How To Motivate People In The Church

By Robert N. White

How to Motivate People

Most church leaders have quite limited resources available for all the things that they need to get done. For this reason they must develop a clear understanding of the nature of influence and learn how to translate that understanding into appropriate actions performed by paid and volunteer personnel of their churches.

In order to identify the mechanism through which a pastor or anyone else influences people, one should possess a basic understanding of human motivation, sources of authority and power, and an appreciation of the dynamics of interaction between individuals and organizations. This chapter addresses these challenges by examining behavioral theories and demonstrating their applications for successful church management.

Motivational Theories

While there are numerous theories which attempt to explain why a person is motivated to act or react in a certain manner, four theories of motivation have been selected as particularly important for our discussions.

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs

Abraham Maslow’s theory of motivation recognizes a hierarchy of human needs. At the base of this hierarchy are physiological needs-air, water, food, and other life supportive resources. Above these, in ascending order, are needs to feel safe and secure, needs for social interaction and love, the need for esteem- feel that one has value as a human being-and finally, at the top of the hierarchy, the need for “self-actualization. ” This last term refers to the need to grow toward the realization of one’s full potential , whatever that might include.

In considering the implications of Maslow’s conceptualization of human needs, it is important to bear several things in mind. First, human behavior is not random-people are seen as moving consciously or unconsciously toward meeting their needs. There is a definite causality involved if others can but trace and comprehend it ”

Second, once a need is met, it is no longer a motivator of one’s behavior-in Maslow’s scheme, the individual becomes “motivated” by higher level needs as the ones below are met to some minimum, “satisfying” degree (the reaching of the minimum level of attainment acceptable in relation to the pursuit of some end or goal as opposed to its full or maximum satisfaction). This degree will vary with individuals for reasons that may be complex, and one should not be misled by the simplicity of Maslow’s model to believe that human motivation is uniform or pretty much cut-and-dried once one understands the model.

Third, there is a growth dynamic within every individual, though this force can be stunted or diminished as a result of negative experiences over time. Such experiences are generally advanced as the explanation why some employees seem “beyond recall” motivational , no matter what approach a supervisor might take with them.

The Three Basic Needs Identified by McClelland

David McClelland’s theories of human needs and motivation’ complement Maslow’s theories. McClelland identifies needs for achievement, affiliation, and power as central to understanding one’s response to one’s environment.

Significantly, achievement is viewed as a learned need instead of an innate one. The intensity of this need may vary with different cultures and the societies within that culture.

American middle-class society is highly motivated by achievement. Any doubts concerning the validity of this statement may easily be dispelled by asking middle-class parents about their children. Invariably the answer is a checklist of the children’s achievements-both past and present.

While McClelland’s need for affiliation closely parallels Maslow’s SOCIALITE need, he introduces a basic need omitted by Mausolea: power. Power needs include the motive for ascendance over others, but more importantly they relate to having a significant degree of control over one’s own “Yields space.” In this context one may derive equal satisfaction from rejecting a promotion that could cause a “role overload” as from accepting the more prestigious position.

White’s Competence Theory

Robert White’s competence theory builds on the theories of Mausolea and McClelland. White identifies a strong need to both gain skills and demonstrate these skills to others. By gaining new skills, a person gains increased control over his or her environment, thereby contributing to one’s sense of self-esteem.’

Reinforcement Theory

B. F. Skinner and other advocates of reinforcement theory offer another approach to understanding human behavior.

Reinforcement theory does not attempt to explain why we react to our environment but instead focuses on how we learn to react to that environment. In simple terms, reinforcement  theorists suggest that behavior which is associated with pleasure will be continued and experiences that do not promote a pleasurable state will be discontinued. Skinner stresses the
dehumanization of punishment to arrest undesired behavior, feeling that the resentment it often instills may be more detrimental than helpful in teaching desired reactions.

Undesirable behavior may be reduced merely by not rewarding it.

This presumes, however, that one is able to divine what an individual finds to be rewarding-a question that is sometimes curiously complex.

Applications of Theories of Motivation
Theories provide a basis for thinking about phenomenon in an organized way. Thus theory does not necessarily have to be valid to be of value. Many useful products and processes have been developed out of the application of theories that have subsequently been modified or disproved altogether. While no responsible behavioral scientist would hold that the theories of motivation that now exist will never be superseded, these theories do provide managers with a means of conceptualizing the beginning points of human behavior both within and outside of organizational life.

If, for example, the pastor’s secretary shows considerable resistance to the addition of a second secretary to the church staff, the pastor might invoke one or more of the theories presented above to gain an insight as to what might be troubling her. This does not mean that the explanation would be readily apparent as a result of doing this , nor does it mean that the pastor ought to substitute speculation guided by theory for talking with his secretary about his perceptions of her discomfort. It does mean that he might approach such an addition to the staff with increased sensitivity as to the possible impact of this change on his secretary. Instead of seeing the addition of another secretary as an act of thoughtfulness on the pastor’s part (intended reward), the church secretary might
perceive the move as an unverbalized criticism of her ability to handle her work load (White-competence need) . If this were her perception , her sense of esteem (Maslow-esteem Level) might be
diminished to some degree, reducing her sense of security (Maslow-security Level) in respect to her job. If the working relationship (Maslow-social/love level) between the pastor and his secretary had been a good one, she might also fear that the addition of another person to the staff would alter that relationship. Related to this might be a sense of loss of control (McClelland-need for power) over conditions related to her work environment.

Again it should be recognized that such interpretation amounts to hypothesizing. Nevertheless, engaging in it can provide insights, increased understanding, and even some ability to predict possible reactions to changes within the staff or other aspects of the church which the pastor might have in mind.

Theories of motivation can also be useful in the formulation of strategies and tactics for managing relationships with volunteers and others whose efforts or agreement are important to the success of the church. This is not to say that the relationships with such persons should be planned every step of the way and devoid of spontaneity , but the relationships are apt to be much better all the way around if the church leader makes an effort to identify and respond to the needs of individuals along with those of the church and himself or herself. At what level or levels of motivation does a person appear to be operating? Is he or she motivated by a desire for the approval and affection of others? What would he or she find most rewarding, public recognition of his or her
contributions or being named head of an important committee? In considering what might have significant meaning, bear in mind that whatever meets a human need is, in effect, a reward. This
realization is important, of course , in the application of reinforcement theory and is basic to exchange theory, which will be discussed toward the end of the chapter.

Authority and Power
Many people have ambivalent feelings about authority and power. Few people like working under a tyrant, and the strong egalitarian value of our society often leads to a sense of guilt when one is called upon to tell others what to do. Whatever one’s feelings about authority and power, the church leader will have to influence others if he or she is to manage the church well; so one ought not to insist on being naive in respect to these phenomena.

Leaders who acquire a sophisticated knowledge of authority and power will realize that they have far more means at their disposal to influence those who assist them with the work of the church than they ever realized. This is likely to be particularly true in respect to those services which are volunteered by influential persons within the community who are not members of the congregation.

Such awareness may also prevent the leaders from using their authority and power at a time when its exercise would be redundant, thereby incurring unnecessary resentment.

Theoretical Bases of Authority and Power

Discussions of authority and power usually point out that these forms of influence are based on the position which one holds, one’s person and behavior over time, or preferably both. These same discussions are less instructive as to the practical implications of some of the distinctions that exist between authority and power.

Authority may be defined as the right to initiate for other persons , power as the capacity to do so. Authority is always legitimated in some manner, as by law, custom, or the willing, voluntary compliance of those whose behavior is being influenced. Power may or may not be legitimated, but the person being directed is inevitably aware that the person who has this form of influence can hurt one if one should not comply with the demands that are being made. These distinctions can be illustrated with some specific examples.

In the military services the ensign or second lieutenant has the authority of position which permits him or her to issue orders to persons with lower rank. However , it is a common experience for the newly commissioned officer to learn that it takes more than rank to get a cagey bunch of experienced enlisted personnel to do what one wants or needs to have them do. Beyond having the rank, the new officer must win the willing compliance of those under him or her by force of his or her personality and actions. Although some will give him or her the benefit of the doubt for a short time, inevitably the vested right that he or she has to influence their actions must be supported by at least some degree of earned respect for him or her in the role of a junior officer if he or she is to be at all effective.

Ultimately the power that any officer has resides in the “Uniform Code of Military Justice,” a body of law which directs that a member of the armed forces must follow the order of a superior in rank and prescribes the maximum penalties for not doing so. However , many new officers will be fuzzy as to what constitutes a “legal order,” and most will recognize that frequent recourse to the code will hardly impress superiors when they write “fitness reports” for those reporting to them. In this sense power is quite a lot like money. Leaders may have recourse to it but may well find themselves judged, to some degree, in relation to how they spend it.

At the same time, authority and power are not mutually exclusive. It helps to have one’s authority buttressed by power. The point to be made here is that the pastor, or other person who has managerial responsibilities , will generally get the best results over time from those whom he or she manages if he or she recognizes the value of voluntary compliance (authority)
as opposed to forced compliance (power) and resorts to his or her ability to force particular actions only on rare occasions-when he or she really needs to bring the people into line immediately and on no uncertain terms.

People Accept the Pastor’s Authority for a Variety of Reasons

Some church members may comply with initiatives by the pastor because of his or her role of guiding them in understanding religious precepts. Others may simply accept the pastor’s influence and accede to it as a matter of tradition. They have been socialized to believe that cooperating with the leadership of an ordained minister is only fit and proper, so long as his or her initiatives
are consistent with their understanding of his or her role.

Ordination, of course, is itself a basis of authority.
Ordination conveys that the pastor is certified to lead parishioners by virtue of his or her faith, knowledge, and skill. (Societally, in effect, the pastor’s authority has developed through tradition to the point where he or she is licensed by our society to lead in religious matters and the related business affairs of the church.)

The Positive Side of Power also exists in one’s ability to reward others and/or in their perception that one can do so. Despite the difficulties of conceptualizing the phenomenon called
“leadership,” those who have studied it are pretty much in agreement that the basic reason why people follow Leaders is that people perceive-either consciously or unconsciously-that by
doing so they will satisfy their own needs. In other words, those who follow a leader perceive either that acts related to following will be intrinsically rewarding or that following will result in some eventual personal payoff Thus pastors and other church leaders would do well not only to recognize their sources of authority but also to consider the range of ways in which
they can reward those whom they may need or wish to influence.

Moving from theory to its applications in contending with the daily realities of accomplishing God’s work on earth, how does one get the sexton to change mop water more frequently, or move the chairman of the church school committee to call a long-overdue meeting and resolve that petty but troublesome issue regarding who gets to use the church basement on Wednesday
nights? Reminded of mundane challenges such as these , one must recognize that the pastor, like managers in all areas of human endeavor, needs all of the authority that he or she can muster
if he or she is to meet such diverse responsibilities. If the pastor will invest the same degree of imagination that he or she puts into the preparation of a good sermon into the determination of what those who must perform the work of the church are likely to find rewarding, he or she will find that he or she can significantly increase the degree to which these people comply with attempts to initiate for them. By referring to the motivational theories of Mausolea, McClelland, and White, the pastor should be able to generate an extensive list of ways to reward these people.

For example, many of us seem to have an insatiable need for affirmation by others. Even those whose self-esteem is reasonably strong and enduring are not exempt from this need. Hence a note, a word of thanks, or a moment of recognition in the presence of others can each bear dividends in the form of a continuing willingness to contribute to the welfare of the church far beyond the time or thought invested in such actions.

Clipping an article related to an interest of a committee head and transmitting it to him or her at an appropriate time can make that person feel just a bit special and appreciative. More
expensive but possibly an excellent investment for the church, the pastor might identify a seminar or other training opportunity for a member of the staff and arrange for that individual to experience it. Such an opportunity can have lasting returns in the forms of increased competence, personal growth, and recognition.

The important thing for the pastor in this area of responsibility is to get into the habit of identifying potential rewards, large and small , and learning to dispense them wherever and whenever they will promote the work of the church.

More on Translating Theories into Action

All of this is intended to illustrate that, by developing a fuller understanding of the bases from which they can derive authority and power, pastors should find themselves more able to conceive of ways to influence those around them. This should be as true for volunteers as it is for members of the paid staff. It should also be true in respect to members of the vestry or church board, community officials, and local corporate leaders. Obviously, however, there are limits to any individual’s authority and power in respect to influencing others, and the development of some sensitivity as to what these limits are for each person whom it is necessary to influence is important. Pastors can then recognize these Limits and abide by them, or work toward expanding the scope of actions in respect to which another person will be inclined to comply with their initiatives.

A specific example of this might be the situation in which the pastor sees the need for a new sanctuary but anticipates resistance to tearing down the old one and rebuilding it. Older members of the congregation, in particular, would be likely to resist the change on sentimental grounds if on no other ones.

Such an issue would call for a thorough assessment by the pastor of the sources of the resistance and the likelihood of being able to wield sufficient influence to overcome it. The pastor would need to consider the personalities involved, whether she could influence them to go along with the change-if not to support it actively-and how this might be done. Even if the result of such an assessment might be that she could not overcome the resistance at the time in question, it could result in the formulation of strategy and tactics likely to achieve the desired outcome at a later date. She might, for example, suggest that any new sanctuary incorporate paneling or other features from the existing one or be dedicated to persons with whom the older members would be inclined to identify.

The Development of Exchange Relationships

People often respond to the initiatives of one another out of a sense of obligation rather than because they really like what the other person is proposing. Experienced politicians utilize their knowledge of this phenomenon daily in their relationships with colleagues and constituents, exchanging services of one kind or another for compliance as votes or services controlled by others may be needed. In relation to this mode of interaction, a challenge confronting virtually every pastor is that the church is one of those organizations whose success relies largely on the work of volunteers. Many pastors seem to regard this condition as a tremendous handicap, feeling that the absence of controls over volunteers inherent to an employer-employee relationship makes the work contributions from them unpredictable at best. In other words, these pastors display an anxiety and Lack of knowledge about managing interactions in organizational life that are not set forth as formalized authority-responsibility and communications relationships. Such informal patterns, which experts in organizational behavior recognize as crucial to the effective functioning of organizations, are generally referred to as Isothermal and diagonal relationships. Managers in advisory roles often become quite good at managing such relationships, exerting influence within their organizations far in excess of that which an organization chart would suggest that they could bring to bear.

Exchange Theory
The final theoretical framework that is presented here provides some surprising insights as to how one can influence the behavior of persons in respect to whom one has little or no formal authority. Hence it should be of particular value in relation to the management of volunteers.

As each individual lives his or her life, he or she is dependent to some degree on others for the meeting of his or her needs. One goes to a medical doctor when one is seriously ill, to an auto mechanic when one’s car threatens to stop running, and so forth. More intimately, the male depends upon another human being of the opposite sex to enable him to have children and to bear the major responsibilities of raising them. There are literally thousands of examples that one might use to illustrate the ways in which human beings are dependent on one another. We are,
significantly, interdependent.

Recognizing this, it is revealing to consider the relationship between two people as a series of exchanges between them and to note that the possibilities as to what may be exchanged are virtually endless. Money, physical objects, time, knowledge, skills, and feelings are only a few examples of the multiplicity of things that may be exchanged by two parties in a vast variety of ways.

Norm of Reciprocity Is Universal
Furthermore, as Maws has noted, there is in virtually all societies a sense of obligation to reciprocate with a factor of approximately equal value anything that the individual has received from another party. For instance, if one person accepts the invitation of another person to dinner at a fine restaurant and enjoys sumptuous meal and pleasant evening, one then feels-and the host anticipates that one will feel-an obligation to respond with some experience or factor of approximately equal value in the not-too-distant future. If one fails to reciprocate, this will be understood by the host and others who know both of them, as bad manners, a sign that the guest did not wish to have any sort of ongoing relationship with the host, or both.

Though it may seem unattractive as a characteristic of human behavior, most people are very conscious within their network of human relationships as to who “owes” them and to whom they themselves are obligated or “owing.” They also make decisions, from time to time , as to which of these “accounts” they wish to close out, either by failing to reciprocate (generally seen as very rude) or by reciprocating but refraining from accepting factors of value from the other party in the future. In this same sense, new “accounts” or relationships are also established and reflect the ongoing exchange of factors of varying value.

Peter Blau, one of the social theorists writing about exchange theory,” as this sort of social scorekeeping is termed, has pointed out some of its especially subtle dynamics. In the life of a relationship between two individuals who are presumed to be more or less equal, the inability of one to provide factors to the other of values that either person will be likely to regard as roughly equal often results in one’s acceding to the initiatives of the other. In other words , the former subordinates himself or herself to the Latter to redress the imbalance of the exchanges between them. However, this assumes that the individual who sees himself or herself as having less to offer than he or she generally receives wishes to continue the relationship. The individual may break away from the relationship instead, feeling diminished by his or her inability to reciprocate in an even, ongoing exchange with the other person.

While the pastor may not wish to take advantage of this behavioral phenomenon in a Machiavellian sense, the awareness of it may enable him or her to gain an insight as to why some of those persons with whom he or she interacts go along with what he or she recommends even when they are not in accord with his or her thinking. At the same time the pastor should understand that many individuals feel no sense of diminishment in subordinating themselves to the leadership of other persons, particularly when they believe that the ends toward which the other person in the relationship is moving are consistent with their own values. In fact this type of voluntary subordination by individuals to the influence of others occurs in informal groups as a matter of course.

William F. Whyte has formulated the principles of exchange theory into a topology of transactions which delineate the various types Es of exchanges that may take place between two parties: He points out that whether the factors which people exchange are felt to have value is a function of the perception, principally, of the receiver. Thus factors offered with the best of intentions may be viewed by the receiver as insulting or punitive, leading the receiver to reciprocate negatively in kind. All of this is to say that there are obviously negative exchanges as well as positive ones, and in a human relationship the understanding by one individual that another is injuring him or her in some way will only lead that person to retaliate, move to interact with the other less frequently, or break off the relationship altogether.

Obviously if the pastor wishes to establish the sort of relationship with another individual that will enable him or her to influence that person’s behavior when he or she needs to, the pastor must work at knowing the person well enough to recognize what that person’s needs are and create or take advantage of opportunities that he or she has to meet some of those needs. In effect, the pastor will then be perceived by the individual as having contributed in some way to his or her well-being, thereby creating within a sense of obligation to the pastor. Whether the person feels subordinate to the pastor or not in their relationship, he or she will feel a sense of obligation to the pastor and will recognize , in all probability , that one way of squaring this obligation is to go along with the pastor’s explicit or apparent wishes.

Balancing Who Initiates for Whom

It is important, however, that the pastor not always be the one in the relationship who does the initiating. Most people become resistant over time to being always the one who is initiated upon. Therefore the pastor needs to ensure that the other person has opportunities to initiate for him or her from time to time. In other words , there should be a rough balancing of who is placed in the position of responding to the other over the life of the relationship if it is to be a positive one.

William F. Whyte has suggested several principles for influencing another person when one’s relationship with the other is essentially an advisory one. An adaptation of this guide is presented below, not only for its value in such relationships but also because it is suggestive of the kind of purposeful approach that one might develop for any sort of lateral relationship.

A Guide for Managing Advisory Relationships

1. First, build a relationship with the person to be advised through reasonably frequent and regular positive interactions.

2. Hold your advice until you sense that you have established a positive personal relationship with the person to be advised. By doing so, you increase the chances that your advice will be accepted.

3. Familiarize yourself with the other person’s situation and problems through observation, interviewing, or casual conversation. Create opportunities for the party to explain the situation and problem from his or her own point of view , with an eye toward leading him or her to ask for your thinking about it.

4. Work toward incorporating your advice into an ongoing pattern of positive exchanges between the other person and yourself. Search for things of value that the other person might do for you. The idea is to create a situation in which the other person initiates behavior for you approximately as often as you do for him or her, on balance, over an extended period of time.

5. Try to help the person whom you wish to advise increase the rewards that he or she might receive from persons other than yourself for doing his or her job.

The General Usefulness of Exchange Theory

In addition to the applications of exchange theory that have been suggested in the context of explaining it, the framework is useful in conceptualizing the status and dynamics of the relationship between two parties at any Level of analysis. For example, if the pastor senses that a member of the congregation is drifting away from the church, the pastor might very well gain some insights as to why by asking himself or herself what perceptions the person may have of what value he or she derives from being an active member of the congregation.

In the same vein the pastor or other church leader must recognize that those who volunteer to perform services for the church rarely do so out of altruism. Although this position may seem cynical and thus offensive, motivation and exchange theories are quite consistent in recognizing that a person meets his or her own needs, first and foremost, through meeting the needs of others. This appears to be an enduring means of enabling one to feel that one is of some consequence.

By volunteering one’s services to the church or any other organization, the individual gains recognition and acceptance leading to enhancing self-esteem, along with opportunities to associate with persons of similar interests.

Building from this insight , the pastor can work toward the establishment of exchange relationships with individual volunteers in which he or she leads them to believe, quite accurately, that they satisfy their side of the tacit “exchange balance” by meeting the obligations to which they have committed themselves.

The following points , attributed to J. Donald Philip, president of Michigan’s Hillsdale College, provide a practical framework for meeting needs that are common to volunteer workers. As such they represent a useful guide to developing positive exchange relationships.

Volunteer Viewpoint

If you want my loyalty, interests and best efforts, remember that . . .

1. I need a sense of belonging, a feeling that I am honestly needed for my total self, not just for my hands, nor because I take orders well.

2. I need to have a sense of sharing in planning our objectives. My need will be satisfied only when I feel that my ideas have had a fair hearing.

3. I need to feel that the goals and objectives arrived at are within reach and that they make sense to me.

4. I need to feel that what I’m doing has real purpose or contributes to human welfare-that its value extends even beyond my personal gain, or hours.

5. I need to share in making the rules which, together, we shall live and work toward our goals.

6. I need to know in some clear detail just what is expected of me-not only my detailed task but where I have opportunity to make personal and final decisions.

7. I need to have some responsibilities that challenge, that are within range of my abilities and interest, and that contribute toward reaching my assigned goal , and that cover all goals.

8. I need to see that progress is being made toward the goals we have set.

9. I need to be kept informed. What I’m not up on, I may be down on. (Keeping me informed is one way to give me status as an individual.)

10. I need to have confidence in my superiors-confidence based upon assurance of consistent fair treatment, or recognition when it is due, and trust that loyalty will bring increased security.

In brief, it really doesn’t matter how much sense my part in this organization makes to you-I must feel that the whole deal makes sense to me!

If one were to conclude that exchange theory is as applicable to the pastor’s relationship with members of the paid staff as it is to his or her ability to influence those who are volunteers, one would be quite right. The purpose of focusing its application on the managerial challenge presented by volunteers has been to emphasize to the pastor that he or she does in fact have a means of  developing some leverage in respect to the problems of influencing these people. Again, some volunteers will respond as readily to the initiatives of the pastor as do the paid members of the staff out of respect for the pastor’s position, expertise, or other bases of authority.

In the final analysis, whether any individual allows himself or herself to be influenced by another human being is often a complex matter involving motivations that operate at both conscious and unconscious levels. Recognizing this , the pastor can never be confident that he or she has exact knowledge as to why he or she has succeeded or failed in his or her attempts to influence another human being. Usually, however, precise knowledge as to why one has been able to influence another person will count for less than having been able to do so. In this connection it does seem likely that the pastor has more ways of being influential than he or she has previously realized.