Onboarding New Deacons

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A ‘Deacon Chair Conversation’ is a forum for the Chairs of Deacons of a classis to come together virtually a couple of times a year to discuss pertinent things related to leading their diaconates. Last fall, the chairs shared ideas on Offerings in a Post-Covid Era’. Before that, Diaconal Ministries dedicated a call to share ideas on recruitment.

The following question was suggested by one of the 20 deacon chairs from six (6) classis in Eastern Canada for the spring round of “Deacon Chair Conversations”:

It takes new deacons a year to get up and running, and before you know it, we lose them when their term finishes a couple years later. What can we do to onboard them better?

This conversation was facilitated by Diaconal Ministries’ staff and Diaconal Coaches. Below is a compilation of ALL of the feedback we got from five (5) separate video calls in Classis Quinte, Toronto, Eastern Canada, Lake Superior, and Ontario SouthWest joining Hamilton. Here is what the chairs shared with each other:

  • As chair, you can shape the agenda. Some chairs include a training time in every diaconal meeting. It can be as simple or involved as you want. It could be reviewing a benevolence policy, discussing a chapter in a book (eg: Helping Without Hurting in Church Benevolence), or taking a Diaconal Ministries’ resource and discussing it. (eg. how to make an effective diaconal visit). The important thing to remember is that deacons are adult-learners who come with many experiences to contribute to a discussion; that being said the topic being discussed must be relevant to them.
  • Try Flexible Terms. The three-year term should only be a guideline. If a deacon finds their groove, they could be asked to continue in their role beyond the traditional three-year term. Building in flexible terms (like 2-year renewable term up to 7 years, as one church does), allows an office bearer the option of staying on longer or bowing out if they feel this ministry role isn’t a good fit. This flexibility is also meant to ensure there are only a couple of outgoing deacons in one given year. There is some caution to be aware of: the spirit behind having a defined term length ensures that the office bearers don’t grow weary and also allows broader participation of other potential members of the church.
  • Prioritize Ongoing Training & Equipping. Organize a yearly leadership training day where all office bearers meet together to develop leadership skills and learn about the offices that they were called to. DMC PRO-TIP: This is a great opportunity to invite your diaconal coach for a Deacon 101 workshop!
  • Practice Gift-based Ministry. Typically diaconates name a chair, secretary, and treasurer while leaving the remaining deacons with ‘at large’ roles. By assigning specific roles with job descriptions, the remaining deacons will have the opportunity to delve into defined areas without being overwhelmed in being expected to grasp all aspects of the diaconate.
  • Put Together a Deacons Handbook. Having a handbook that outlines the responsibilities, functions, partner ministries and activities of the diaconate helps new deacons get acquainted with what you do and where you minister. Keep it simple enough so that it does not become a burden to update. Include an ‘activities calendar’ that identifies when major diaconal activities occur throughout the year. DMC PRO-TIP: Make sure it’s updated annually/often. Ask your local Diaconal Coach for a template example!
  • Ensure You have an Updated Benevolence Policy that is reviewed annually with all the deacons. A well-developed policy is an excellent learning resource for new deacons. DMC PRO-TIP: Hey! There’s a workshop for that too!
  • Share Information. Having one place where essential diaconate documentation can be ‘housed’ and shared keeps everyone on the same page! Ensure that it is well-organized and updated. (ie. Delete old files to eliminate confusion!) Create a list of documents (or a separate folder) that new deacons should familiarize themselves with.

To wrap up the time together, Diaconal Ministries’ also shared some advice with the group on how to orientate new deacons:

  • Mentoring. Consider matching experienced deacons with new ones. Diaconal Ministries’ Deacon Mentoring handout describes the benefits of ‘Investing in Tomorrow’s Leaders’. Even take it a step farther and consider Reverse Mentoring that adds a new learning curve to mentoring. In the same vein, consider having an outgoing deacon share the role with an incoming deacon for an overlap period to ensure there is a smooth transition.
  • Chair Overlap. Incorporate an intentional overlap of departing chair and incoming chair. This could mean that both attend your deacon’s meetings for a couple of months OR it could be an occasional coffee at Tim’s in the preceding months to ensure there is a smooth transition.
    • In the same vein, ensure deacon overlap! Some diaconates give deacons specific roles, like Outreach Deacon or Stewardship Deacon. Make sure outgoing deacons spend some time getting the new deacon up to date on what’s been happening in that ministry area.

What’s working in YOUR church?

It was wonderful to see and hear the variety of ways churches and deacons are encouraging and equipping their new deacons.

We’d love to hear what is working in your church and context! 

Let us know by contacting Diaconal Ministries Canada at dmc@crcna.org or 1-800-730-3490 or by reaching out to your Regional Ministry Developer or Diaconal Coach.