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Business and faith database: Match skills and needs

Business and faith may seem like strange bedfellows. However, we all function in a complex, interrelated world. Air conditioners break in the middle of July. Breadwinners get laid off. Relocations mean a whole new list of needs and vendors. Your church is a melting pot of spiritual gifts, skills, talents and professions. Here are some ideas for taking inventory of your congregation's interests and special skills. Use these ideas to reach out both to members and to newcomers in your community. This database also can be an effective resource for older adults and unemployed people who may be seeking help.

Capture the information. Learning who does what well is the biggest, and first, hurdle. Create a form where members can list their available time and the talents or services they are willing to provide. Think about calling it an Outreach (or Servant's) Time and Talent Survey. Insert these forms into the bulletin and place them on the chairs or pews for several Sundays in a row. You can also solicit information through newsletters and email announcements. Consider adding a place on your website where congregants can enter the data themselves. Wufoo is a great, user-friendly resource for adding a form to a website. Make sure one person - either a staff member or a volunteer - compiles the information to make it easily accessible.

Share information through your website. Once you've captured the information through a printed or online form, what do you do with the data? Your website is the natural place to display this inventory of your congregation's unique skills. Accomplish this by adding a database to your website. Microsoft products like Access or Excel can facilitate this. Having the information in a spreadsheet makes updating it easy. However, if you're not familiar with these software tools, you might prefer to load the information directly onto a web page. The result can be as simple as:

Repair Specialists in Our Congregation:

Susan Jones: retired plumber, lives 5 minutes from church, 555-4127
David Patton: specializes in landscaping, 555-8776

Don't limit sharing the information through your website. Some people don't own or use computers. Always make sure to have the data in print, as well.

Spread the word. Once you've gathered data through the Outreach Time and Talent Survey and put it in an accessible form or two, it's time to spread the word. Have a standing announcement about the database in your weekly newsletter. Consider promoting it in your Sunday worship bulletins. And, of course, include a prominent link from your website's home page.

As you work through matching needs and skills, here are two final tips.

Get congregational buy-in. A business owned by a member might be a great source of summer jobs for your church's teens. But don't presume that the owner wants their name out there for every ambitious teen to call. Always make sure your congregants know their involvement in this database is purely voluntary. Don't list anyone without permission.

Decide how big you want to get. Before you embark on an online or print directory of congregants' specialties, look ahead. It may be enough just to gather the information for the people who want to access it? Or you may want to use the data to start a home-repair or other ministry?

Just as your church is central to your spiritual life, let your congregation be the first resource for solutions to life's daily challenges.