10 Strategies for Recruiting Church Workers

I hear it all the time: “Dr. Lawless, we just don’t have enough laborers in our church. Those who are serving are overworked, and too many people do nothing.” Perhaps these ideas will help you if your church faces this issue.

  1. Prioritize a strategy to pray for leaders. Jesus taught us to pray for laborers to enter the harvest fields (Matt. 9:37-38) – most assuredly praying for those compelled to go to the world, but hardly limited to those workers. Enlist a team to pray continually prior to recruiting, while recruiting, and even after recruiting seems to have met your current needs. Your church will have more laborers if you intentionally and strategically pray for more.
  2. Teach 1 Corinthians 12 – and unpack the text thoroughly. Drill down into the fundamental truths of this chapter. No believer should be able to read this text and remain unwilling to serve through the church.

    • God gives spiritual gifts to all of His people.
    • He puts the church together according to His plan.
    • Every believer has a role, including the seemingly weaker ones. Nobody is placed in the Body to sit.
    • A congregation is so interdependent that we rejoice and suffer with one another.
    • In our diversity as a church, we are miraculously united.
  3. Do a ruthless evaluation of your current methodology. Do the same people serve in multiple positions? Do new members know how to get involved? What percentage of members are not involved? Are members serving in the wrong places? Are ineffective leaders permitted to remain in their position? Does the current process reflect a 1 Corinthians 12 understanding of member responsibility? Be honest – if the current process is not working, something must change.
  4. Use “disciple” rather than “volunteer” language. Sure, church members are volunteers in the sense that they do not get paid for their service. We are not called to be volunteers in God’s kingdom, though; we are expected be obedient disciples of Jesus. We sign up to die when we follow Christ. That’s much different than being a volunteer.
  5. Assume people rather than positions are the starting point. Many churches start the recruitment process by seeking to fill current positions rather than considering the people God has brought them. This approach, in my opinion, de-emphasizes 1 Corinthians 12, neglects the possibility that God may intend new ministries to begin, and often results in “warm bodies” in the wrong positions.
  6. Require a membership class, and explain involvement expectations there. Many church members remain uninvolved because (a) they have not understood they must be involved; (b) they assume they’re not needed because others are serving; (c) they don’t know how to get involved. Address all of these concerns before a new member has a chance to develop a habit of complacency.
  7. Use a process like Rick Warren’s SHAPE or Wayne Cordeiro’s DESIGN to help members consider where they might serve. Tools like these move beyond spiritual gift inventories to help church members evaluate their life experiences, desires, skills, passions, and spiritual growth. This holistic approach helps members better understand all God has done to prepare them to serve.
  8. Recruit face-to-face. Bulletin notices, pulpit announcements, and email requests are helpful recruiting tools, but they are not enough. Recruit the way Jesus did: face-to-face, eyeball-to-eyeball, voice-to-voice. Use the most passionate, properly placed leaders to recruit others. Ministry leaders who believe in their work + members who understand their SHAPE or DESIGN equal a winning recruitment strategy.
  9. Provide training for workers – and let the church know you do. Too many church members have agreed to serve, but have then been left to fend for themselves. Even the most willing servants grow weary when they remain ill equipped and unsupported. Train them – and make the training publicly known so potential workers know they won’t be alone if they serve. Indeed, invite potential workers to attend the training.
  10. Honor obedience. Disciples of Jesus serve willingly, but “Well done, good and faithful servant” goes a long way in encouraging workers. Send personal notes. Make a phone call simply to ask, “How’s the ministry going?” Recognize workers publicly. Sponsor a banquet to say “thank you.” Appreciated workers can be great recruiters for the next crop of workers.

What strategies would you add to this list?

21 Comments

  • Mark says:

    Please don’t select based on gender, marital status, parental status, political persuasion, or any other “litmus test” commonly used to determine a person’s worth.

    Put an end date on some of the tasks so that no one gets burned out nor is allowed to control a ministry.

    Do be scared of using two co-leaders.

  • Liz says:

    Is it OK to cancel a big outreach event when there aren’t enough workers? We had an event last year and had 200 people come through our doors. The pastors and staff were so busy working that we didn’t get to mingle in the crowd and talk to each person about Christ. We served them free food, but we must tell them about the free gift of salvation as well. Many were unchurched. We have mentioned to the church of the lack of workers for this year and how we need their help and it seems to not register. But, if we were to cancel, there would be whaling and knashing of teeth. 🙂 thoughts?

    • Chuck Lawless says:

      I don’t know that I would cancel the event, Liz, but I would evaluate whether the current method for recruiting workers is the best method. My guess is that you need more face-to-face, one-to-one recruiting. Thanks.

  • Hal says:

    Item #8. Recruit face-to-face is especially critical for certain positions within the church.
    There are some positions of service within the church that leaders should avoid making blanket pleas from the pulpit or church publications to fill. In fact, I would even go as far as saying that most areas of service should be recruited for face-to-face.
    Blanket pleas to fill positions can be a little scary for those that are doing the recruiting in that much of the recruiters time can then be consumed by explaining to people why they were not selected to fill the position. This can result in hurt feelings, even to the point where people or families have left the church because so-in-so did not get the job.
    And very importantly….make sure those that are wishing to serve are first of all members of the church and in good standing.
    It’s amazing that sometimes a church is so desperate to fill a position with a warm body that it is later discovered that Jane who has been teaching a children’s Sunday School class for quite some time is not even a member of the church and no one knows for sure if she is even a believer. This can be very embarrassing for Jane and the church leadership to have to address after the fact.
    I know of a church that put out a blanket plea for greeters for the front doors of the church for Sunday morning worship. A very important position of service for these are the very first faces people see when arriving at church on Sunday morning. In the eyes of many, these faces are representative of the church. The recruiting process in this church was so loosy-goosey that it was later discovered that the young male and female couple that were awarded the position were in fact living together out of wedlock, she was pregnant, and only one was even a member of the church.
    Some of the elderly saints that know of this couple and their life-styles just about dropped their false teeth when they were greeted by these folks.

    • Chuck Lawless says:

      I agree, Hal, that face-to-face is the best recruiting. Thanks.

    • Mark says:

      “…the young male and female couple that were awarded the position were in fact living together out of wedlock, she was pregnant, and only one was even a member of the church.”

      But they came to church. Perhaps they will get married eventually and bring their child to church with them. That is far better than leaving and teaching the child they weren’t welcome in church even though the female opted not to have an abortion.

      For a long time, there have been a lot of first-born children whose gestation period to full-term was not a full 9 months.

  • Russ says:

    #8 cannot be overstated. Face to face. I have never turned down a request to teach or serve when asked sincerely to my face.
    #11 avoid burnout. The biggest problem in churches is that Leaders find willing workers and work them to exhaustion. Remember your volunteer staff have families and day jobs.

  • Matt Lawrence says:

    This is a great article. I think when we seek to fan into flames the spiritual gifts in the body, 2 Tim 1:6, people will engage and the church will be triumphant. We do not want people to be used by the church, but rather be used of God and the church will then thrive.

  • Louise says:

    On the one hand, this list has some really good ideas. On the other hand, it sounds like policy for a club. If we are living as disciples, and teaching new believers the same–not as a matter of terminology, but of heart-lifestyle–volunteering will come naturally. Once people do volunteer, they need to be cared about as much as we want them to care for those they are serving. It really doesn’t take much, as long as the appreciation is regular and gen-u-ine, a sense that we are all in this together, serving Him. Unfortunately it’s not unusual for leadership to be more concerned that we just have someone reliable to run or “staff” a program–a matter of business more than heart. (That’s part of the reason those in immoral relationships and even unrepentant alcoholics (our experience) have been allowed to serve in some instances. It’s more important to fill the roles than to actually minister and have standards.) Leadership has to have a solid Scriptural foundation themselves, and more appreciation in their souls than they do concern for image or “vision,” which too often supersede practicality, and also run volunteers into the ground. All the great methodology in the world will not overcome off-kilter, self-absorbed hearts in church leaders. Right hearts in leadership will make finding volunteers, and retaining volunteers–easy.

  • Pamela says:

    I am interested in how many churches require new members to attend a class before joining. This seems to be a controversial subject but one of your points in the article. I like all of these ideas but not sure if others at my church will agree.

    • Chuck Lawless says:

      More and more churches — especially younger ones — are requiring membership classes. You’re correct, though, that having such a class is not without controversy in many churches.

  • Joy says:

    Give so-called leaders respect and authority over their area. If a member takes responsibility for a job, he/she should be given some leverage. IE, the pastor’s wife shouldn’t be able to swoop in and change all of your hard work because she feels like it, especially when you and the pastor had decided on a plan. Of course, when the pastor allows this scenario continue until no one takes leadership roles anymore and he still won’t address the problem, none of the above-mentioned strategies will fix the problem.

  • Joshua Hamilton says:

    Encourage those currently serving to recruit. You recruiting from your position can never be as effective as they can be recruiting relationally.

  • Steve says:

    I love this article! Church leaders definitely need more leadership training!!!!!

    Question for church leaders…”Who have you trained/equipped to be better than you in YOUR area of gifting?” THIS INCLUDES PASTORS!!! Why or why not? This gives you the answer to why and how to recruit.

  • You need to tie the need to a gospel purpose. Greeters help newcomers a guide where to go next; the best take them there. End of service greeters dont let them leave with unanswered questions.nursery staff let others focus on worship and Bible training. Etc

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