Ann Michel, who teaches stewardship at Wesley Theological Seminary, says encouraging people to pledge their time and talents reinforces a holistic understanding of stewardship. But a combined campaign isn’t the only way to communicate that stewardship is about more than money.
Should an annual stewardship campaign include the opportunity for people to commit their time and talents to the church in addition to their financial gifts? The short answer to that question is: It depends! I’ve tried a lot of different approaches to stewardship of time and talents and they all have plusses and minuses.
The main benefit of a combined approach is that it projects a more holistic understanding of stewardship, communicating (correctly!) that it’s not “all about money.” This can make things a bit more comfortable for those making and receiving the appeal. But in presenting the option to commit one’s time alongside one’s financial gifts you need to avoid detracting from the financial side of the equation or fostering an either/or mentality. It’s easy for some people, particularly those who don’t have a deep understanding of the theology of stewardship, to think giving time is a substitute for financial commitment, when in fact, faithful stewardship involves both our time and our treasure.
In practice, though, I have found that the greater risk in a combined campaign is that time and talents simply don’t get the attention they deserve. In a lot of churches there is more urgency associated with securing financial pledges, so they tend to receive disproportionate attention in a combined campaign. And this ends up reinforcing rather than dispelling the perception that it’s “all about money.” If you build a time and talent component into your stewardship campaign, make sure you give it adequate attention and follow-up on time and talent appeals as intentionally as you do your financial appeals.
Here are some other options I’ve found helpful:
1. Focus on time and talents in advance of your financial campaign.
I have found it helpful to focus on time and talents separately, but just before a financial stewardship campaign. For example, if people are asked to make their financial commitments toward the end of the year, focus on time and talents earlier in the fall. This coincides with the time of year when many activities are naturally gearing up, so it is a logical time to share information about activities and do some intentional recruitment. Plus, highlighting all the church’s ministries and program activities in the fall builds momentum for the coming financial campaign, reminding everyone of all the church’s good work.
2. Get creative.
Many churches ask for time and talent commitments the same way they ask for financial commitments, with a printed pledge card. In larger churches with lots of program options, a time and talent commitment card may take the form of a brochure or interest form with lots of possible activities to check off. But this approach is pretty limited and frankly rather uninspiring. Not surprisingly, it often just confirms what people are already doing. And if people do get inspired to commit to something new, there is the challenging of following up so that these new commitments don’t just lie fallow.
In more creative churches, the traditional paper-and-pencil approach is giving way to more creative and interactive ways of helping people commit to Christian service. One church I know organizes a ministry fair with lots of engaging information about different programs and someone on hand to talk up each activity. Anyone who decides they want to commit to an activity or just get more information is given a color-coded token and these “commitments” are collected as people leave. Other churches incorporate spiritual gifts inquiry as they seek commitments of time and talents.
In any of these options, you can still give people the opportunity to pledge their time alongside their financial commitment with a simple fill-in-the-blank on your financial pledge card: I commit my time and talent to the church in the coming year through participation in ________________________. This reinforces a unified theology of stewardship without overloading your financial campaign with too much programmatic information.
God calls us to commit our time, our talent, and our treasure to the mission of the church. But communicating this holistic sense of stewardship doesn’t necessarily require that it all happen at exactly the same time.