Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Healthy Staff Recruitment

When I first began leading at Red Mountain, we had an average of three adult staff show up for Wednesday night junior high group. Those three would be the intern, my wife, and myself.

Three staff for around 80-100 students. Not a healthy staff:student ratio.

Now around a year and a half later, we have 20 committed adult leaders in the junior high ministry. Our team is passionate about students, tight knit, and very capable. I have a few recruiting principles that have led to creating a healthy team of people passionate about junior high ministry. These aren't the typical ones you'll read about in youth ministry books:

No blanket invitations. I've never announced that we needed volunteers from the stage or in our news sheet. Blanket invitations are the easiest for recruiting, but it also creates some problem areas. For instance, when you give an invitation to everyone to come check out the ministry, it's quite awkward to let someone know that they don't really fit. "Hey, we need help, just not your help." It sends a mixed message, leaving both parties frustrated.

Be pursued. I've rarely, if ever, sought out an individual to ask them about joining the ministry. Instead, I prefer to see people take initiative by approaching me and pursuing the desire God has placed in their hearts. I'll watch a person, pray for them, and see what God does in the moment. I'll only pursue a person if I know them well and truly believe that they would thrive in junior high ministry.

Ask the existing team. The best recruiters are the existing volunteer staff team. They know what it takes to disciple students and they have a much wider network of contacts than just the youth pastor. Bringing a new person on board will affect the entire team dynamic, so leaders should seek the input of their team to make sure that potential staff will fit well with the group. Five of our newest staff are people that were recruited by junior high staff.

Communicate expectations. I've created an extensive packet explaining our entire vision and philosophy of ministry. I have quite high expectations for volunteer staff. They aren't there to babysit or be crowd control; they are the youth pastors to the students they disciple. I communicate my expectations up front, sometimes quite bluntly. I'd rather they understood everything they can about the ministry before actually coming on board.

Have a dating season. For every potential volunteer who approaches me, we'll have a meeting where I'll explain the vision and philosophy of the junior high ministry as described above. Then for the next 4-8 weeks the potential staff "dates" the ministry. They come on Sundays and Wednesdays and check it out. They interact with students and other staff, observing and evaluating. I use this time to evaluate their character and commitment level while also praying for God's guidance. After the dating season, we'll have another meeting where we decide what to do next. If either of us don't feel led by God to take the next step, then we go our separate ways. I do my best to direct them to other ministries within the church that may be better suited to their commitment level and gifts. If all appears well and God is clearly involved, then we move forward; they become official staff and join the team. This dating season allows people to test the ministry and allows me to test the potential staff. Do they show up or flake out? Do they interact with people or just sit on the sidelines? Is their faith growing outside of junior high ministry? Is their lifestyle and character worth modeling to students? You can learn a great deal about a person's character and commitment level by simply taking a month to evaluate them. Asking someone to join one's team after an hour-long meeting could lead to disaster, and it's much more difficult to ask someone to leave after they're already volunteering. For every new staff that comes on board, there are two or three who drop out during the dating season.

Our team is still growing, both numerically and relationally. It's been incredible to see God orchestrate relationships within the team. Friendships are forming, team members mentor one another, and there is a genuine excitement about what God is doing. That's how recruiting works in our ministry, at least for the moment.

What would you add? Agree or disagree with any of the above?

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