Constant Grinding Turns an Iron Rod into a Needle: Helpful Tips for Volunteer Recruitment


One of my vices is Asian food. If anything will cause me to overeat, it is good fried rice and egg rolls, savory noodles, and tofu. Of course, no one can forget the tasty little treat at the end of a delicious meal, the fortune cookie. While the fortune cookie is entirely an American invention, the little slips of paper hidden inside with their nonsensical fortunes are still fun.

For a long while, I kept every single fortune I received and placed them securely in my wallet. I don’t remember most of the fortunes I have received over the years, but one has continued to stay with me: “Constant grinding turns an iron rod into a needle.” This bit of wisdom is fit to stand along with King Solomon’s proverbs!

Ok, that may be a bit of an overstatement, but I believe the sentiment expressed here is helpful when considering the recruitment process for volunteers. Over the years, I have found that the best volunteer youth workers were the ones I had to spend significant time, sometimes years, actively recruiting. Like most things in ministry, recruiting volunteers is a marathon, not a sprint.

Here are some helpful points to consider when recruiting volunteers:

Who Needs a Mission?

The first thing you might do is look around your congregation and prayerfully consider who might need a mission. Who in your church has attended faithfully but hasn’t begun to engage his or her faith in service to others? Keep your eyes wide open though. Don’t reject possible volunteers because of their age or level of coolness. You need a variety of team members to connect with the different students in your ministry. Once you’ve identified a person, continue to pray that God would direct you in how he or she might fit into your youth ministry’s structure.

Be Persistent

It’s always easier to call people into God’s work in the world through a relationship. Hopefully, you or someone already connected with your ministry (another volunteer, a parent, or someone similar) has an existing relationship with the prospective volunteer. In the context of that relationship, begin to help the recruit see how  he or she might fit in your ministry. If you get declined once, wait a while and try again…and again. Of course, you’ll need to discern when it’s time to move on to the next recruit, but don’t take no for an answer after the first attempt.

Have a No Pressure, No Commitment Trial Period

If the potential volunteer is on the fence, invite the person to sample some ministry opportunities with your group. Encourage him or her to sit in one of your teaching sessions or join in at a low-pressure event. Enlist the help of one or two of your student leaders to make the recruit feel welcomed and included. Who knows, maybe a vital student/volunteer relationship might be born!

Of course, even for a trial period, follow all of your church’s protection policies. You should do a background check, but that’s a small price to pay.

Help them Discover Their Place

One of the quickest ways to lose potential or new volunteers is for them to believe they have no purpose in your ministry. After someone agrees to volunteer, assign the person with a specific role or task. You may even want to assign a student or group of students with whom the candidate can engage and begin to build relationships. A volunteer with a purpose is likely to stick around.


If a prospective volunteer still declines to serve in the youth ministry, be sure to communicate just how happy you are that the person gave it a try. Celebrate the individual’s willingness to discover the place of God’s calling in his or her life. If a volunteer sticks around and becomes a regular, celebrate his or her birthday and the anniversary of joining your team.

While you won’t always be able to wear down a prospective volunteer in the same way you turn an iron rod into a needle, eventually, your commitment to the process will pay off.

Jason Buckwalter