In 1964, a 28 year-old woman named Kitty Genovese was stabbed to death outside her apartment in New York City. The New York Times later reported that 38 witnesses saw or heard the attack, yet the police were never called.

Ok… you may be asking yourself, “Well that’s terrible, but how are you going to tie this into recruiting volunteers?” Well sit right down and watch the magic happen…

This incident gave rise to a sociopsychological occurrence called Diffusion of Responsibility. Wikipedia states that this is “a phenomenon whereby a person is less likely to take responsibility for action or inaction when others are present.” Basically, it means that the more people are around, the less likely it is that people are actually going to take responsibility. It’s the same thing that they teach you in CPR or emergency situation training; you don’t just yell to a crowd for someone to call the police, because there is a good chance that everyone will assume someone else is doing it. You have to specifically point at someone and tell them to call 911.

Have you been wondering why your impassioned pleas from the pulpit for volunteers are getting you nowhere? Why it is that you can run promo video after promo video during church, yet you still don’t get any volunteers? It’s not that people don’t care… it just comes down to the Diffusion of Responsibility.

When you just stand in front of the congregation and plead for more volunteers, all you are doing is shouting to a crowd for someone to call 911… There might be one or two heroic people that will jump right in, but the majority are going to assume that someone else is going to “make the call.”

When you just stand in front of the congregation and plead for more volunteers, all you are doing is shouting to a crowd for someone to call 911.

When it comes to recruiting, you have to do more than just yell at the crowd. You have to have a 10,000 foot strategy, for casting vision and asking for volunteers, that goes all the way down to a ground level strategy. Large gatherings, the 10,000 foot piece, are great for casting vision and sharing stories. Seize as many opportunities to get in front of the whole church as you possibly can, but don’t use them to just cry and say how much you need volunteers. Those are perfect times to talk about why your ministry is so important and to share life changing stories from within your ministry. Then it doesn’t hurt to give a little ask at the end!

From there you also need a 5,000 foot strategy… something a little closer to individuals. Maybe it’s getting in front of small groups and Sunday school groups. These are great opportunities to begin to build relationships and share more in depth what you are doing in your ministry.

Then finally comes the ground strategy: up close and personal. This is the face-to-face ask, “Hey, I think you’d be amazing as a small group leader. Why don’t you come in this week and sit in on a class? You could really change some kids lives.” This is where you are pointing at someone and telling them, “I need you to call 911.” Not only is it much harder for someone to say no, more importantly, it carries a lot more weight when someone knows that you think highly enough of them to ask personally.

 To have an effective recruiting strategy you have to go beyond just talking to the whole congregation and cast vision all the way to the ground. When we only make the 10,000 foot plea, because of the Diffusion of Responsibility, people will assume that someone else is going to make the call. We will never get the response that we need. Point at someone specifically, and tell them that you need them. People are dying, make sure that someone is calling 911.