In churches that have January-December lay leadership terms, fall is the nominating committee's active season. In many congregations the nominations process consists of looking at the rosters of all the committees and boards, noting who is rotating off, and plugging in (often recycled) names. It's not uncommon for nominees to be approached with either apologies ("I'm sorry - I know you're really busy - but we need you to fill this spot") or guilt ("If you don't fill this spot, I don't know what we'll do").
I believe we can do better.
A big part of the problem is that we're starting the nominations process too zoomed in. There's no reason to look at the rosters of committees and boards until we've spent some time considering why we have these working bodies and how they fit into the overall direction of the church. Here, then, are some questions to help nominating committees broaden their thinking.
What is God inviting our congregation to consider doing in the next nine months to three years? Hopefully this question will have already been discussed at the congregational level. If not, the combination of nomination and stewardship seasons could provide opportunities for discernment.
What is the relationship of each working body to that invitation? If a new initiative is in the cards, that will impact what committees and boards do and how they work together.
What will the capacity of each working body be to live into that relationship when members with expiring terms rotate off? Notice that even three questions in, the focus is still on the bigger picture.
What gifts are needed to help each working body hold up its part of God's invitation going forward? Think broadly about spiritual maturity, talents, perspectives, energy, and expertise.
Who are the people with those gifts or with the potential to develop them? Look for a balance of experienced and new nominees, making sure that all the various constituencies of the church are represented across the rosters. When contacting nominees, name the gifts the nominating committee sees in them, how they would strengthen the working body, and how the working body helps the church live into its mission.
If we still have holes after hearing back from all of our nominees, what does that mean? Consider what barriers to participation exist, whether committees and boards need to be right-sized or combined, if there is good understanding about what each working body does and how it contributes to the overall direction of the church, and whether further big-picture discernment is needed before resorting to the any-warm-body-will-do approach.
What lay leadership needs do we anticipate beyond the coming year, and what work can be done now to prepare those who are not yet ready to serve? Here we broaden back out to lay the groundwork for a pipeline of ready leaders. Communicate responses to this question to pastoral staff or designated spiritual leaders (e.g., elders, deacons, session, vestry) for further deliberation.
The nominating committee might kick into gear at only one time of the year, but its work is significant. Getting the right people on the right working bodies ensures not just functionality but energy and creativity that in turn propel the church toward its God-given vision. This is critical during a pastoral transition, as it makes a new minister’s entry into the system much smoother. Blessings upon this hard, holy work.