Finding New Volunteers
A Service of the Parish Evaluation Project
January, 2011Finding New Volunteers A common complaint among parish leaders and ministers is that it is always the same few people who do all of the work. “How can we recruit new people to be on committees or to fill in as ministers?” Many options have been tried, including a Ministry Fair where all of the parish ministries and activities are displayed between the weekend Masses and people are invited to ask questions, learn about what is being offered and make a commitment to become involved. The difficulty with such an event is that it is labor-intensive and only a few new people sign up. There must be a better way for attracting new recruits. A Lesson From John 1: The first chapter of St. John’s Gospel tells the story of how John the Baptist was standing with his disciples and pointed out Jesus to them as he walked by. Two of them began to follow Jesus until he turned around and asked, “What do you want?” “Where are you staying?” they responded. “Come and see,” he said. They ended up spending the rest of the day with him. This short account provides the steps for expanding the volunteer base. It has these five steps: 1) Someone, in this case, John the Baptist, points the way. 2) A few decide to take the risk to follow the advice or invitation. 3) Almost immediately they are confronted with a clear choice, “Should we continue on or turn back?” Is it yes or is it no? 4) If it is yes, there is a delight and consolation that follows – an affirmation of the choice. 5) With this delight comes a pressing need to share the experience with others, to tell them what happened. One Parish’s Approach The Volunteer Coordinating Committee at St. Anne’s Parish in Wausau, Wisconsin decided to try out a new way for recruiting volunteers. It began with finding out what was needed. At the beginning of the school year, the heads of every parish group, committee and ministry provided the committee with a list of how many new people were needed and what they would be required to do. The heads were also asked to canvas its membership for names of people who might be good candidates to fill the vacancies. One day at the end of September was set aside as the Parish Information Night. No other activities or meetings would take place at that time. An all-out publicity blitz dominated the month with special emphasis on those who were named as good candidates for getting involved. Each one was personally contacted and invited to the event. Someone, in other words, was pointing out the way to them. “Come and see.” The Information Night The parish hall was set up with an area for a large gathering and breakout areas scattered throughout the hall covering the five key areas of parish life: worship, community, formation, outreach and administration. Each section was surrounded with large display boards featuring the ministries and activities associated with that key area. Many of those who were called made the effort to show up for the event – they took the risk. After an initial prayer and explanation of the night, people made a choice to move to a section of the hall that was of interest to them. There they listened to descriptions by the heads of groups and ministries about what was needed. A number of people made the choice to sign up for a ministry or committee. From those present, 42 new volunteers were recruited. Since the beginning of October they have been active in the areas they chose, hopefully enjoying the experience. Next year they will become the ones who will share their joy of involvement with others who will be invited to a gathering for new volunteers at the second annual Parish Information Night.