September 6, 2016

The Best Fit: Matching Volunteer Skill Sets to Needs

Not all volunteers are created equal.

Or to paraphrase another cultural bastion: Differ’nt strokes for different folks.

A faithful, careful reader of Vital Practices stopped me at church on Sunday to talk about last week’s blog, in which I urged congregations to consider having both greeters and ushers. The reason is to make a clear differentiation between the roles: the ushers focus on assisting in the worship, directing people to seats, handing out bulletins, collecting the offertory, and releasing the pews for Holy Eucharist. The greeters, on the other hand, are for greeting – for offering authentic, warm welcomes, particularly for newcomers.

The reader agreed with the concept of having greeters and ushers. But, she said, I didn’t explain that the roles like aren’t interchangeable. A fantastic usher may make a lousy greeter, and vice-versa. It’s important, especially with the greeter position, to find the right volunteers, not just everyone who raises their hand.

This is a very good point. Greeters need to be comfortable with small talk, especially with strangers (visitors), able to put people at ease, answer questions – and ask them.

As our reader essentially explained, “Put me in a small group, and I shine. Put me as a greeter, and we’re in trouble.”

So how can a congregational leader help direct volunteers to the positions that best fit their gifts and talents? There’s no easy solution. Sometimes people want (or are willing) to do something that doesn’t match their talents. And in this case, a bad greeter can be a huge liability, turning off visitors before they even sit in a pew.

Perhaps other readers can share how they have solved this problem. I have a suggestion as well.

Consider offering an annual volunteer workshop. Have folks take a quick gifts and talents inventory (before the session or at the beginning) and then match them to the volunteer positions. Spend some time talking about the value and importance of each volunteer position. The lay reader is as valued as the lay weeder. A visiting eucharistic minister as important as coffee hour host. But the skills needed for each are different. For the greeters and ushers (and other volunteer roles), do a little role playing. See how comfortable the volunteers are with talking to strangers. At the end, people might self-select based on the experience.

Ultimately accepting the gift of volunteering is important for congregations but so too is the wise stewardship of the talents offered. Help your volunteers (and the church) by finding the right places to exercise their God-given gifts, and they (and you) will thrive.

Editor's note: Does anyone have a "gifts and talents inventory" resource to share? Post to comments (below) or email me at Here's one recommended to us by Mary MacGregor, canon for evangelism and congregational development in the Episcopal Diocese of Texas: Spiritual Gifts Assessment Tool - Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.

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