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How to Recruit Volunteers

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I would be willing to volunteer. In fact, I would be happy to volunteer—maybe even honored—but I haven’t volunteered. And, there might be a lesson here about how to recruit volunteers.

I started hiking a couple of years back. I hike mostly on National Park Service land—specifically the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument. I didn’t realize until I started hiking that much of the work of maintaining the Park Service land is done by volunteers. When I became aware of this I thought, “I should volunteer.” But, I haven’t.

“You likely have people sitting in your worship service every week who feel the same way. They would be willing to volunteer. They might even be honored to play a part in what you are doing. But they have not volunteered. Perhaps for some of the same reason I have not volunteered.”

Recruit Personally

I have gotten to know a few of the volunteers at the Monument. I run into them from time to time as I hike and they go about their work. We often chit-chat about the weather and how these magnificent mountains got here. I often ask if anyone has seen an Oryx recently. Usually the answer is, “no.”

They imported African Oryx onto the Monument 50 or so years ago to give the locals something to hunt for. Always a thrill to spot one. I shot this picture a year or so ago. (Full disclosure: the picture has had some help from Photoshop’s sky replacement tool.)

I’d likely have already volunteered if one of those guys were to say to me, “Josh, have you ever thought about volunteering? We could really use you. You would be a great asset to the team.”

Direct. Personal. Eyeball to eyeball. We need you to help. There is a lot of work to be done. We know you love these mountains. Would you help us maintain their beauty? I am in.

You may have people in your worship service this Sunday who feel the same way. There is nothing like a personal invitation.

I’d be more likely to receive this invitation if it came from someone I know. The stronger the relationship, the more likely the positive response. The more interest they showed in me, the more interested I’d be in helping them.

The opposite is also true. Impersonal recruiting rarely works. Appeals from the pulpit almost never work. Asks in the bulletin never work. Eyeball to eyeball over the bridge of a personal relationship works.

Custom-fit the ask

There are certain things I’d be open to doing, while other things, not so much.

My interest in hiking is mostly about exercise. If they asked me to man a desk for several hours a week, I wouldn’t be the least bit interested. If they ask me to hike the trails and answer questions, I am in.

The ask would have to be something I am interested in. It would also have to be something I would think I could do. If they asked me to give talks about the million-year history of these mountains, I wouldn’t feel qualified. Some of these volunteers actually have degrees in earth science. They have forgotten more than I will ever know about volcanos and plate tectonics. I wouldn’t feel qualified to do that kind of work.

But, if they had a job that involved walking and I felt I was qualified, I am in.

You may have people sitting in your auditorium this Sunday who feel the same way. They would be happy to help. But they need to be asked by someone personally. And, they need to be asked to do something that matches their gifting and available time. 

Saddleback has made a great contribution with their emphasis on S.H.A.P.E.  The big idea is that it is not just about spiritual gifts. We need to recruit people according to their S.H.A.P.E:

S—Spiritual gifts. What are you gifted to do?

H—Heart. What are your passions?

A—Abilities. What do you naturally do better than others?

P—Personality. How has God wired you to navigate life?

E—Experiences. Where have you been and what have you learned?[1]

One more thing might make me sign up.

Make it easy

If they were to get a big 2’ X 3’ sign that read, “Volunteers needed; sign up here. Today.” I might already be signed up.

I have actually asked about volunteering. The process confused me. Go down to the down-town office, ask for Gloria. Fill out a form. Get a background check…

Why not put a big yellow button on their website that says, “Volunteers needed. Click here.”

Is it easy for your people to sign up? Is it obvious? Is it clear?

This could be overdone. You could come across as needy—and not in a good way.

I have heard churches make such strong and persistent pleas for people to help with children that I think it hurt their cause. Imagine I am a parent of young children. You make a desperate appeal for how needy you are to have workers with your preschoolers. I have just dropped off my precious preschooler in your preschool area. Now you are ranting about how desperately you need workers. I am not going to feel so good about the care my preschooler is receiving.

One more thing…

Jesus taught that the bottleneck will always be workers. The harvest is plentiful, the workers are few. Every church needs more workers. And He had a solution: pray. Pray the Lord of the harvest to send out workers. The situation is desperate; calls for prayer.

Josh Hunt
Good Questions Have Groups Talking


[1] Steve Gladen and John Ortberg, Leading Small Groups with Purpose: Everything You Need to Lead a Healthy Group (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2012).

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