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ian-ghostranch08.jpgQuestions regarding nominating committees or as some prefer to say leadership development committees tend to come up each year in the early Spring—as congregational annual meetings begin to draw near. Recently, I got one such query which motivated me to gather my thoughts on the subject.

Many congregations have what they call “leadership development committees” who do nothing more than strong-arming people to serve on the board and are active only in the few weeks before the congregational annual meeting.  Unremarkably, our congregations find this does not work well.

Since this is an area of rather great interest in many congregations just now, we have recruited some people to do a workshop on this at our upcoming District Assembly.  Some version of this workshop will be repeated at General Assembly.

Some of the current UU materials on the subject are collected in the Congregational Handbook online in the governance section under “committees”:


A somewhat more complete listing of UU resources on the subject would be:

• http://www.uua.org/leaders/leaderslibrary/leaderslibrary/interconnections/34755.shtml
• http://www.uua.org/leaders/leaderslibrary/leaderslibrary/interconnections/34757.shtml
• http://www.uua.org/leaders/leaderslibrary/leaderslibrary/interconnections/43074.shtml
• http://www.uua.org/leaders/leaderslibrary/leaderslibrary/drivetime/57442.shtml
• http://www.uua.org/events/generalassembly/2006/towardright/13131.shtml

To decide where you as a congregation need to start in working on this area, I suggest that the congregational leadership talk together about where you find your greatest need.  I suggest that you honestly discuss the following things as part of this:

1. What should be the scope of the work of the committee?  Many congregations today are changing the names of their nominating committees into leadership development committees.  However, shouldn’t the whole work of adult religious education in some sense be “leadership development”?  And, to the extent that the nominating committee has recruiting functions, how broad should this be:  board members, committee members, religious education teachers?  What work should this committee do through the year when vacancies occur or when members are needed for new groups?  Even if the role of the nominating committee is broadened, there are likely to be many positions for which it will not recruit.  Congregations should not be hasty to make the role of the leadership development committee too broad.  In some congregations that do this best, there is feeling part of all leadership should be finding and training new leaders.  Committee chairs in such congregations are expected to help recruit and train their own successors.

2. What should be the division of responsibility between lay people and staff in this work?  In some congregations the work of the nominations committee is rather jealously owned by the laity—sometimes to the point that the ministers are other staff are not consulted.  The effects of this have been unfortunate.  In general, in recent years ministers and other staff have been given an increasing role, especially in larger congregations.

3. How much of the work of the congregation should be done through committees?  In many places, deeper involvement in congregations means recruitment to existing committee.  In general this works far less well with younger emerging leaders.  Some congregations have done away with committees entirely, moving towards more flexible, focused forms of involvement.  Don’t assume that you help you congregation by driving more people into the current committee system.  Talk about this first.

4. Where should the larger leadership of the congregation have its opportunity to shape the thinking of the nominating committee about what leaders are wanted and needed?  Are more young adults needed in leadership?  Are more women needed?  Do there need to be more people with a passion for social justice on committees other than the social justice committee?

5. What needs to be made clear regarding the roles for which the nominating committee is recruiting?  The beginning and ending dates of the term?  A job description for the position?  A description of the role and mission of the group to which the person is being recruited?

6. What should the role of this committee be in assessment?  In some congregations the idea of “assessment” for volunteer leadership positions is unthinkable or at least unspeakable.  Yet if a nominating committee is to take a role other than last minute strong arming, the committee needs to be able to squarely face the fact that part of its task has to be assessment.  The committee needs to be able to ask, and consider with people the question:  “how did this involvement work out and in light of that what might a next step be?”

7. Do you need a paid position to do some of this work?  As we broaden the understanding of leadership development in a congregation the work often expands beyond what lay people can find time to do well.  There is somewhat of a rash of new positions in our congregations with titles like “membership coordinator.”

So, what do you feel is your greatest need?:  better involvement of your paid staff in the process, creating a more expansive mission for the committee?  Clarifying the positions for which you are recruiting?  I suggest you start by asking yourself about your greatest need and start there.

Personally, if I had a magic wand and with it five wishes for what every congregation would do, these would be:

  • In addition to recruiting for key positions like the board, ask who should be ready for such a position in two years and what experiences they need to get them ready.  Do something about this.
  • Press for written descriptions of the positions for which recruiting is being done and of written descriptions of the mission and functions of the group for which the person is being recruited, even and especially if this is the board.
  • Leave positions—especially board positions--vacant rather than pressing people to take positions before they are ready.
  • Question the assumption that the work of the congregations should be done by the board and committees?  Most boards and committees would be healthier if they were smaller, especially in larger congregations.  Remember, the larger the congregation, the smaller its board should be.  If it feels to you that your board and committee must be large to accomplish that they need to accomplish ask yourself whether you want them to coordinate the work or coordinate and also do the work.
  • Make clear and articulate the role of minister and other staff in the recruiting and leadership development process.

Unfortunately, if the magic wand came with my job, I have not been able to find it yet.

Please do come to our workshop about this at District Assembly or the one we will be sponsoring at General Assembly.