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In Focus: Recruiting and Developing a Volunteer Team

by Michelle Anthony

“Coming together is a beginning, staying together is progress, and working together is success.”

–Henry Ford

The concept of developing others is critical if we want our ministry to last beyond the years that we are physically in leadership roles. Consider the great leaders of our time … what are their names? Why do you consider them as great leaders? Now think of a leader that lived and died before you were even born, but whose leadership still had an impact on your life. If we want to leave a legacy, we must begin with that end in mind. We must begin with considering how we will be transformational leaders in today’s generation.

Transformational Legacy

John Wesley and Martin Luther are two individuals who have shaped my thoughts about ministry to children and their families. These men lived and died long before I was born, but their ministry has had significant spillover into mine. Their mentorship of others, their commitment to family ministry (before it was chic) and their writings have served to develop me and inspire me. It’s easy to get fixated on the temporal: the lack of staff or volunteers and the ongoing dilemma of recruiting and training. Often the idea of volunteer or staff development in a church is characterized by the thought, “I only wish I had a staff or volunteers to develop!”

It’s not that recruiting staff and volunteers is not a significant issue or that we don’t need them to serve in our ministries, but as leaders we must come up from the mire and have eyes to see something more eternal. Something lasting. Something that will continue to bear fruit for seasons to come. Whether God has given you one leader or hundreds, you have the opportunity to create a legacy!

Flying Solo

Sometimes it’s hard to think of a legacy when you are just trying to get through another weekend. I can remember a time in ministry when I felt all alone. In fact, I was. I had no staff, and outside of a few faithful Sunday school teachers on Sunday mornings, I had no true volunteer base. It became most glaring one autumn as I shuttled the last bit of fall festival paraphernalia to my office at 2 a.m. Alone.

It was hours since the last family had left with their children, bags of candy in tow, and grateful smiles of thanks. But there in the wee hours of the night, every part of my body in pain, and with an abundance of things that still needed to be settled, I slumped down in my chair in self-pity. Why was I the only one here? Didn’t people care about the children? The ministry? The Lord? Ok, perhaps a bit dramatic, but it was 2 a.m., and I was running on about three hours of sleep. It was then that I realized the importance of team. The importance of giving the ministry away—and not just the parts I didn’t like doing.

Delegate or Dynasty?

The right people have ownership of where they are going. In fact, they are a large part of figuring out the right path of how to get there. A leader of great people will set forth a basic goal or elevating idea and allow the staff to pool resources, gifts and creativity on what exactly it looks like and how to get there. This model takes an effective but humble leader who is willing to allow staff to share in the molding of the vision.

This model, as opposed to a more typical executive leader one, has lasting greatness because the goal is in the very DNA of every individual working on the project or goal. The more typical executive leader will appear successful and even able to create a dynastic feel during leadership, but the many worker bees that enlist to do the leader’s goal will be left visionless when the leader leaves or retires.

Great leaders, says Seth Godin in his book Tribes, give leadership away. They are not concerned with who gets the credit or that they themselves are not being given greater opportunities from those above them. They are more concerned with the mission of the tribe. They want the mission to succeed and those around them as well. Godin shares that our world is in desperate need of people who will lead them, and we cannot afford to cower in fear that we may make mistakes. We will make mistakes. So what? Let’s get on with the mission at hand, learning and leading from those very mistakes with greater clarity and confidence.

In our ministry to children and their families, we cannot afford for our influence to be great and full of returns only for the duration of our short contribution. We must choose individuals that possess enduring character qualities and giftedness to contribute wholeheartedly to the mission of the church. We must have eyes to see beyond the here and now, and beyond who gets the credit, in order to build lasting teams that, with or without our leadership, understand the mission and will be dedicated to its success.

The Art of Replication

We want to leave a legacy and build leaders who have the mission embedded in their every fiber, but let’s face it. Volunteer deficit is a huge issue in our ministries. I can think of all the tactics I used to attract volunteers over the many years of ministry to children because of this overwhelming need. Looking back, no matter how creative my methods were, they simply were never enough. I remember the feelings of discouragement every weekend when a volunteer was a no-show or we had to close a classroom due to the lack of volunteers. I desperately wanted to work with dedicated people who were serving out of a calling instead of guilt from a pleading weekend announcement.

About five years ago, I was serving as Family Ministry Director, leading a team of about ten. One week, after our “recruitment Sunday all-church announcement,” I saw my staff members’ disappointment with the amount of response cards. I could tell they were beginning to lose hope and worse, lose faith in our mission. I had an idea! What if we changed our approach? What if instead of merely trying to recruit and train more volunteers by ourselves, we chose to intentionally invest our time in the replication of others like us?

At the core, this is the idea of mentorship or discipleship. In the model of recruiting, the person on staff is central (like the axis on a wheel), and all energy and success comes from the abilities of that person. In replication, the person on staff serves as a catalyst to awaken like-minded individuals who will in turn reproduce themselves in others after a period of time. While the mathematics of recruiting is addition, the mathematics of replication is multiplication.

With this idea ignited in my mind, I offered an invitation to my staff to attend a dinner celebration at my home. Each staff member then was invited to a dinner that would take place one year from the day the invitation was made. The ticket to the celebration was “a person”—someone in whom my staff had replicated themselves. Once the invitation was made, not much was ever discussed about that dinner—but it was there on our calendars, staring at us. With a challenge ahead and a year to complete it, my team set out to accomplish the task, each with different approaches.

A year later, my team of ten had almost doubled in size (not everyone accomplished the goal, which meant not every staff member was allowed to attend the dinner—much to their dismay). We spent time eating, celebrating and storytelling, and then we ended the night with staff members affirming their volunteers for the ways they had seen dedication and growth in them over the past twelve months. It was a powerful night. We looked around and realized that we were not alone. Not only had each person replicated himself or herself in another, but some of those who had been invested in had already begun the process as well—and those others were with us too.

We called the new ones our “grandkids.” Next, we gave the commission for each of us to go find another and repeat the process. Little did we know that within just eighteen months, our senior leadership would decide to expand to a multi-campus model, staffed with volunteers rather than paid staff. While many departments found themselves desperate for leadership, God had gone before us to provide a “deep bench” of passionate individuals to lead each of our campuses.

Recruitment will always be necessary, but instead of merely filling a spot simply for the sake of getting by, we now have a small army of people who stand alongside us in awakening others.

(This article is adapted from Chapter 11:Leading a New Generation in Dreaming of More For the Next Generation)

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