I’m fortunate enough to be part of a network of children’s ministry leaders in our area that gathers a few times each year. We use that time to catch up, encourage each other, and learn from one another. Often times, we take suggestions for what topics we’ll discuss as a group. Every time we ask for topics to discuss, there is one that always comes up the most.

It’s recruiting volunteers.

Leaders in our network consistently ask each other what they do to recruit volunteers. Rightfully so, as that is usually the biggest challenges children’s ministry leaders face. If it’s not #1, it’s in the top 3. It’s a challenge every leader can relate to because it never goes away. What we all want is that perfect resource or idea that would cause people to step up in droves to volunteer. What we miss, however, are all of the other things in our churches that are negatively affecting volunteerism. Those other things could be a barrier to everything else we do to recruit volunteers. Here are some questions I like to ask when figuring out if something else is negatively influencing volunteering in our church.

Are our mission and vision clear and compelling? A clear mission and compelling vision will motivate people toward action or help them see how they don’t fit. A lack of clarity breeds confusion, which leads to inactivity. Personally, I like the focus here to be on the mission and vision of our church, not just the children’s ministry. A good mission and vision will help people see they are the church and the church should be focused on reaching people who are not a part of any church. That mindset is key to helping them see the importance of serving.

Do we have a clear discipleship strategy that includes helping people serve? If there is a clear path people are encouraged to take as they get involved in our church, then serving can be an intentional step in that journey. Think of that path as the steps someone should take to go from not attending your church to fully involved. The more you can clarify that plan and use it the more people will follow it. People like to know what the plan is and where they fit in the plan. With serving being a step in the journey, people will be more likely to jump in and contribute. It’s also important to talk about serving as a critical part of discipleship, not just something they should do to help the church.

How many volunteers would it take to fill every role on every team? This would take some work to figure out, but it’s worth it. Take the time to figure out how many roles you have in your children’s ministry and how many you need to fill. If you really want to get the most out of this exercise, do it for every ministry in the church. What you may find is that you’re doing so much as a church you could never possibly fill all your volunteer roles. For instance, if the total number of volunteer roles exceeds 60% of your average attendance in services, you’re probably doing too much. Few churches see 60% of their average adult attendance serving.

Are our children’s ministry staff doers or leaders? A measure of both will always be needed, but staff who lean toward doing everything themselves will be a barrier to volunteering. A good exercise would be to log all your hours for a month and figure out what percentage would be considered leading and what would be considered doing. It’s a painful realization, but sometimes our recruitment challenges exist because we’re doing too much during the week and on the weekend and we have no time to meet new people and invite them to serve.

Are we competing with volunteer opportunities by offering something else at the same time? One example might be having adult classes at the same time as the primary environments for children and students. In that case, we’re asking adults who serve with children and students to miss out on something else we believe is important for them. It’s a direct competition for their time and somebody always loses. Another example might be having a calendar that’s simply too full to the point where nothing can be appropriately staffed with volunteers.

Are we talking to potential volunteers about specific opportunities? If we don’t share the opportunities, people won’t know to step up. As we talk about opportunities, we shouldn’t talk too much about need, otherwise they may run for the hills. Another mistake is to depend too much on announcements from stage, but many people need to be asked in person as they won’t respond to the open call in that setting. Where are the consistent places where we can present opportunities to people?

Do we really encourage students to serve? As someone who grew up in church as a student, I can say that serving grew my faith more than anything else. Students need to serve and churches need them to serve. My goal is to have a higher percentage of our students serving than adults. We’re not there yet, but we’re getting close. I don’t know what we would do without our awesome student volunteers. We’re reminded of that every fall and winter when they go away for retreat weekends and our children’s team has to fill their spots.

What do our environments look like? The reality is that many people will not serve if their first impression of the environment is a bad one. Their mind may already be made up before we even ask. It’s a challenge for sure, as more volunteers would allow you to spend more time on improving your environments.

Volunteering is influenced by far more than we realize sometimes. There is no magic bullet or quick fix. Creating a great volunteer culture involves every aspect of the church. What questions would you add to the list?