I have never served in the military, but several men in my family have. I still remember hearing my grandfather’s story of being on a double date and hearing the news of Pearl Harbor being attacked. The next morning he enlisted in the Navy and spent much of World War II on a naval carrier in the South Pacific. On the other hand, my father was drafted into the Air Force during the Cuban Missile Crisis in the early 1960s. My mother was pregnant with me, and while he never left the town in which we lived, I know there was apprehension about the way he might be forced to serve.
There is a distinct difference between being enlisted and being drafted. To enlist is to voluntarily join a movement or cause, but to be drafted is to be selected for service without choice. It’s a dilemma for many leaders and a question I am often asked. How can you enlist servant leaders without them feeling coerced? How do you move people from sitting in the pews to serving with joy? Here are some steps you can take as you expand opportunities for people to serve in your church.
Pray for workers and plan your needs. Jesus told His disciples in Matthew 9:37-38, “The harvest is abundant, but the workers are few. Therefore, pray to the Lord of the harvest to send out workers into his harvest.”
Of course, prayer seems like an obvious step, but how are you praying? Are you praying with a plan in mind? Do you know how many people you need to accomplish the goal in front of you? If you have fifty women coming to a Bible study, how many small group leaders do you need? Do you need someone to arrange childcare? Do you need someone to coordinate fellowships? Do you need people to be greeters? Think through your needs, plan for the number of people you need, and then ask the Lord to bring the workers.
Identify potential servant leaders. I like the term servant leader better than volunteer. It’s a better description of asking women to exercise their gifts and talents for kingdom work. Depending on the size of your congregation, obtain a list of members and begin to identify people who might not be serving. You might be surprised to find many people are looking for a place to serve, but they aren’t aware of the opportunities. Use a new member class to identify potential leaders and don’t be afraid to ask busy people to help you out. I have found that busy people know how to get things accomplished.
Once you’ve identified potential leaders and you’ve prayed for them, set up a time to interview them or have a conversation about where you would like for them to serve. Tell them you have been praying for them and share the need for their involvement.
Give servant leaders a job description. People want to know what is expected from them. What are the qualifications? What are the expectations? How much time will it take? Is there a beginning date and an ending date? If someone volunteers to serve and there isn’t an ending, you might have some hesitant leaders. In addition, don’t be afraid to ask volunteers to complete a spiritual gifts assessment. Align people with responsibilities that fit into their natural giftedness. For some positions, consider a written covenant that is between you and the volunteer.
Equip the people you enlist. A soldier never goes into battle without the proper training and the proper equipment. This will take time on your part, but it will pay off in the long run. Equip others with physical resources and people resources. If you ask someone to facilitate a small group, provide training that will give him/her confidence and equip him/her with resources. If you ask someone to help provide food for an event, give him/her a budget and the names of others who can help out.
Evaluate on a consistent basis. If you have given your servant leaders a job description and you have equipped them to serve, don’t be afraid to schedule a time for evaluation. Allow them to speak into your leadership and determine whether you have given them what they need to accomplish the job. If you have a signed covenant between you and the volunteers, use the document as a basis for evaluation. These conversations don’t have to be formal but take the time to check in with them and see how they are feeling about where they are serving. Don’t be offended if someone doesn’t want to continue. You may not be aware of their specific circumstance and a no doesn’t always mean no in the future.
Celebrate the work of your servant leaders. People don’t want to feel “used.” They want to know you appreciate the way they serve and the “why” behind serving. Consider a small gift each year as a thank you for their service. Better yet, consider throwing a party for all of your servant leaders and verbally praise them for the way they invest in others. The best ministry recruiters I know are the ones who value those who serve with them. People want to be on their ministry teams because they feel celebrated.
If you’re a ministry leader, you will need to ask people to join you in kingdom work. Not everyone is called to serve in vocational ministry, but as believers, we are all called to serve the body of Christ. Put the opportunity in front of those you serve and link people to the places of service. In doing this, you’ll help grow people into deeper discipleship and entrust them with kingdom work.
For more on this topic, consider listening to the Lead On podcast featuring Dr. Jeff Lorg, president of Gateway Seminary. Episode #107 is on recruiting volunteers.
Kelly D. King is the Manager of Magazines/Devotional Publishing and Women’s Ministry Training for Lifeway Christian Resources. She is the author of Ministry to Women: The Essential Guide for Leading Women in the Local Church. You can hear Kelly at Lifeway’s You Lead events that are held in several cities around the country or listen to her co-host the Marked Podcast with Elizabeth Hyndman.