The nominating committee: Streamlining the process

If tuned to maximize its pluses and reduce its minuses, the nominating committee can be satisfying—even fun.

Maylan Schurch, MDiv, is the pastor of the Bellevue Seventhday Adventist Church, Bellevue, Washington, United States.


In north Seattle stands a humble auto shop where I have taken my cars since the mid-1980s. Every 5,000 miles, I give my car into the hands of the owner or one of his mechanics. From time to time my car needs something major; mostly, though, it gets minor adjustments.

Maybe that is a good metaphor for the yearly church nominating committee. I consider the church I pastor as vital to God’s agenda and needs to be able to transport His love smoothly and dependably to the lives of our congregation and community. And the yearly nominating committee could be like the periodic trip to my mechanic where my church’s functioning is adjusted for the highest performance.

During my first few years in ministry, I, like many other pastors, discovered that the nominating committee can cause turmoil. I also found that, if tuned a bit to maximize its pluses and reduce its minuses, the nominating committee can be satisfying, even fun. In our midsized congregation with an average Sabbath morning attendance of 130–180, we have been using the following process for nearly 20 years. Here is what we do.

Start eight or nine weeks out. A couple of months before the report’s “first reading,” we elect and convene the traditional “committee to select the nominating committee.” During announcement time that Sabbath morning, deacons hand out slips of paper with five lines on them. Instructions on the slips tell each member to list five individuals whom they would like to see on this committee-to-select. The slips are collected and the votes tallied immediately, even while the service continues.

Review, with the treasurer, the names. I always ask the treasurer to be present at the count in order to “filter through” only those who are faithful in tithes and offerings.

Here’s why: let’s say non-tither John Doe gets on the committee-to-select. The committee meets and someone (unaware of John’s nongiving habits) says, “Hey, John, why don’t you be on the nominating committee itself?” John agrees, and when the nominating committee meets, someone might ask, “John, why don’t you be an elder?” Things get awkward now because our church voted several years ago to select elders, deacons, and deaconesses—and all board members—from only those faithful with tithes and offerings.

Next, a deacon brings me the vote tally before (I hope) the sermon starts. I read the committee-to-select’s choices aloud and ask them to meet with me in my office right after the service. The secretary will have provided us with copies of the church family roster, plus a list of those who served on the last nominating committee (we completely change nominating committee members from time to time except for one carryover). Our task, at this point, is to elect a nominating committee of seven regular members plus two alternates.

Include several people from children’s divisions on the nominating committee. I urge this group to include at least three people who work in the children’s divisions on the nominating committee. These individuals are an incredibly valuable source of information and will not only help us pack the divisions with great people, but will also be capable of the creative thinking needed to wrestle with unforeseen staffing issues.

I also urge this committee to choose nominating committee members who not only know a lot of the church family, but are cheerfully assertive enough to take part in the discussions. And we always nominate twice the number of people we would need for the nominating committee in case some cannot serve.

Prepare and distribute a nominating committee survey packet. On the same Sabbath we choose the committee-to-select, our greeters give each member a survey packet, containing two sheets stapled together.

The first sheet lists offices (we call them “Opportunities for Service”), followed by one-sentence job descriptions. This sheet also contains two important footnotes that give everyone some “heads-ups.”

The first footnote reminds the reader that several years ago the church board voted that, because of their exemplary positions, church offices which are board positions, along with deacon and deaconess positions, shall only be filled by members who financially support the church with faithful tithes and offerings.

The second footnote says, “A Washington Conference policy requires that anyone involved with children fill out standard background- check forms. Thanks for understanding—and thanks for serving our children!”

The second sheet is the survey itself, which starts by alluding to the “Opportunities for Service” sheet this way: “Quite a list, isn’t it? And this is just the skeleton of our church body. Now we need people—you—to add the flesh and blood, the heart and soul of Christian service. Here’s your chance to volunteer your service.”

The survey contains just four questions, which I have summarized here: (1) Here are the positions I would like to volunteer for—marked as my first, second, or third choice. (2) Here are positions I have filled in the past, here or elsewhere. (3) Here are people I am suggesting for various positions, and why I am suggesting them. (4) Here is a position of service not currently on the Opportunities for Service list but which the church board should think about adding.

At the top and bottom of the survey, I put a large-font deadline date of two weeks. In recent years we have asked our secretary to put members’ mailing labels on the back of the survey sheets, in case they forget to sign their name on the other side.

Send out the survey by email as well. I send out (a couple of times) the service list and survey to those on the church email list. This always gets responses from people who might not take time to fill out the paper copy. And I have learned not to be discouraged by a smaller-than-expected return. This is often a sign either of modesty or of someone very happy with the role they are in. The main thing is that we have given everyone a chance to offer feedback.

When calling people to be on the nominating committee, explain the process completely. I call the prospective members of the nominating committee the day after we select them. I have found in recent years that the selectees tend to always say Yes unless they know they will be out of town, and that is because word has gotten around that our nominating committees are fun and productive. On each phone call, I describe these procedures in detail, and people who have gone through weary nominating committees before, say to themselves, What do you know? A breath of fresh air! Maybe I’ll give it a try again.

Limit the length of meetings. During my calls, I also say that we will be, for example, meeting four to six Monday evenings from 7:00 p.m. sharp to 9:00 p.m. sharp (never beyond 9:00, no late nights). I tell them that I will give them a reminder email a couple of days in advance of the first meeting.

Prepare a detailed nominating committee guide with all survey response information. The day before the first nominating committee meeting, we gather all the returned surveys and type the information into a spreadsheet. I could, of course, delegate this duty, but reading and entering all the survey information makes me extremely well-informed about not only who volunteers for what but about all the comments and suggestions.

This guide generally runs about 14 pages, and it means that our nominating committee members do not have to feel their way through a gray, uninformed fog (or be controlled by one nominating committee member with strong opinions and a pre-thought-out agenda!). With this guide, the data is right there in parallel columns—who volunteered for a position, who was suggested for it by someone else, and who are the current office holders. The nominating committee is, of course, not slavishly bound to this guide, but they find the guide helpful.

On the last pages I include a list of “People to Keep in Mind for Positions.” To prepare this list, I go through the church family roster and find names of people who might not be serving in a position but should be involved.

I also include an “Additional Notes” section, which features general comments members may have written on their surveys. Bottom line: everything anybody said on a survey is right there in front of each nominating committee member. I also bring the original surveys with me to each meeting; this way we can double-check my typing accuracy.

Prepare nominating committee folders. We prepare folders for committee members. The folders include the most recent church family roster; the nominating committee guide described above; a stapled set of sheets with blank lines under the names of the offices for nominating committee members to record names of those selected for the offices; and a suggestion sheet, “How to Ask Someone to Take an Office.”

At the start of the first nominating committee, I call the committee to order. The first order of business is prayer, asking the Lord to give us creativity and His wisdom during these delicate and important decisions. I then thank everyone for serving, and I read aloud the Church Manual passages about how nominating committee members should keep everything confidential. I then talk them through the contents of their folders, and we elect a chairperson and a secretary.

Fill the children’s divisions before deciding any other offices. Once I turn the meeting over to the chairperson, we start working on the children’s divisions, birth through youth. And we absolutely do not deal with any other offices (including elders or treasurer) until we have packed the children’s divisions top to bottom with enough kid-friendly people.

I cannot emphasize this enough. If you have happy and burnout-free children’s division leaders, you have a happy and magnetic church. I have noticed in recent years that the division leaders are asking for more people per department so that they can use a rotating schedule. This way, not every leader has to be there every Sabbath.

Once we get the kids’ divisions taken care of, we start on the other large committees—for example, elders, deacons, deaconesses, fellowship dinner committee, greeters, and others.

Never miss a nominating committee meeting. As pastor, I am an active participant, though I carefully avoid being in the driver’s seat. I attend every meeting, without fail, because I have a historical perspective that the average committee member probably does not. I am not a dictator, though. Every year there are instances when the committee successfully reasons me out of a position I might have originally taken.

I keep an eye on the time, and at 8:45 or so I say, “OK, let’s stop and decide who’s going to call whom.” The chairperson then starts through the groups: “Who wants to call Junior leaders?” and so on.

As much as possible, nominating committee members should call people in their area of interest. For example, nominating committee members who work in the children’s divisions should call the potential children’s division leaders. This way they can have intelligent conversations about these roles.

Seek input from team leaders about people to fill their teams. For example, we regularly ask the person we select as our hospitality (fellowship dinner) committee chair to suggest names they would like to see on the team.

All nominating committee members should call from the secretary’s list, not their own notes. At the end of each nominating committee session, once the secretary has recorded who is going to call which group, dated photocopies are made and distributed to the committee, and these become the call lists. Dating the lists makes sure everyone calls from the most recent list.

Nominating committee meetings close at the announced time. I encourage nominating committee callers to make their calls early in the week.

Plan for a “buffer period.” It is great to have a couple of weeks between the final nominating committee meeting and the actual “first reading” Sabbath. There are always last minute details, and the buffer lets us present a fairly clean first reading.

Down through the years, my mechanic’s automotive adjustments have kept my vehicles functioning at top form, relieving me of a potentially overwhelming number of worries. I hope my suggested nominating committee “adjustment” suggestions can help your congregation minister happily into each new church year.

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Maylan Schurch, MDiv, is the pastor of the Bellevue Seventhday Adventist Church, Bellevue, Washington, United States.

April 2011

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