As a kidmin coach and consultant I spend much of my time meeting with leaders in children’s ministry. Everywhere I go I find that leaders are frustrated, angry, hurt, baffled, tired, and giving up, because they simply can’t find volunteers to do the best ministry in the church. (Whoops, did I just let a little bias show through?)
I firmly believe and teach that recruiting volunteers has a whole lot more to do with what God wants to do in the life of the volunteer than it has to do with filling the holes in a kids’ ministry. When you approach recruiting from that angle, your entire focus shifts. You no longer recruit for holes, but you recruit for possibilities. An effective leader cares about people over the program.
Your ministry is not yours—it is God’s. He has amazing plans, not only for the program and the kids, but also for you and your volunteers. Recruit as a leader. Look for people with gifts and abilities, and don’t be afraid to speak truth into their lives. Do it with integrity and conviction, but step out and speak. Remember, you are recruiting for the person, not the program.
There was something about him, a quality that was worth noticing. Jim was a part-time farmer and a full-time tax accountant. In charge of revamping the children’s ministry, I had my eye on Jim. He was great with adults, but when he was with kids, he was amazing. Nondescript and a little nerdy, Jim had no outward “coolness” and yet kids flocked to him. He also noticed the kids who didn’t notice him—the ones who stayed away from the group, the ones who were obviously hurting or angry, the ones who could so easily get lost in the shuffle. Jim, in his shirt and tie, plopped himself down by these kids to make connections with them. Other adults watched him and followed suit.
I invited Jim to be a part of our mid-week planning team and he reluctantly agreed, saying he was quite sure he didn’t have much to offer. In our first meeting, I openly approached Jim about leading our small group leaders. He was taken aback and rendered speechless. When he got over his shock, he sputtered disbelief and assured me that he wouldn’t be any good at that.
I was recruiting Jim for his obvious gifts, yet by his response, I recognized he had not yet seen those God-given gifts in himself. I knew I was being called to speak truth into his life. I specifically pointed out his obvious gifts. I told him I believed he was a leader of both adults and children, and with conviction, I firmly stated I believed he was more than equipped to do this. The beautiful thing about the moment was that not only was the Holy Spirit obviously present but my entire team was nodding along with me and muttering “uh-huh.” As I spoke truth, it was as if Jim cracked open and for the first time began to believe there might be a place for him. It was a God-ordained moment. Jim agreed to pray about it and I’m pleased to say that today he is a gifted leader of our small group leaders. He needed help for about a week and now he meets with his team, gives them ideas, and prays with them. He is a completely different man.
I recruited Jim for Jim and not to fill a hole. I knew without a shadow of a doubt that God was going to do something in Jim as a result of him working in our kids’ ministry. That night was a defining moment in his life.
Too often, we have the wrong mindset when we recruit people to children’s ministry. There is no doubt that children’s ministry requires the largest amount of volunteer force of any ministry in the church in order to make it happen. Holes, desperation, and even panic can seem inevitable at times. However, when your focus changes and you approach recruiting from a true ministry perspective, lives can be changed.
When you approach recruiting as a leader, instead of a manager, you allow God room to change lives. Be obedient in that, and God will fill each of your holes with abundance.
Keeping in mind it’s about people over programs, a shift must happen in how you recruit. It’s a shift in focus. We cannot expect people who walk in the door of the church, sit in the service, and walk back out the door to develop a passion for children’s ministry. If God is at work in your ministry, share it! I find myself frustrated because 99 percent of the time, the people who complain to me that their congregation or leadership doesn’t seem to care about children’s ministry are not doing a thing to promote and share what God is doing in their ministry. Children’s ministry is the best place to serve in the church! Unconditional love, hilarious stories, honesty, hugs, conversions, life impact, and more … it all happens in kids’ ministry. Why wouldn’t somebody want to get involved?
Your focus is people and it is innate within people to desire to be a part of something big, something great. Create a buzz. Start sharing what’s going on in your ministry. As people see that God is at work in the world of children’s ministry, they are going to want to get involved.
In my days as a children’s pastor I was intentional about sharing with the congregation and leadership what was happening in our children’s ministry. After a 5th and 6th grade retreat I followed up with a 2-minute video and a celebration for the 11 kids who accepted Christ. After a great time at a children’s ministry conference, I personally e-mailed our elders and leaders and gave them specifics on what I had learned and I thanked them for investing in me. After a VBS with record-breaking attendance I posted stats and snippets of stories on our church Facebook page. My church and leadership were aware of what was going on in our children’s ministry and they wanted to be on board.
Mark and his wife, Faith, were drawn to our kids’ ministry because it seemed like we had so much fun. We had successfully created a buzz and they wanted to be a part of it. They weren’t very deep spiritually, but I could see potential in them; it was about them and not just the program. I asked them to join our FX (family experience) team in the role of stage manager and co-host. They were naturals. As our team met monthly Mark and Faith began to grow. The potential I had seen blossomed into gifts and abilities far beyond what I could ever have imagined. As they grew in their roles, they grew in their relationships with Jesus. Soon they were regular Sunday school teachers and Mark was one of my best summer camp counselors. We created a buzz, it attracted people, we recruited them, and they grew. It was more about what God wanted to do in them than what God wanted to do in our children’s ministry.
Recently, I received a one-page handwritten letter from an Army base in South Carolina. Twenty-year-old G had written to tell me what God was doing in his life. “It’s not camp, Miss Mel, but I’m having a great time and God has been shaking and breaking me down, lifting me up and teaching me lesson after lesson.” I cried tears of joy over receiving such a special letter.
Six years ago, I took G on as a CIT (counselor in training) for the cabin of boys we were taking to camp. It was a risk, because G was a long shot. You know the kind I mean. He didn’t wear a belt with his too big pants, he had just enough crazy in him to be scary, he wore a poncho regardless of the weather, and he danced to the beat of his own drum. Yet there was a quality about him that could not be denied. I also knew with every fiber of my being that God wanted to work in his life. I partnered him with a strong male head counselor, had a “come to Jesus” talk with him, and kept a close eye on him. God took the if-fy and the messy and made something remarkable out of G. He was a natural born leader with a heart for kids and Jesus. At camp, in a safe environment, he was given the opportunity to grow and mature. I took him back three years in a row and together we worked together to fine tune his natural leadership tendencies. Last year I was privileged to return to speak at the same camp I used to direct. After an absence of two years, I walked onto the grounds and one of the first people to greet me was G. With tears in his eyes, he hollered “Miss Mel!” and gave me a crushing bear hug. It was his turn to be a head counselor and have a messy CIT of his own. The cycle continues all because a person, not a position, was recruited and God was allowed to do the work He wanted to do.
Leaders in children’s ministry, your focus has to shift! Whether your title has the word “pastor” in it or not matters little. You are called to lead people. You are called to shepherd. You are called to be a part of life change. Do not get so caught up in thinking that life change has to happen in kids that you forget about the adults involved in your ministry. Shift your focus to people over programs, share what God is doing in your ministry, and recruit with new eyes and a new heart.