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About Time and Talent Surveys

By Karen Kogler

Time and talent surveys are the first thought of many people when it comes to improving volunteerism at their church. Or when they want to find out the gifts and abilities of their members. Or when they're talking about stewardship of time and talent.

Avoid "the systematic rejection of people's time and talents"

But they often have questions. What do we put on the survey? How do we prepare people for it? What do we do after people fill it out? These are good questions; important questions. In fact, asking these and other questions, and thinking through the answers in advance, determines whether or not the time and talent survey will be a blessing to your church, or result in no change at all, or perhaps even create problems, for your church.

Here are the questions you should ask:

  1. What's our history?

    Have we done such time and talent surveys here in the past? How long ago? Was it helpful to people? Why or why not? Past experiences will color attitudes and expectations. If you want a different result, you'll need to do things differently.

  2. What are we surveying for?

    Skills, such as cooking, painting, data entry and singing? Or are we surveying for interest/commitment to ministries, such as coffee hour hosting, choir, board of trustees, and attendance entry? Are we asking for new commitments only, or including people's current involvement? What about those who are serving in groups or organizations outside our church; do they 'count'? Your purpose, and your planned follow up, will determine what you ask.

  3. If your survey lists the various ministries in your church, how does someone get information to help them make a choice?

    Put yourself in the shoes of someone who has never involved, or even someone who is new to Christianity! Are there job descriptions available for these ministries? If you're talking about spiritual gifts, will they know how to determine their own gifts? What if they desire to serve and read through the list but nothing seems to fit? Then what?

  4. What happens to the completed surveys?

    Jody's experience as a volunteer affects her future volunteering far more than the most wonderful survey.

    1. Filed? Often they get filed in a drawer, or entered in a database for future reference. If that's all that happens, it's a "systematic rejection of people's time and talents," according to Marlene Wilson, a leader in church volunteerism. Yes, when Joe, who's already in the choir and on a board, indicates he's willing to paint if and when the need comes up, it's appropriate to file that info. But when Edgar, who up to now has attended worship and nothing else, indicates he's willing to help out with handyman tasks, someone should find something that needs fixing. Break something if you have to! When someone offers their time and talent, we dare not offer a "Don't call us. We'll call you" response. We sure wouldn't do that if they offered their money.

    2. Or follow-up? Will every completed survey be carefully examined? Will every new commitment, and every new volunteer, receive a warm and friendly personal response? Will it happen quickly, or months later when they've forgotten they even filled out the survey? If their choice doesn't work out, will someone help them find something that does work out for them?

  5. What happens when the new person joins a ministry?

    Will the established volunteers welcome them? Will the new person get sufficient training? Will they know who to bring their questions to? Will someone ask them "How's it going?" after a while? Jody's experience as a volunteer affects her future volunteering far more than the most wonderful survey. Are leaders of your ministry prepared to receive and support newcomers?

The bottom line question: what is your purpose for the survey?

If the focus is primarily on filling open positions, on persuading people to fill your desperate needs, people will recognize that. Some will join in, but most will remain pew-sitters.

If your focus is on the people in your church, and helping them use their God-given gifts in his service, then you'll spend the time and energy to prepare. Your survey will be a tool to help you build relationships and connect people to ministry opportunities where they will be effective and blessed in God's kingdom. Doing such a survey every year is part of an effective plan to help people serve Jesus.