Gifts Or Needs


Generally speaking, are your parish volunteers recruited on a gifts basis or on a needs basis? The difference? Here are two sample appeals:

Bulletin: “I need some good singers to cantor at the 12 noon Mass. Sign up in the parish office.”

Office interview: “New parishioner? Welcome. What is it that you can do well and would like to be involved in doing?”

Extreme examples, but you get the drift, I hope. At our diocesan music commission meeting today, one of my colleagues asked what to do about a cantor who really, really cannot sing. I asked if the parish appeals to its parishioners based on their abilities or the needs of the staff. Gifts-based volunteerism (or ministry, if you prefer) assumes God provides all the parish needs. It’s up to the staff member, coordinator, or priest to sit down and sort out what the person offers. Then have faith the real needs will get met.

Needs-based ministry often runs out of a panic, I’ve-got-to-get-people mode. I try avoiding that whenever I can. It’s not a death trap, but as long as people run their parishes on a needs-basis, they will often have more difficulty with misplaced volunteers.

I worked with a parish musician once who struggled to find cantors. “Can’t you put a bulletin blurb in for me, Todd?” she asked. I don’t think she understood this tack wouldn’t get us anywhere. An announcement at the choir practice netted two new cantors. Nice people. Decent voices … while in a section. Not cantor material. It was far tougher retiring one of the singers; she volunteered with good intentions wanting to help out her musical friend in need.

Last week a new parishioner stopped by to register, and to say she’d like to be a lector. It didn’t take much digging to find out she’s a newly married grad student in musical performance. And we do “need” more good cantors to flesh out our schedule. She just assumed we were all set on the music front, especially since she didn’t seem to be available for weeknight choir practices. Lector? Sure. But her ability was clearly aiming us elsewhere.

Ideally, in a gifts-based operation, each active parishioner is invited to discern their best abilities. Then the person is encouraged to get involved in their area of expertise and experience. Not steered to painting the youth room because we need a warm body to do the work.

So what do you think: does your parish run on gifts or needs? How were you initially involved in volunteering for your parish?

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About catholicsensibility

Todd and his family live in Ames, Iowa. He serves a Catholic parish of both Iowa State students and town residents.
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