Recruiting Season in Student Ministry

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To borrow a phrase from the great philosopher and coach Bill Parcells, “If they want you to cook the dinner, at least they ought to let you shop for some of the groceries.”

So here we are, winding down the school year, and if you’re like me your mind has started shifting to recruiting leaders for the next school year.

Hailing from Kentucky basketball country and marrying into the First Baptist Church of the Alabama Crimson Tide, the whole concept around recruiting has become a season in and of itself. You have an eye on the transfer portal, All-American recruits, and even that tenth grader who in a few years will be a program changer and one you can build a team around. And don’t even get me started on the excitement that is the world-renowned “Transfer Portal.” Recruiting has in a lot of ways become just as exciting as the season itself.

Our student ministries are always better when committed leaders give of their time, abilities and resources to invest in these students. There’s no way we could possibly have deep meaningful relationships with all of our students. But if you invite some dedicated leaders to come along side, it will make a world of difference. We as ministers are paid and/or commissioned to be there. The expectation of loving students and pointing them to Christ is there and should certainly be expected.

But for someone who volunteers of their time to attend worship gatherings, go to camp, drop somebody off after church, take time throughout the week to study a Sunday School lesson, send a text before a major test or console after a breakup, there’s an added depth that we simply cannot reach alone. Especially now as many suggest that students will remain connected to the local church when multiple people are pouring the love of Christ into them, and we see the dynamic importance quality leaders play in our ministries.

Having great leaders only makes sense on a practical sense, but it also reflects how we’ve seen ministry done in Scripture. Jesus had his 12 disciples who helped extend His ministerial reach. Jethro pleaded with Moses to find trustworthy, God-fearing men to assist him. David had his mighty men there in the cave beside him. Paul had companions all along his journeys to do ministry side-by-side. And if we’re paying attention to these examples, to state the obvious, their missions and ministries flourished.

But where do we find these leaders? And once we find them, how do we enlist them? Here are a few things to consider when recruiting leaders:

  1. Avoid “Warm Body Syndrome.” Hot take coming from the guy who spent the majority of this article so far encouraging everyone to go find leaders. You’re better off going alone than having leaders who don’t want to be there. I would rather have a small group of one passionate leader with 30 students more than ten small groups with ten leaders who are not passionate about the students. There’s a tendency to try and jump to filling positions rather than wanting and desiring to have the most effective leaders possible. Our ultimate goal in student ministry is that every student that walks through the door knows they are valued and loved by their Creator. That’s a hard message to grasp from the life and lips of less-than-passionate leaders.
  2. Determine Your Target Audience. Every team has their primary targets in mind. Colleges are going after their particular athletes. Professionals are scouting only the realistic options to fit their draft position and team needs. Who’s on your radar? Where do you start? I’d advise crafting three lists. First, ask your students who they would love to see serving in student ministry. This is their ministry after all, and they have people they look up to and admire. Second, ask current leaders who they think would be effective as leaders. Sometimes we tend to operate in a vacuum spending all our time with students we don’t develop as many meaningful relationships with other people in the church. A lot of the time, our leaders have a better idea of who is out there and whom we should ask. Third, your Moby Dick list. Who’s the one person walking the halls at your church who would make a huge and sudden splash? Who’s the game changer you know would revolutionize and change your ministry? Go for it and ask!
  3. Start Early. What’s the most effective way to avoid “Warm Body Syndrome”? Begin as early as possible in enlisting your leaders. That timeline of what you deem early is completely up to you, but it is vitally important. Failure to begin the recruiting process early will almost assuredly lead you to last minute desperation. This is not only a benefit to you in your search but a benefit for leaders you might recruit. They’re not being backed into a corner with a “I need to know now”-type mentality. They have time to prayerfully consider, weigh their options and give a thoughtful and thought-out response.
  4. Craft Your Elevator Pitch. We have one elevator here at Mt. Zion. It takes 16.46 seconds to ride from the first floor to the second floor. I like to challenge myself that if that’s the only time I have allotted to convey the mission, vision and responsibility of the student ministry, would I be able to “close the deal” so to speak? This is not a challenge on brevity but rather a challenge in conveying vision. We all want to be a part of something incredible, meaningful, edifying, stupendous and exciting all wrapped together! Are we able to clearly communicate and articulate that vision and mission in a way that it opens the door, gets a foot in the door and gives us the chance to greater convey that vision, ministry and responsibilities? Speaking of which:
  5. Be Clear in Expectations. Be totally honest and transparent about tasks, responsibilities and expectations. Put yourself in their shoes. At a previous church, I served a month into the job and discovered that my “other duties as assigned” included running the winter basketball league. That was nowhere communicated during the interview process, job description or conversations with the pastor. To quote the great theologian Adam Sandler, “Once again something that could have been brought to my attention yesterday!” We don’t like being blindsided, and we should not do the same to our leaders. Clearly communicating these expectations allows our leaders to make informed and thought-out decisions.
  6. Do NOT Take “No” Personally. Lastly, the one I struggle with the most. If you’re reading this, chances are you are called to student ministry, chances are you love your students, and chances are you passionately believe yours is the most important and impactful ministry at your church. So, why would anyone in their right mind say no? The temptation is that a “no” is an insult to you, your ministry and your students who mean the absolute world to you. There’s a dangerous and slippery slope if we allow these things to step in the way of our thoughts and opinions of the church body as a whole. Some people simply might not feel called to serve in student ministry. And I’ve had to bring myself to the conclusion that that’s okay. The same way we want our students belonging and serving in a capacity that maximizes their gifts and abilities we should want the same for the church as a whole.

This blog is all about how to recruit leaders, but what should not be overlooked is the added benefit of keeping leaders. Leader care is important to a healthy student ministry. When leaders are cared for, valued and appreciated, our students will reap the benefits. I cannot say thank you enough to Tim, Bryan, Josh, Sarah, Sonja, Jesse, Caleb, Andrew, Morgan, Alex, Pastor Kevin, Tyler, Jeremy, Candace, DeLena and Skyler for week in and week out putting up with my shenanigans; being as flexible as Stretch Armstrong; and for passionately loving my students and daily pointing them to Christ. From the bottom of my heart: Thank you.

Hunter Smith is student minister at Mt. Zion Baptist Church, Huntsville.

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