by Dave Enns
You’ve set the vision, communicated the need, given realistic expectations, and offered proven and realistic training. All based on a great referral that this person would be a worthy group leader. But they still tell you “No!”
Argh! Those “no’s” are never easy to hear.
My normal response to “no” was to thank them for considering it while doing all I can to hide my disappointment. As fast as possible I would hang up the phone and move on to my next call. Little did I know how short-sighted my response was. I had reduced recruiting to “filling a spot”. Their “no” was not only causing me to miss the opportunity to affirm and come alongside them, but also to team with them for years to come in recruiting and raising up new leaders. This realization sent me back to the drawing board on what recruiting was really about.
Here are four strategies that helped us stop recruiting to fill the position, truly affirm people in what God was calling them to do, and empower them to be part of our team for years to come.
1. Reframing Rejection: A Pastoral moment to affirm the yes behind the no! A no usually means a yes to something else. All too often we’re afraid to ask someone what’s happening in their lives, causing them to say “no.” But asking “why” is important. If it’s misaligned expectations, a conversation could easily change the outcome. But more often than not, potential leaders have legitimate commitments to family, health issues, work, other ministries or hobbies that are consuming their time. These are the yes’ behind the no. These kind of yes’ are a pastoral opportunity to be intentional with that person, coming alongside to listen and understand their no to you, maybe an important yes to God. How you handle this won’t be forgotten and how they see what they have to offer the Kingdom.
2. Expanding Your Recruiting Team: Suprise them how they can easily still have an impact. When the need for leadership is sizable and your leads are few ask them if they would take the next 3-4 days to pray, and talk with their spouse or friends if they know someone else you should consider asking to lead a group. Don’t ask them to respond immediately. Most people need time to think, pray and consider. Plus, three days means for the next 72 hours you have another recruiter and person praying for you and your ministry! Set the expectation that you’ll give them a call back to follow up, and then make sure to do it! It confirms that you value their time and involvement in your ministry. You never know, their prayers may change their “no,” into “yes!”
3. Keeping the Door Open to Future Potential: Ask if you can ask again.
In our small group ministry, every potential leader or host we contact has been referred by someone else. These personal leadership referrals are invaluable, and we never want to lose a strong referral. While you may have heard “No” or “Not now,” keep in mind this doesn’t necessarily mean “never.” Ask if you can contact them again next year for another “ask”. In thirty years of vocational ministry, I’ve only had one person tell me not to call them back. I once followed up with a potential leader four years in a row. Each year I called, we ended up having a fun conversation catching up about life, and whether or not it was the right time for leadership. The fourth year it was a “yes.”
4. Building Relational Capital: Staying in their moment, not yours.
Even though someone has given you permission to call them back six months to a year later, the conversation needs to be as much about them and how they are doing, than just your need for more leaders. That’s why you need to write down the reason someone told you no the first time you called them. When I start this call-back conversation engaged and curious asking how their coaching little league went or getting an update on their parent’s health (both good reasons why they said no), most are surprised I actually remember those details. It will also help you know if there’s no way you should be asking them to lead because they’re in the same situation they had been in the past. A call not ending up in an ask reveals once again that you care more about them than just filling a slot.
Let’s be clear. Recruiting is hard work and rarely effective during office hours only. It’s one of the most challenging roles we have in ministry. It’s also one of the most rewarding opportunities we have to be involved in. It multiples impact, discipleship, and evangelism. Every follower of Jesus we call to lead has a desire and passion to make a kingdom impact (Ephesians 2:10). It might be hard to see, but it’s there. Don’t let a “no” and a need to fill some slots cause you to miss it!