Volunteers – whether boards or site ministry team members, cabin leaders, resource leaders in specialty areas, or those who serve in kitchens and maintenance areas – are incarnational gifts to our various camp/retreat ministries. They are “love with the skin on”!
How do you recruit volunteers? For me, it’s a year-round, “keep your antenna up” kind of enterprise. Whenever I meet people I try to imagine how they might be invited to grow in their discipleship by taking another step forward and getting involved in our multiple ministries. Are they particularly good at something, show enthusiasm and ability in an area of interest, connect well with others? Are they big-picture people or do they prefer to make tangible, immediate contributions? When are they available? Can I invite them to “come and see,” get further acquainted, find additional interest and skill areas?
Inspirational camp leader Bob Cagle always taught us to first invite people to training (or some experiential time of camp). Don’t ask them to decide whether to volunteer! It’s too easy to say “no.” Cast the net wide – invite many people to attend a training event, and then provide time to decide, based on your experiences of the training, what might be the best role for them to play if you want to move forward together.
Start early. In fact, never stop recruiting/inviting people to consider serving with you!
For youth events, have campers on the planning team or from last year’s camp nominate adults they’d love to have work with them. Then, those persons are contacted with the knowledge that the youth themselves want to learn from them! Perhaps some youth are part of the recruiting/inviting team with you.
But what about the times when, despite your best efforts, you still need two more cabin leaders (or other crucial role) for an upcoming camp session?! I look down the list of participants – are several from one church or community agency? If so, call them and ask who cares about children there. Get names and contact info for the people who already work with these youth and talk with them about who could accompany them to camp so we can be fully staffed. Don’t settle for “warm bodies”!
Be as specific as possible in your invitations to serve: “I have six 4th grade boys who need to know a person like you who can demonstrate God’s love by living in a cabin with them, showing them how to work together, leading them through the week. Could that be you?” or, “There are 5 children on our wait list for camp, and we have the bed space for another cabin, but I don’t yet have a committed adult who can be present. I’ll have to call their homes and tell them we can’t take them. Could you possibly attend the training and be that cabin leader so I can make a different call and let them know to come ahead?” or, “I’ve watched you with your own children (or with the youth group that came here on retreat last year) and I’ve seen in you the kind of qualities we look for in an adult leader at camp. There are four children from your town who want to come to camp, but I don’t yet have a leader for their cabin. Would you consider serving? If it’s really not possible, who else do you know that I should be talking with?”
A related article that I found insightful: https://www.churchleadership.com/leading-ideas/why-dont-people-volunteer-at-church/
Lisa Jean Hoefner is currently Director and Pastor at Lake Tahoe Retreat Center at Kings Beach UMC. She retired after 17 years as Executive Director of Camp & Retreat Ministries in the Oregon-Idaho Conference. Previously she served in parish ministry as an ordained Elder in The United Methodist Church. Lisa Jean represents the Western Jurisdiction as a member of the UMCRM Association’s Board of Directors.