A Tough Assignment: Effectively Recruiting Volunteers

Growing up, my brother and I had GI Joe talking commander dolls. It was a high tech development in the 60s & 70s to pull back that ‘Adventure Team’ dog tag from the commander’s neck, releasing it to hear one of the 8 rotating phrases or commands. Great fun!

One of the phrases I remember most is “I’ve got a tough assignment for you.”

As a kid, I wasn’t familiar with military work, or the important work of an ‘Adventure Team’, outside of what GI Joe could teach me, what I picked up from TV or movies, or the stories told by my Vietnam Vet uncle, I might have overheard through very young ears.

None the less, I knew that if I was going to accept an important assignment, it would be tough. It would be tough, but it was worth it.

Recruiting volunteers is a tough assignment. Tough, but certainly not the toughest thing you’ll ever do. It’s tough. It takes work, but it is vital to the success of Sunday school or small group ministry. It’s worth it. For us, in relation to recruiting volunteers, as the adventure team Commander would inquire,  “This is going to be rough. Can you handle it?”

Let’s look at seven mission objectives that will help you effectively recruit volunteers.


Survey the landscape. State where you are. Even if you can find one other church member to recruit and train, you have doubled your personal leadership and influence ability.

In the absence of available or ‘qualified’ leaders you might consider scaling back the organization for a time in order to position and plan for growth.


You must communicate expectations beyond just handing someone a DVD curriculum, discussion guide, or quarterly. Let them know:

  • What you are asking them to commit to
  • What you are asking them to do
  • How you want them to do it
  • How long the commitment is to be

Also communicate expectations within that and how they will be evaluated.

Share with them what it looks like to “win” in their role. When recruiting leaders, you are often asking for the heels of some pretty driven people. Make sure you are asking them to commit to something worth committing to.


This goes hand in hand with communication. In fact it seems pretty elementary to even have to mention, but often, we are so focused on finding warm bodies to fill roles that training gets lost.

Training needs to be:

  • Relevant to the recruited role,
  • Cohesive with other training and with the mission of the church and ministry area, and
  • Consistent. It must be regular and often.

This approach to training will give you the best chance of accomplishing your mission effectively.


Encourage your leaders in those roles. Keep before them what it is you are aiming for, the reason you do the work, and, ultimately who you do it for.  The last thing we want to be a part of is a leadership role that requires and never returns validation and recognition of effort. It can be simple or more elaborate, but just find a way to encourage.


Okay so that’s not a real word, but it is true we need to be creative in seeking out new volunteers to staff our Sunday schools, small groups, and other ministries.

Some things to look at:

  • Do you have one type of volunteer?
  • Do you only have one age group of volunteer?
  • For youth and children’s ministry, do you include parents and non-parents?
  • Do you only limit leadership to a select group of leaders and not allow for others to input and influence?
  • Are you asking current leaders to help in the recruitment process?

These questions might help you evaluate the condition of your current leadership team, approach to recruitment, and effectiveness in assembling your ‘Adventure Team’. Exercise creativity in your selection of potential volunteers.


Sometimes we take this to be a negative thing. It often is interpreted as too rigid and selective, but here’s the truth. Not everyone needs to be serving or may be ready for some leadership roles. You want the right people in the right places, so screening and selection is important. Not to exclude, but to include in a way that protects the church as an organization and individuals in it (not to mention you).

Create and employ a system of selection. Establish guidelines and a filter in place that you are willing to enforce.

Background checks (criminal and national sex offender registry) and applications should be a part of your process. This is even more important in children or youth work. You may also want to include spiritual gifts surveys, personality assessments, and leadership interviews in your screening process.


Here’s the truth. You will either loosen your grip on leadership in your ministry or you and the ministry will wither. God designed His people to lead out of His gifting in their lives, within their skills and abilities. Let them. Find as many avenues of leadership for people to serve in–not just your preconceived notions of what leadership is and is to be. Let the diversity in the body make you and your ministry better, rather than some self-limiting, sad, little attempt at impact. That’s when we will reach more with the great Good news of Jesus.

So, good luck to you in your assignment of recruiting and developing volunteers. Be diligent and Godspeed. “The Adventure Team has the situation controlled. Mission accomplished. Good work!”

by Todd Sanders