Rethinking Nominating Committees

The ideas in this article are being implemented by the Norfolk, Virginia, Seventh-day Adventist Church. Some aspects may need to be adjusted for your specific setting.

Many congregations view nominating committees as a “necessary evil,” and some are challenging the idea that they are even necessary. Larger congregations particularly struggle with the traditional model of annual elections, as a small percentage of the membership struggles to nominate effective leaders among members whom they don’t know.   

We have discovered, however, that with careful planning and a few creative approaches, the annual nominating committee can be a dynamic process for discovering and empowering strong and effective leadership in a local congregation. Rather than being a dreaded event, we have found that people actually enjoy serving on the committee. They feel positive about the experience itself, and realize they are contributing in a meaningful way to the life and development of the church.

The first component that we have found to be very useful for nominating committees is a survey of the congregation. The survey is carefully worded, and changes slightly every year as the ministries of the church develop new focus and needs. If you study our survey, you will discover that we do NOT ask people if they would like to be a deacon, elder, or the leader of a department. Rather, we break down duties that these jobs entail, and it makes the survey far more valuable. For example, someone may think they would love to be a deacon so they can collect the offering at church, but the survey asks about interests such as church maintenance, providing transportation for people needing rides to church, assisting widows or shut-in members, etc. Those who have an interest in these types of duties will likely make good deacons. We find that the survey is so helpful to the committee that we plan to promote completing the survey every week for about one month before the nominating committee begins its work.

The second component to an effective nominating committee is the organization of the committee itself. The traditional model with seven to twelve members may be perfect for churches with fewer than 200 members where most members know each other, but as the church grows in size, the committee needs to grow as well, with subcommittees functioning to nominate people for offices they understand and have an interest in. In our church of about 500 members, we find a committee of twenty members, divided into four subcommittees works about right. The pre-committee that selects the nominating committee usually spends two or three hours carefully selecting subcommittee members that they feel would be able to contribute meaningfully to the tasks each subcommittee would be asked to perform.

The third component is vital. This is planning and organizing the work of each subcommittee so those who serve feel their time is spent in a meaningful way. In our church, each committee member will be contributing a total of about 15 hours each over the course of two months, and with such a large investment of time, they need to feel that their time is productive and they are greatly needed. The four subcommittee divisions we currently use are Administration, Children’s Ministries, Departments, and Arts&Technology. After nominations are made by subcommittees, no one is asked to serve before allowing the full committee to review the proposed nominations by the subcommittees and indicating their approval.

All anticipated committee meetings are scheduled prior to asking nominating committee members to serve, so they can objectively determine if they will be able to serve faithfully on the committee. To assist these special people, we have meals catered when they must meet at or around mealtimes, and folders are carefully prepared with information that can assist them with their specific committee work.

The fourth component is one of the most exciting for nominating committee members and church members alike. We do not use the telephone to ask people to accept an office. Rather, job descriptions are mailed with a cover letter of invitation to serve in a position. People are not pressured to take a position, but rather invited to prayerfully consider the enclosed job description. This allows time to evaluate the time that would be required for a position, and not feel pressured to make a decision to serve without first making the office a matter of prayer. This has also had the effect of making people much more willing to serve on the nominating committee. Not having to make those dreaded phone calls to try to persuade people to serve (“All you have to do is...!”) is a huge plus for committee members.

When people receive a letter from the committee in the mail, and they are willing to accept the invitation to serve, they are to call in their acceptance by phone by a certain date. If we don’t hear back by the date indicated, we will assume the answer is “No.” On occasion, with critical positions, or if we are concerned that someone may have simply forgotten to call, the pastor might call to inquire about a response, but never is anyone “strong-armed” into doing something they may not feel God is leading them to do.

We are certain that the nominating committee process we are using has “raised the bar” of accountability with those who agree to serve their church, while making the nominating committee experience itself positive, dynamic, and rewarding for committee members.  Although this process requires a great deal of administrative effort and attention to detail by pastoral staff, we have found the dividends to be well worth the effort.

Glenn Holland is a pastor in Beltsville, MD.

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