“Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.” You’ve heard this quote from Einstein, well, over and over again. But in truth, the definition is not his; nor did it come from Ben Franklin. Maybe Mark Twain? Nope. What’s also doubtful is that any of these three brainy men ever recruited volunteers for Vacation Bible School.
Now if every position on your VBS volunteer roster is filled, congratulations! You’ve got volunteer recruitment down to a science. If not, maybe it’s time to change up something in your volunteer recruitment strategy*.
Since most VBS activities are scheduled during the day, stay-at-home Moms are seemingly the most obvious of volunteers to recruit . . . but there are other pools of potential volunteers. The recently retired are often searching for meaningful volunteer work, and might welcome the chance to spend time with youngsters. Think, too, about high-school students with time on their hands, or college students home for the summer. Contact a local university to see if the Dean of Education could recommend any students working toward teaching certificates or early childhood development degrees.
Young churches and new plants might find willing spirits in the “unchurched” they so often attract. Just as you show them what it means to be a Christian, you may also find you need to educate them about what “church” really is—especially if you don’t use the word “church” when describing your faith community. Once they grasp the idea that they are church, you’re likely to get some enthusiastic takers when you ask for VBS help.
“Public begging will kill your children’s ministry,” says Roger Fields, founder of Kidz Blitz, a non-profit organization that produces Christian events for children and youth ministries. “It puts the word out that you are desperate for workers and that there is no honor in working in children’s ministry.”
Instead, Fields advises that you put a notice in the bulletin telling your congregation that church policy has changed and you no longer accept volunteers in the children’s ministry; that working with your children is by invitation only!
“You have just changed the landscape by making it an honor to be in children’s ministry,” he says. “Working in children’s ministry is too important for us to accept just anyone. Our kids and our Lord deserve the best.” Fields says he’s heard from churches that have used this strategy and within two weeks have had to create a volunteer waiting list.
If Fields’ idea is a little too clever (and scary) for you, at least think about the words you use when recruiting VBS volunteers. You don’t want to trick people into volunteering, but take a look at how the wording of a simple bulletin announcement makes all the difference:
VBS is scheduled for the week of [dates] and, as usual, we need lots of volunteers. If you would like to help, go to our church website [churchsite] or call [name] at [phone/email]
Love to make arts and crafts? Sing or play an instrument? Good at organizing/paperwork? Can prepare/assemble sack lunches and snacks? Enjoy assisting teachers?1
We need you for Vacation Bible School: Surf Shack!2
- Flexible day and evening shifts available [dates]3
- Various daytime shifts available during VBS week [dates]4 Interested? Contact [name] at [phone/email] or go to [churchsite/surfshack]5
1List shows specific skills needed. For what? The reader doesn’t know yet, but he or she is already identifying their skill.
2Believe it or not, some people won’t immediately know what VBS stands for (bless their hearts). Spell it out. And sound excited! This isn’t just another VBS—this is this year’s VBS! Take the opportunity to introduce your VBS theme, even if it’s not yet time to promote it.
3As you know, there’s a lot that goes into a successful VBS weeks before the kids are running through the hallways. For people who can’t take off work during the day, give them green construction paper and a pattern and let them cut out palm fronds at home. Or plan an evening at church devoted to painting cardboard surfboards.
4Let volunteers know that even during VBS week, they don’t have to be there for every minute of it. Maybe a volunteer can only work during the kick-off, or can work everyday, but just for the afternoon sessions.
5Get your web person to create a landing page for your VBS (They’ll know what that is). If you send them to your church homepage, they’ll have to search for another link. Make it easy to get to volunteer/VBS information.
What VBS volunteer recruitment ideas might Einstein have developed if he’d put his genius mind to it? Who knows? It’s all relative.
Judy Bumgarner is a freelance writer in Nashville, Tennessee. She also works at Brentwood United Methodist Church in the church’s Caring Ministry.
*When working with children, youth and elders, the United Methodist Church Discipleship Ministries strongly urges all United Methodist congregations to develop a Safe Sanctuaries® policy and is happy to share information about the policy with all denominations. Find out more.