5 Ways Fly Fishing Taught Me How to Successfully Recruit Volunteers

To recruit volunteers to join your team is a bit like fly fishing. It is impossible to know exactly what fish are biting on. It is equally impossible to know what would motivate someone to give generously of their time to take part in your vision. To make the challenge even more difficult, when recruiting volunteers, we need to always approach people we are recruiting with “no strings attached”, otherwise we will be guilty of manipulating them for our cause. In a ministry context it is wise to remember that it is the Holy Spirit who will draw the right people to join your ministry team.

Yet that being said, like any good fisherman knows, there are some flies that just always seem to work. The same is true about recruiting volunteers.


I learned how to fly fish the hard way. I started going out on my own and learned through trial and error. I eventually learned how to present a fly, but learning how to pick the right flies for the right conditions has always baffled me.

My friend Jeremiah manages the buying department for Sierra Trading Post, and has been an Orvis champion fly fishing guide. When it comes to fly fishing, I’m all ears when I’m around him. He told me the other day that he and my brother Kevin caught some whoppers in the Cache La Poudre River here in Fort Collins, Colorado where I live. I asked him what flies they were using and he said it was some sort of Wal-Mart pig they found on the discount shelf. Go figure, some really cheap jimmy-rigged ball of fur was what the fish in Fort Collins just couldn’t resist this week.

At the risk of generalization, in my experience, I have also noticed that people who tend to say “yes” the opportunity to volunteer generally bite on a few common “flies.”  Here are five common “flies” you should always present when you are working to recruit volunteers your team. Chances are they will bite on one of them because their soul is longing for something.

1.  Appeal to potential leaders’ aspiration to be part of something greater than themselves.

2.  Some potential leaders are drawn to an opportunity to improve what your ministry is doing. They want to make something better.

3.  Many potential leaders are inspired by the chance to pioneer something new.

4.  Most potential leaders want responsibility.

Communicate that you are not a micro-manager. You give responsibility and offer the resources to carry out that responsibility. Volunteer leaders jump at opportunities to take responsibility for something meaningful.

5.  Volunteers like to know that you aren’t signing them up for an eternity.

People might end up volunteering for decades but they like to know that the whole thing is not depending on them. Therefore you need to let your volunteers know that you have developed a farm system where you are constantly thinking 2-3 years ahead and recruiting new leaders to train for taking over your teams or starting new ones. If people know they can at some point bow out or take a break and it won’t crumble the ministry, they will be more likely to sign up.


No matter how desperate you may feel for more volunteers on your team. Never compromise on having a high bar of character and integrity that you are looking for in your team members. Never cut corners on character. You and many others will pay dearly if you think you can take a short cut on issues of reputation and stature. Listen to Moses’ words to Israel’s leaders as he laid out a strategy to delegate his leadership:

Choose some wise, understanding and respected men from each of your tribes, and I will set them over you.” (Deuteronomy 1:13)

Before you even think of asking someone to volunteer in your ministry, remember that character is king. Don’t recruit someone to volunteer until you are comfortable with their character. Potential leaders you might want to recruit are proven already. In some small way this person should be known as a servant leader.  They need to be respected for what Moses was looking for in leaders to which he could delegate responsibility: they were wise, understanding, and respectable.


  • Decide today to talk with another key person in your organization or church about your volunteer recruiting strategy. Make a 12-month recruitment calendar that includes a strategic approach to these five suggested “flies” that always seem to work.
  • Please comment below and tell me your story or your wisdom about how to successfully recruit volunteer leaders.


Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

3 thoughts on “5 Ways Fly Fishing Taught Me How to Successfully Recruit Volunteers

  1. Even though I’ve never been fly fishing, I really like the analogy between using the right flies, to recruiting volunteers. Looking at youth ministry, it seems that dedicated volunteers can sometimes be very hard to come by. Often, recruiting has been related to describing the upcoming calendar events, and seeing if someone would be willing to tag along for free. I like this approach better, as it speaks to the potential volunteer’s leadership capabilities and goals. Rather than just searching for a warm body to fill a spot, asking someone to take ownership of something specific can go much further in fulfilling their potential leadership needs. I think youth pastors often sell themselves short in thinking that no one else really wants to participate in leading youth ministry, or they feel threatened by having others involved who can also lead. As we see the effective ministry dynamic moving towards smaller and smaller group sizes, the need for more adult leaders continues to grow, so the ability to recruit is becoming more important.

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