Recruitment Tactics, Part Two

Earlier this week I vented my frustration over the use of the term “recruiting” when applied to volunteer management. Terminology is often a conundrum. Do we use words that the majority of people will understand, and not concern ourselves with their response (after all, we can’t control what others think or feel). Or do we adopt words that more effectively describe our point, but may be confusing and require explanation?

Frankly, I don’t have the answer…  Except for the term “recruit” (and its various grammatical forms)! I much prefer to invite people into ministry than to recruit them for ministry. You may want to repeat that last sentence a time or two to let it sink in.

As a ministry leader, when I work with folks to help them understand how God has equipped them to serve, I want to develop a relationship. I ask God to help me see beyond our conversation to what he has done, and is doing, in their life. My goal is to help them find the ministry that God has prepared for them (Ephesians 2:10) and which will contribute to their spiritual formation (Romans 8:29).

As we enter into the matching/placement phase of equipping, I am not only thinking about the person I’m working with, but now I also turn my attention to the various ministries. I want to invite this person into a ministry that will be fulfilling; I also want to serve the ministry area by matching someone with gifts and graces that spur it on to meet its objective. I want to extend an invitation to participate in something that is mutually beneficial. This process is motivated by a genuine concern for the servant minister and a deep love for the ministry of the Church.

Recruiting doesn’t convey that same sense of care and concern… in my mind, at least. It doesn’t speak of the asking, listening, discerning, and guiding that goes into an invitation to serve. Rather, it speaks to me of a slot-filling, meet-the-quota mentality. I regularly run across churches that have that same mentality when it comes to getting ministry done. Many of them speak of the need to “recruit more volunteers” and having “recruitment drives.” Before they know it, they are treating volunteers like tools–objects to be used to get the job done–rather than who the really are: children of the Most High God and ministers of the Lord Jesus Christ.

I encourage you to take some time to seriously consider the terminology you use and how it impacts those you serve. Which terms do you use that may have a negative connotation? Do you need to change them? Perhaps more importantly,  how do the words you choose shape your perspective towards ministry? How do they reflect your objective? If your objective is to fill slots, then using “recruitment” terminology is fine. But if your objective is to lovingly guide people into ministry, you will want to adopt “invitational” terminology!

Recruitment Tactics

I’m quite frustrated by the use of the term “recruit”—and all variations of said term—in conjunction with volunteer management. (Listen carefully and you will hear the sound of my soapbox hitting the ground!) I cringe when I hear leaders talk about “recruiting” new volunteers, especially when spoken with an air of desperation.Why am I irritated by this silly little word, you ask? Because it evokes a strong memory.

When each one of my three children entered their junior year of high school, we would receive at least three calls a week from well-meaning recruiting officers who represented each of the four branches of the armed services. Now, please don’t misunderstand! I am very grateful for the selfless service of our military men and women, and respect their commitment to defending our nation’s freedom. My irritation was over the fact that these recruiters not only interrupted our family meals (why did they always call at dinnertime?), but they seemed insistent on trying to “recruit” my children prematurely. I felt they were taking advantage of their innocence by trying to convince my kids to commit to something they didn’t fully understand.

Today I was compelled today to look up the word “recruit” in the dictionary. I wondered if perhaps I was being too narrow-minded about the definition and needed enlightening. I found it interesting that Webster’s Dictionary defines “recruit”—in both verb and noun forms—first and primarily in the context of the military. Maybe I’m not so narrow-minded after all!

“…trying to convince them to commit to something they didn’t fully understand.” Does that grab your attention? Prick your conscience? Are you using recruitment tactics? I hate to admit it, but I have. I’ve experienced the desperation of needing a body to fill a ministry slot, of coaxing someone to do something when I know they don’t fully understand what they are committing to… whether that understanding relates to the purpose of the ministry, the time involved, or the skills needed to accomplish the task.

A couple of weeks ago I posted a blog titled No-Show Volunteer Syndrome. According to my handy blog stats report, that post garnered more attention than the others combined! If you are struggling with this problem, you need to know that there are more reasons for it than devaluing a serving opportunity, which was addressed in that post. Using recruitment tactics is a common cause of AWOL volunteers. Once a volunteer realizes that they’ve committed to a ministry that they aren’t passionate about, a task for which they are not gifted,  a service that saps their precious time and energy, they simply don’t show up. They quickly reason that, in spite of the recruitment tactics they succumbed to, church is not the military and  there will be no court martial!

So, does terminology really matter? It does when it evokes a memory that triggers an automatic defense! What, then, is the alternative to “recruitment,” regarding both terminology and practice? I’ll address this in my next post, so stay tuned… In the meantime, I’d like to hear your thoughts on the subject of no-show volunteers!

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