have about two or three people say yes for about every fifteen nos. And over the years, that has taught me an extremely important lesson about core team recruitment: it’s all in God’s timing, so don’t worry about it! What’s the worst that can happen in putting yourself out there? Someone could say no. And if they do? Well it’s just not meant to be, or maybe just not meant to be right now. And yes, if they say no, you have to get up and ask someone else. Keep the faith! God will provide in His timing.
My first year at ICD I asked a former FOCUS missionary, Justin, to be a core member and he politely declined. At the time, I felt kind of defeated by it. Fast forward four years later and he came back to me in prayer at a time we needed more core. So I reached out again, and to my shock he said yes!
It just goes to show: the Holy Spirit is the one at work here, not us. “He who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully,” (2 Corinthians 9:6). So, pour your heart out, and trust in God’s desires and timing, and don’t be afraid of someone telling you no!
BONUS 6) Mary Undoer of Knots
This prayer is a little bonus: whenever I have a particular difficult situation at work, especially when trying to find core members, I pray this novena, and every time it has untied that knot. One time I was desperate for a female core member, and on the very first day of the novena, I walked out of our chapel and there was a young woman standing outside with her sister. I struck up a conversation to find they had just moved here from Texas a month earlier and were looking to get involved with a youth ministry. Two for one! Thanks, Mary.
Your Mother is here to help. Ask her to help you in this mission.
And remember: pray, hope, and don’t worry. (Thanks, Padre Pio.)
Recruiting core members is hard and exhausting work, but don’t forget how worthwhile core members are to the ministry. By pursuing potential core team members, you not only get the much needed help to accomplish the goal of leading teens to Christ, you also get the opportunity to unveil to another person how transformative and life-giving it is to walk with teens towards holiness.
Jesus is King and if you do everything with, through, and in Him, He will give you the core team your parish needs!