By Ken Braddy
Most of us don’t look forward to this part of our work. We don’t like being told no, and we grow wearisome of hearing “Let me pray about it” (which is almost always code for “no thanks”).
Because of the growing irregularity in attendance patterns at church, it becomes harder and harder to find committed people who will become the church’s future leaders. But the work of ministry goes on. Bible study leaders must be recruited and trained so new groups can be started, or so that existing groups can have new leaders.
Recruiting new leaders isn’t a task we can ignore; we can’t simply hope people will volunteer.
I firmly believe the old axiom that “everything rises and falls on leadership.” Who we recruit is important. But also important is how we recruit. 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 is, I’ve also learned how to do it right.
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—we are dependent on God to accomplish His goals.
So with that in mind—even though the real success of our endeavors belongs to the Lord—let’s think about the human side of the work of recruiting people, and let’s look at some best practices when we recruit.
1. Start with prayer.
This one sounds basic and simple, but it’s 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 to begin with prayer. Are you begging God to not only show you the right persons, but to call them to the work at hand? If we aren’t careful, we can make recruiting people a formulaic process, and we can bypass prayer, which always sets us up to fail.
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 weren’t ready or qualified to serve. “Uninviting” them after I invited them to serve caused more damage than if I had taken time to identify potential leaders and meet with them 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 organization 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 a group sticks to the study plan designated by the church’s leaders.
Second, it provides a level of theological accountability. By providing trusted resources, 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’s on-demand training resource, Ministry Grid.
Just about every industry requires their workers to be trained. 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 7 Practices of Effective Ministry 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) E—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 people who love to hear themselves 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 that you can 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. 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 aren’t 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. Keep their names handy. 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. There’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.
KEN BRADDY (@kenbraddy) manages the ongoing adult Bible study department at LifeWay, blogs about Sunday School and groups at kenbraddy.com, and disciples a group of adults at his church in Shelbyville, Tennessee. He is the author of several books, including Breathing Life Into Sunday School.