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The Volunteer Bait and Switch

16 Jul Spiritual Formation | Comments Off on The Volunteer Bait and Switch
The Volunteer Bait and Switch

Editor’s Note: This past Spring, Project Renovation took on the topic of caring for youth ministry volunteers’ spiritual needs at our equipping event entitled “Renewable Student Ministry”. If you would like to listen to the audio of that event, click here. Today, Josh Rhodes considers one particular and important application of that idea.

Wikipedia defines bait-and-switch as the following:

“form of fraud used in retail sales but also employed in other contexts. First, customers are baited by merchants’ advertising products or services at a low price, but when customers visit the store, they discover that the advertised goods are not available, or the customers are pressured by sales people to consider similar, but higher priced items, switching.”

Many student ministries, if they were honest, have used this form of fraud to recruit new volunteers. First, potential volunteers are baited by youth pastors who advertise their ministry as a low time commitment, but when volunteers get involved, they discover that they are expected and pressured to show up on Sunday mornings, Wednesday nights, spend one-on-one time with students, go on retreats, help pull off events, and attend leader trainings, switching.


While baiting-and-switching may secure new volunteers for this coming ministry year, this approach is disingenuous and will lead to frustration for you and your volunteers.

1. Be specific.

What I have seen work however, is to be completely honest with potential volunteers. During the recruiting process, put everything on the table and be specific about what would be required of them during the ministry year. If they would be asked to attend one of your two retreats, tell them up front. If they would be expected to spend one-on-one time with the students in their small group, let them know. There should not be any surprises about what is expected.

2. Write It Down.

In addition to discussing the specifics about what the volunteer role would entail, put it in writing and give it to them to sit with. If they are married, their spouse should have the opportunity to review what this commitment would be. Is this role a healthy addition to their lives? Or would this commitment lead to unhealthiness three months down the road? By putting it in writing, they have time to read it over and over again, and count the cost before signing on.

3. No Switches.

Most importantly, if this person commits to serve with you, don’t pull a switch on them. Stick to what you put in print and agreed on. If you asked them to attend only one of your two retreats and they already attended one, they should not be getting a frantic phone call from you the night before a retreat because you are short staffed. If you treat your volunteers as a means to an end and disregard what you both agreed to, they will likely drop out of the ministry prematurely.  But if you honor their time and commitment, the potential for long-term, healthy ministry is great.

As you look to invite new volunteers into your ministry for the fall, consider developing a specific, one-page document that you can give to potential volunteers. Feel free to adapt the following resource that I developed and used for emerge, the 18-25 year old ministry of Chestnut Ridge Church.

Emerge Volunteer's Form

Emerge Volunteer's Form

July 16, 2013 – Sample form used by Chestnut Ridge Community Church’s 20somethings ministry “Emerge” with volunteers to set healthy boundaries on involvement.

(36.6 KiB | 417 downloads)

Josh Rhodes
NextGen Pastor at LCBC Church
Josh is the Next Steps Director at LCBC Church, York Campus. Prior to LCBC, he served at Chestnut Ridge Church in Morgantown, WV. Josh received a Bachelor of Science in Biblical Studies and Youth Ministries from Lancaster Bible College, and a Master of Arts in Theology from Biblical Seminary. He and his wife Hillary live in Lancaster with their three children - Sephora, Levi, and Pierce.