Q: How can we expand our leadership circle? We keep seeing the same people volunteer.

A: Most congregations dramatically underutilize their leadership gifts. Stagnation of the leadership pool is neither healthy nor inevitable, and it does little to move the congregation toward the fullness of creativity that moves us toward God. Here are some ideas for increasing your leadership pool:

Reflect on the Current Leadership
Reflection on church leadership is often left to a nominating committee, but there is work that precedes recruitment. Take your current lay leaders on a one-day retreat built around the following inquiries:

1. First, ask the leaders to reflect on what serving as a congregation leader has meant to them. Why do they do it? What skills did they come with? What skills did they need? How would being a congregation leader enrich someone else’s spiritual journey? How can current leaders share what their service means to them with the congregation, and let members of the congregation know what they need from them?

2. Next, consider the leadership pool. Who is included? Who is missing? Look to see how well the sexes and various age groups, viewpoints, and ethnicities are represented among the current leadership, as well as length of membership and ways of living one’s faith.

3. Lastly, use your findings to create a plan to expand the leadership pool. Consider, for instance, what avenues the congregation provides for education and enrollment into leadership roles, and who is best positioned to do this work.

Make Leadership Visible
Keep in mind that people will not volunteer for what is invisible to them. When clergy speak about what is sustaining in ministry, others consider their call. When congregation leaders make visible ways to be engaged in congregational life, people step up to leadership. So take some steps to increase the visibility of the congregation’s leadership: Publish testimony in the church’s newsletter about what it means to be a congregation leader, and include these testimonials and “how-to-get-involved” information in your newcomer packet. Ask congregation leaders to speak at new member classes, at church dinners, and at other gatherings; and encourage them to share the value of their leadership experiences in conversations with other members.

Clarify Your Invitation
Before inviting members to serve as leaders, clarify what it is you are asking of them. Why is this is an important activity for them to be involved in? What is the vision or possibility for this leadership task? What will be different if there are excellent people leading? What important change will it make? Keep in mind that potential leaders will respond more positively if you provide them with a clear description of what the job has been in the past, how much of the leader’s time it took, and what the current goals are. They may choose to do it all differently, but without some framework it is hard to say yes to a request to lead.

Support the New Leadership
Once you’ve found new leaders, take care of them. Provide them with a firm foundation through written guidelines and an orientation session, which provides a chance for leaders to meet one another, get a sense of who might partner on particular projects, and to share their hopes for their service. It’s also an opportunity to share the goals and focuses of the congregation as a whole.

In your written guidelines, consider covering topics such as how to monitor committee budget expenditures, how to keep the staff and the congregation in the loop, how to manage differences, and how to advertise a program for maximum participation.

Excellent leadership teams do not just happen, but with intention, coaching, support, and gratitude they can soar!

Patricia Hayes is a field consultant with the Alban Institute. She works with congregations, clergy, and middle judicatory/regional bodies on issues of discernment, transition, planning, and working with differences. Prior to working with Alban, Ms. Hayes had more than two decades of experience as a parish minister and middle judicatory executive.