I have decided on a new plan in order to boost attendance at our church. Since so many cannot get motivated enough to come to church on many Sundays, I have decided that we are going to give away a brand new 2015 car or truck next year. We will begin on the first Sunday of 2015 and each week that a person is present in church, they can put their name in a basket from which we will choose the winner of the vehicle on the last Sunday of the year. So, each person has 52 chances to win in this big attendance extravaganza. Couples can have twice as many chances if both of them can get to church on the same Sunday. We will emphasize this drawing over and over again each week in order to build enthusiasm and when the fall comes we will begin telling everyone that the time of the drawing is nearing. I bet we will have a full house on the last Sunday of the year despite the fact that it is usually one of the lowest attendance Sundays since it falls just after Christmas.
Isn't that a great plan? I wonder if people would actually attend more if they thought they may win a huge prize after a certain time period OR would they fall back into their old habits and begin to rationalize it telling themselves that the vehicle being given away is not that good after all or that they could buy it themselves and not have to worry about attending church so much. Would the chance at winning a big prize such as a vehicle be a motivator enough to encourage people to attend church more often?
When I was preparing to be an educator back in the early 1970s, I remember taking a psychology class in which we discussed intrinsic and extrinsic motivation. The topic has to do with what it takes to get a person to complete a task. In education classes, of course, it was about what could we as teachers do to encourage students to complete the work assigned to them. The thought behind the lesson was that some people just have a natural motivation to complete a task; it is just part of who they are genetically. That is called intrinsic motivation. When you do what is required just because it is required, you are intrinsically motivated to do it. No outside force is making you do it. If, however, you need an outside stimulus to get you to do what is required, then that is called extrinsic motivation.
Motivators comes in many forms but generally they can be positive or negative. Giving away a car in order to get people to attend church is positive motivation. People may respond because they think there is a reward tied to their behavior. Threatening a punishment for not attending church is a negative motivator. Churches have used the threat of punishment to get people to do what they want for centuries and it sometimes works but it rarely works in today's world. The threat of hell or divine retribution does not motivate people as much as it did back in the Colonial Period when people would shake in their boots when a preacher described God holding them over the flames of hell wanting to drop them into eternal damnation. People do not really believe in that kind of God anymore and most of us have no use of hell in our theology. Even if we do, the threat of hell rarely changes behaviors. It just caused guilt.
So, will you come to our church every Sunday in 2015 in hopes of winning that new car or truck? Will the hope of that prize make you want to get up every Sunday and put your name in the box at church so that you can have more chances at winning the prize? Or will you get excited about it for a while and then give up on it because it does not really motivate you to do something you would rather not do?
Perhaps that is the biggest question in this discussion.....if people do not attend church regularly, why don't they? If the carrot or the stick does not work to bring about the desired behavior (attending church) then what would? Perhaps an internal change is all that brings about intrinsic motivation....one has to desire to do what one wants to do in order to make oneself do it. Perhaps asking God to give us the desire to be with God's people and to learn God's will and way for our lives can bring about the change we need even more than a brand new 2015 automobile.
PS. There is not going to be an actual automobile given away at church in 2015. That is what we call playful fantasy in writing to make a point. Just in case you may have wondered....