Finding Special Needs Ministry Volunteers
When I ask a children’s minister or special needs champion about their greatest obstacle in special needs ministry, inevitably the answer has a tie to recruiting and retaining volunteers. The goal of the next three posts is to provide a “brainstorming session” of volunteer best practices.
Julie Keith, Pastor of Special Needs for First Church of the Nazarene of Pasadena (Pasadena, CA) says “I am always in a recruiting mindset. As soon as I think I’ve got my team filled someone will experience a life change and need to step out of service. Part of my job is always seeking new volunteers.”
Give the Ministry Visibility
First Church of the Nazarene makes special needs inclusion a visible ministry inside the church. The church hosts an annual emphasis Sunday for its “In His Image” ministry. A video may be shown or a family’s story may be featured during the worship service on the designated emphasis Sunday. Keith shares, “Our pastor stresses the value of our ministry to the church and facilitates the greater congregational buy-in. During our last special needs emphasis Sunday, our pastor did a beautiful job of weaving in the purpose of our ministry to the Sunday message and Scripture.”
** Don’t miss the links posted in the comments section below! The links are to videos churches have shown in their worship service and used to recruit special needs volunteers.**
Participate in Ministry Fairs
Ensure the special needs program has a presence at the church ministry fairs. Make sure that the special needs ministry (no matter how small!) has a representative to talk up special needs service and recruit those who God is calling to serve. The church website, emails and newsletters present great opportunities to spotlight the ministry, featuring stories of the participants and the blessings of the volunteers.
Partner with a Local University
Keith shares that one of the best sources of special needs volunteers can be a local college or seminary. Several years ago a special needs ministry volunteer suggested partnering with Azusa Pacific University. The volunteer, also a faculty member from the graduate school of counseling, was instrumental in creating a program where university students could serve inside the church’s special needs ministry and receive credits or in-service hours. Keith observes, “The college and graduate students serving in our ministry are reliable and typically very good with our participants.” Over the past few years Keith has developed a positive relationship with the Azusa Pacific University administration noting “they know their students are receiving hands-on experience that make them more attractive job applicants upon graduation.”
Tap into Teens
As we have shared in the earlier posts on this blog Using Teens as Special Needs Buddies and Teen Buddy Training, recruiting youth to serve in special needs ministry is brilliant. Some churches offer “finder’s fees” such a $5 gift cards to the teens and other volunteers who successfully recruit their friends to help. In other cases, the special needs champion may arrange for a movies and popcorn night or swim party at a church member’s home to reward the teens who helped to grow the volunteer force.
Do a “Publicity Tour” of Adult Bible Studies and Fellowship Groups
Some special needs champions or children’s ministry committee members generate new volunteer interest by personally visiting adult classes and settings inside the church. The most effective volunteer recruitment happens through one-on-one interactions and relationships. Getting out into the church and giving a face to the ministry will ultimately facilitate more interactions. Look for every opportunity to talk about special needs ministry. And never underestimate the value of a 5 minute “plug” for the ministry inside a Sunday school class.
Offer One-Time Service Opportunities
People are generally less reticent to help if they can have a commitment-free opportunity to “test drive” their service with special needs. Asking a Sunday School class to provide the volunteers for a single occasion, such as a respite event, may be more palatable to church members who are generally supportive of special needs inclusion but hesitant to serve. Once people gain comfort and confidence around individuals with special needs, oftentimes they experience the calling for longer term service. In addition, finding ways to expose future volunteers to the ministry outside of just providing childcare may ease any apprehensions. For a list of creative ways to engage church members in the special needs ministry, see the earlier blog post Create a Variety of Special Needs Ministry Volunteer Opportunities.
Get Involved in the Community
Volunteer or attend an event associated with a local special needs support organization. The Special Olympics or the local chapter of The Autism Society or Autism Speaks naturally draw interest from people who already have a heart for individuals affected by special needs. God may lead a new volunteer to your church’s ministry who is currently unchurched but called to serve this population. Never doubt God’s ability to speak to typical volunteers through their service in special needs ministries!
See the following posts for the remainder of the series on volunteers:
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