Online Spiritual Discernment: how to improve your Ministry Fair
It’s that time of year when churches host Ministry Fairs, those annual pitches for potential volunteers willing to jot their name, phone, and email address on a piece of paper and commit to serving in some church initiative.
A few years ago, we were considering ways to breathe new life into this somewhat stale event. The fact is that the energy around the Ministry Fair, and its relative effectiveness, was flagging. There was a whiff of desperation – so many volunteers needed to staff so many ministries. Long-time ministry leaders complained that newcomers and young parishioners weren't interested in volunteering. Newcomers and young parishioners complained that they didn’t know what opportunities existed. Ministry leaders were tired of trying to think up new gimmicks to attract people to their tables – food? passports with stickers? balloons? Nothing really worked - parishioners were disinterested and scooted out the door without visiting a single table. Or if they did visit a table and signed up for a particular ministry, they didn’t always get a follow-up call to actually serve, which led to them questioning whether they were really needed. The Ministry Fair was a lot of effort for a not-so-spectacular result. Something needed to change.
The temptation in situations like this is to apply technical fixes – gimmicks, prizes, or incentives. Or perhaps tweaking the logistics – holding the Ministry Fair between services rather than after services. Scheduling it for an hour rather than two hours. Scheduling it to coincide with breakfast.
These are a short-term and short-sighted solutions. Far more effective is considering an adaptive approach that reconfigures the event from a desperate plea for volunteers to process of discernment and celebration of the individual gifts that every single person can use to serve God.
The Rev. Michelle Boomgaard worked with our congregation to make this shift. She noted that people typically offer two reasons for why they don’t engage in active ministry:
- They believe have no time to give or to make a commitment.
- They think they have no gifts to share.
Her first consideration was helping people discern and name their gifts. She observed that people may not realize that many of their existing skills are gifts that have a place in ministry. Capable of organization? That’s a great administrative gift. Good at making small talk? Hospitality is a wonderful gift.
Yet while there were lots of spiritual gift inventory tools, they typically existed in the form of lengthy questionnaires that worked best in facilitated, gathered settings. In our increasingly asynchronous world, people who didn’t see themselves as having time to take part in church ministry certainly didn’t have time to come to a small group meeting on a specific night, at a specific time, to discern their gifts.
Enter the “Buzzfeed” quiz.
I admit, I’m a sucker for social media quizzes. Which Hogwarts house would I belong to? Which dog breed represents me? Which books in a list of 100 classics have I read?
When I suggested to the Rev. Boomgaard that a digital spiritual gifts quiz might be a fun way to introduce spiritual gift discernment to people, she immediately warmed to the idea. It was topical, it was fun, it was something they could do on their own time, on any device. Let's be clear - a short digital quiz is indeed a total gimmick! However, it is one that reaches people where they are, through a broader channel than that presented by a single event in a finite place and time. And hopefully, with the appropriate follow-through, it provides an easy invitation and introduction to a process that leads them into a deeper recognition and consideration of their gifts.
Using the Qzzr platform, Michelle assembled a spiritual gifts online quiz, leading participants through a series of 10 questions to ascertain which of nine spiritual gifts they might possess. She drew inspiration from other spiritual gift discernment tools, but rewrote the questions in language that was more conversational, such as “You are at a party. Where are you?” (For the record, I'm by the food). Developing the questions was a fairly straightforward task; finding appropriate pictures to illustrate the questions was a bit more challenging. But, as Michelle admitted, the challenge was part of the fun because, “Can anyone really spend too much time online searching for kitten pictures?” (Since she developed her quiz, the Qzzr platform now provides an optional image search making it easier to find great pictures).
In addition to the digital spiritual gifts quiz, Michelle worked to educate the congregation on how to discern and find joy in their spiritual gifts. She was able to extend the interest piqued by the digital quiz in a more substantive way using platforms such as:
- Digital newsletter articles and website posts
- Bulletin announcements
- Ministry Leader training
At the actual ministry fair event – which was renamed “Connect to Your Joy” – each ministry was “mapped” to a particular gift so that people recognized the many opportunities in which they might share their skills. Also, ministry opportunities were coded to indicate whether they were ad hoc or re-occurring, and the approximate time commitment was noted as hours per week or hours per month.
In considering other ways to encourage people to invite others into ministry, Michelle supports a shift away from a simple plea for volunteers to a celebration of ministry gifts – one way of doing this is through the use of ministry videos (here’s a really nice one from St. Margaret’s Episcopal Church in Annapolis, Maryland, featuring their Altar Guild).
In the same way that storytelling is essential to evangelism, people can be invited to express why they love their ministry and how their calling gives them joy. A series of brief videos (under a minute!) capturing these vignettes and posted on social media in advance of a ministry fair event can create contagious energy around various ministries. Furthermore, for those who can’t or choose not to attend the ministry fair, the video coupled with a link to an online ministry sign-up form allows people to commit as they are able.
As always, digital ministry isn’t a stand-alone initiative. Rather, the digital space is an place where we can extend and expand on existing ministries. Using digital communications to help people move from the idea of being volunteers who merely fill a time slot to actually doing ministry, sharing their God-given gifts, is a great example! Whether we discern our gifts at the sign-up table in the parish hall, or by checking our smart phone while drinking our morning coffee, either way, it gives people a chance to answer God’s call!
- Lisa Brown
Our goal at Membership Vision is to help churches and other faith communities to tell their stories in the digital space. Each church, irrespective of size, has a living and active story to tell, and technology provides an opportunity to share that story in a way that is welcoming and engaging. We ease the burden of keeping communications current, by leveraging content, and harnessing the many ways that members of our communities connect with each other, both inside and outside of the church walls. We aim to remove technological hurdles and allow churches to communicate online in an effective and sustainable way. Contact us at email@example.com or call (805) 626-0143 to talk about the ways we can help your church build a digital presence.