Recruiting. Most of us don’t look forward to this part of our work in the church. We don’t like being told no, and we grow weary of hearing, “Let me pray about it” (which is almost always code for “no thanks”). Because of the growing irregularity in people’s attendance patterns at church, this is making it harder and harder to find committed people who will become the church’s future leaders. But the work of ministry goes on. Sunday School leaders must be recruited and trained so that new groups can be started or so that existing groups can have new leaders. Recruiting new leaders is just not a task we can ignore and hope that people volunteer.
I firmly believe the old axiom that “everything rises and falls on leadership.” Who we recruit is important. But how we recruit people is also important. In fact, if we recruit people in the right way, we’ll find that the task of inviting people to join us in God’s work isn’t so hard after all. Perhaps we’ve made it hard by the way we’ve been recruiting people.
Over the years, I’ve recruited people wrongly. The good news, however, is that I’ve also learned how to do it right. It’s these right ways that we must all learn from and embrace if we want to become more successful at recruiting people. Now I realize that there is a human and divine aspect to God’s work. Proverbs 21:31 says, “The horse is prepared for the day of battle, but victory belongs to the Lord.” This reminds me that although there is human work to be done – important, meaningful work – the real success of our endeavors belongs to the Lord. It is a wonderful partnership in which we make sure we are doing our due diligence, but ultimately we must acknowledge that the people we recruit and the work that we do are because God is at work among us, calling people to serve His church.
So with that in mind, let’s think about the human side of the work of recruiting Sunday school teachers and leaders, and look at some best practices when we recruit.
1. Start with prayer.
Now this one sounds so basic and simple, but it is powerful. When Jesus saw a field that was white unto harvest, he didn’t tell his disciples to work double shifts to reach the potential new converts. Instead, he told them the solution was to begin with prayer. In this particular verse, the word deomai is translated “prayer” in our English versions, and this word means to “beg because of lack or need.” Does that describe your prayer life when you are recruiting people? Are you starting out by begging God to not only show you the right persons, but to call them to the work at hand? If we are not careful, we can make recruiting people a formulaic process, and we can bypass prayer, which always sets us up to fail. Start with prayer.
2. Set an appointment.
It has become my practice over the years to not make “all call” announcements from the pulpit. When you need leaders and resort to making the all-call announcement, it’s similar to fishing with a large net. You may catch some fish, but how many will you really keep? I’ve made all-call announcements, and I ended up catching people who were not ready or qualified to serve. “Uninviting” them after I invited them to serve caused more damage than if I had taken the time to identify potential leaders and meet with them one-on-one. And besides, we set appointments for almost everything in life: haircuts, oil changes, tire rotations, manicures, dress fittings, and the list goes on. Because leaders are so vital to the church, it only makes sense to take the time to set an appointment and meet with potential leaders one-on-one.
3. Recruit people to a vision, not to a job.
I learned long ago to help people see the value of the role I was asking them to fill by majoring on the vision I had for their leadership position. For instance, when recruiting a group leader for a middle school class, I stopped recruiting them to teach, and instead recruited them with the goal of influencing the minds and hearts of the next generation of church leaders. Do you see the difference? When I recruit a person to a job, I’m focused on the tasks they do in that role. When I focus on recruiting a person to the vision for the job, I help them realize their true value to the ministry and to those they will lead.
4. Provide resources for review.
As you recruit a new Bible study leader, be sure to provide the person with the resources he or she will use in the group Bible study. This serves three purposes. First, you set the expectation that the leader and the group members will use the resources provided by the church; this helps to ensure that a group doesn’t “go rogue” and sticks to the study plan designated by the church’s leaders. Second, it provides a level of theological accountability. By providing resources from a trusted Christian publisher like Lifeway, you can rest assured the materials have been vetted for adherence to sound doctrine. Finally, by providing resources for the potential leader to review, you communicate “You’re not in this alone.” Group leaders need to know that they don’t have to “make it up as they go” each week – that your church stands behind them and with them, and part of that support is seen in the way the church provides sound Bible study resources for the group to use.
5. Provide a list of training opportunities.
When you meet with a potential group leader, you should also give them a list of all upcoming training opportunities sponsored by the church. List all monthly, quarterly, and annual training events. Consider listing training events sponsored by your local association or Lifeway Christian Resources. Just about every industry requires their workers to be trained, so why not have the same requirement in the church? By providing ongoing training for group leaders, you communicate an expectation of excellence, and you show your church’s support for its group leaders by having a plan for training.
6. Clarify the win.
As you recruit a new leader, clearly define what “winning” looks like. In a book by Andy Stanley, he wrote about the importance of telling leaders what a win looks like. I took that to heart in one church I served, and I used the acrostic “LIFE” to communicate the four essential tasks I wanted each Bible study group to engage in: 1. L — Learn and apply God’s Word. 2. I — Invite others to become Christ-followers. 3. F — Form authentic relationships. 4. Engage in service to others. By “clarifying the win,” each group knew the four key things that were expected of them. I saw groups study and apply God’s Word (not just present history lessons). I also saw groups schedule regular, ongoing fellowship events to foster community and relationships among members and guests. Groups invited people to follow Christ, and they engaged in serving others inside the church, and outside in the community. That’s why you clarify the win from the outset and help a potential group leader see exactly what you expect of him or her.
7. Recruit shepherds, not teachers.
When I recruited people “back in the day,” I tended to look for the up and coming superstar teacher. Today, I recruit shepherds. I can teach a shepherd how to be a better teacher, but if I recruit a person who loves to hear himself talk, I have little chance of convincing the person to focus on people! Shepherds love people, and group members will forgive a lot of things if they know their group leader genuinely cares for them. Too many people have slipped through the cracks of our Bible study groups. We need more shepherds who can lead those groups, and in the process they can be trained to grow in their teaching skills.
8. Establish a leader covenant.
A leader covenant is a great tool to use during the recruiting visit. An effective leader covenant will do two things. First, it will clarify the responsibilities and expectations of the group leader. Second, it will also define and clarify the responsibilities of the church to that group leader — it’s a two-way street. Remember to keep the list of covenant expectations to around five to seven items. If you get too granular, you’ll begin to look and sound like a Pharisee.
9. Recruit year-round.
Normally churches launch new groups in the Fall and at the first of the year. If we are not careful, we’ll fall into the trap of seasonal recruitment. Instead of that approach, recruit people year-round. Keep your eyes peeled for new leaders. Jot down their names. Talk with their group leader and get some feedback about their leadership potential. Spend time with potential leaders and get to know them. Make recruiting a year-round, 24/7 process, not just something you do two or three times a year.
10. Ask current leaders to help you recruit.
A final tip is for you to use your existing leaders to help you spot new, potential leaders. Current group leaders will have a great feel for whether or not a person is ready for a leadership role. Ask current leaders for recommendations. Encourage your existing leaders to talk with their groups about the importance of serving, and let these group leaders help prime the pump of potential new leaders. It’s a good possibility that current group leaders will spot potential leaders quicker than you will because they are in close proximity to them each week.