Motivating Your Jr. and Sr. High Class

Diane Wheatley


Motivating young people is a lot like fishing–you won’t get what you’re after unless you use the right kind of bait. When out on a lake, a fisherman selects the kind of bait or lure which attracts the fish he wants to catch. There are different kinds of fish which require different kinds of bait. A successful fisherman knows what the fish go for.

Similarly, a teacher of young people needs to know what stimulates and motivates youth in general. But more importantly, the teacher must know what specific motivations will move specific kinds of young
people. Let’s look at some examples.


Alvin is a self-centered seventh grader who makes his choices on what to do with his time and energy based on whether or not they bring him pleasure. “If it feels good to me, or helps me avoid something which
doesn’t feel good, I’ll do it,” Alvin says with his actions. “If it hurts me, or cheats me out of a happy experience, I won’t do it.” Alvin does not take other people into account; he simply wants to stock his life with pleasurable experiences and avoid all contact with pain or discomfort. Alvin’s prime motivators are pain and pleasure.

Suppose you want Alvin to attend Sunday School for three weeks in succession, memorize five Bible verses or invite a new friend to church. If Alvin is going to participate in any of these activities he must be convinced that they will be fun or bring him pleasure in some way. Motivating Alvin to attend Sunday School may require a special effort by the teacher to make classroom activity enioyable–a game, contest or some creative learning activities. Offering a prize for Bible memorization or inviting friends to church will probably get Alvin’s interest, especially if the prize is a hot fudge sundae, weekend campout or gift from his favorite store.

Determine what the Alvins in your class enjoy most and use these motivations to catch their interest and involve them in meaningful activity.


Betty is a ninth grader who, like Alvin, is also very self-centered. But her focus is slightly more sophisticated than Alvin’s. When presented an opportunity of any kind, she asks, “What will it do for
me? What will I gain from this experience?” She’s not so much interested in filling her life with fun and pleasure as in getting her personal needs met–needs like acceptance, physical and emotional safety, belonging, love, self-respect, success, etc. Betty views other people as objects to be used to gain her own ends. For example, she helps Don with his math assignment in order to insure his help with her science project. She will welcome a newcomer in Sunday School only when she feels the personal need for a new friend.

If you want to motivate Betty to perform the same tasks as Alvin, a different strategy must be employed. In each case, Betty must be convinced that the task helps meet one of her personal needs. Encouraging Betty to consistent Sunday School attendance may be accomplished by assuring her that she will be placed in a group with at least one friend (acceptance) and be allowed to use her abilities during class session (success). Betty will memorize verses if she knows she will get recognition for her efforts. Unlike Alvin, Betty may subject herself to an unpleasant or even painful experience in order to gain needed acceptance.

Watch the Bettys in your group to determine their real and felt needs, and motivate these learners by structuring activities which help meet these needs constructively.


Chuck is primarily motivated by peer pressure. He thinks, “if my friends approve, it must be right. But if my friends or other people who are important to me do not approve, then it must be wrong.” He wants to know what others are thinking, and he is motivated by the approval of others or by the example set by people he admires. “who else is doing it?” and “Will they like me if I do it?” are the main questions Chuck considers.

Chuck goes to Bible study because his friends go. He argues with his parents about staying out later with his friends because he wants Terry, Arturo and Phil to accept him as one of the gang. Chuck doesn’t
join the chess club at school because his friends may make fun of him for being an “egghead.”


Donna is a fourth kind of learner–one who is largely motivated by right and wrong. “If it’s legal, I’ll do it, if it’s illegal I won’t do it, she thinks. Donna values law and order. She determines what she will and will not do by asking, “What do the rules say?”

Imagine yourself on a bicycle coasting gently down a hill toward a four-way stop intersection. There are no vehicles approaching from any direction and no policeman watching the intersection. Do you stop?

If you are like Alvin, you probably won’t stop because stopping would  interfere with the pleasure of the ride down the hill. Betty would notbe likely to stop either because she cannot see anything personally to
be gained by stopping–the stop sign is an annoying obstacle in her path. If you are Chuck, you would stop or not stop depending on who was riding with you and what they would do. But if you’re a Donna type, you would come to a complete stop regardless of all other circumstances because it’s against the law to run a stop sign.

Donna will be motivated to attend Sunday School, regularly memorize Scripture or invite a friend to church if she understands that these activities are right. If she can be convinced that God wants her to be involved in these activities she will work diligently to accomplish them to the letter.


Evan is a self-motivated twelfth grader. He is not influenced much by rewards, group pressure or rules. Evan says, “After investigating all the options, this is the best thing for me to do. I don’t care what
others think or what the rules say, as far as I’m concerned, this is the truth.”

Evan can be motivated to attend Sunday School, memorize Scripture or invite friends to church if he is convinced that such activities are of value in themselves. If Evan can see that these activities are right for him, he will eagerly participate irregardless of rewards, participation of others or rules.

Youth leaders usually don’t have any problems with self-motivated people like Evan. But these learners are also the hardest to influence when they make a wrong decision, It takes a great deal of logical reasoning to influence Evan’s thinking.


Some Implications

Although there is much overlapping in motivation, the five learners described illustrate five general motivational patterns. What do these differences imply for youth workers?

Find out what motivates your students. Your learners represent a variety of wants, needs and motivational requirements. You must discover which attitude each of your learners holds so that you may effectively motivate them to desired behavior. It’s true that each individual’s attitude will change through growth and development, but each of your learners is likely to fall into one of the five general patterns described. You may find that you have all five types of learners in your group at the same time. Carefully investigate your
group to discern what each individual learner needs to be motivated to Christian behavior.

Provide several reasons for performing a given task. In this way, a learner who is not motivated by one reason may be motivated by another.

Remember that God appeals to many motivations. Each individual possess a unique collection of abilities, interests and motivational needs. Throughout Bible history God has dealt with man within the framework
of those needs. He has motivated people through promise of pain or  pleasure, as with Adam and Eve and the forbidden fruit, Noah and the flood, and Moses and the Israelites.

The motivation of pleasing others also shows up in Scripture. “If you love Me, you will keep my commandments,” said Jesus.

Following the rules also has its place in the Bible. A statement  such as, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father, but through Me” gives a clear guideline–you come to the Father by Jesus or you don’t come at all. A person motivated by the desire to do right will get the message.

Since God approaches His human creation by meeting many different motivational needs, we should be encouraged to do the same with young people for whom we are responsible.


Present Adequate Goals

We have looked at some basic motivations and some examples of how these vary from person to person. We have also seen that God appeals to a variety of motivational levels. However, there are other factors
that affect motivation which need to be considered.

One important factor relates to goals. What are you trying to motivate young people to do? You need to have specific goals, and each goal should be ownable, reachable and measurable.

A goal is something you want the learner to achieve. It may be memorizing one Bible verse, participating in a drama presentation, in a drama presentation, studying the book of Mark and being able to answer correctly ten questions about that book.

An ownable goal is something worth doing, something that causes a person to say, “I want to try it.” A goal may be ownable to a young person simply because it’s fun and he enjoys doing it–such as going to a party. It may be ownable because it’s a good thing to do and helps others–such as preparing boxes of food for poor families at Christmas. It may be ownable because it meets his needs –as the need for acceptance from other young people is met in working together to plan a bike trip. It may be ownable because it is challenging and fulfills the persons dreams of making his life count in the world–such as, participating in a city-wide evangelistic campaign that will reach into every home with a personal message of Christ’s love.

Goals that are presented to young people in churches today are often fun, helpful, and need-meeting. But often they are no more challenging than setting up chairs for a meeting or washing dishes after a banquet.

Young people are idealistic. They want to change the world. They are willing to commit themselves to causes and communes in their effort to find an ownable goal in which to invest their lives. But adult
Christians, caught up in the “cares of this world,” can unknowingly squelch the enthusiasm of their young people, often causing them either to give up on having worthwhile goals, or to turn away from the church and find inspiration elsewhere.

Christian adults would be wise to challenge youth to try out their ideals in the church and to harness their energy and ideas into positive, practical service to the world-changing Christ.

The youth of several churches in Southern California have focused their efforts on some of the impoverished towns in Mexico near the Mexican-American border. Several times a year the young people go there to hold Bible school and evangelistic campaigns, and help build buildings for the mission that serves the area. They are helping to share the gospel with a group of people who have much less opportunity to hear it than most Americans. They are motivated by an ownable goal- -helping to change the world by sharing Christ with one part of that world.

Goals should also be reachable. A reachable goal is something that the learner can achieve. The goal of changing the world is ownable but not immediately reachable because the goal is too broad. However, like the young people ministering to the border town, a goal can be subdivided into smaller, more reachable, goals. You might not be able to motivate students to climb a mountain, but you could motivate most of them to hike one mile. You might not be able to get them to memorize a whole book of the Bible, but you might be able to get them to memorize one verse.

Make sure your goals are reachable. If you present students week after week with goals they cannot reach, they will lose the desire to try. No one enjoys failure, and the fastest way to “demotivate” young people is to program them for failure by giving them unreachable goals.

On the other hand, if you consistently present reachable goals, the young people will develop confidence in you and in themselves. They will be motivated to do what you suggest because you have proved that you understand their capabilities, and you have enabled them to have the good feeling of success.

A goal must also be measurable. Both you and the learner must be able  to know when he has reached it. Success breeds more success and increases motivation.

The goal to “grow spiritually this week” sounds good, but it is too large, vague and difficult to measure. Instead, asking learners to reserve five minutes each day for personal quiet time over seven days is measurable–either they did or didn’t have a quiet time. Similarly, the goal to “be less selfish this week” is fuzzy, but the instruction to “do one helpful task around the house this week without being asked” is measurable.

Success in motivating young people is largely dependent upon the goals which their leaders set before them. If goals are perceived by youth as ownable, reachable and measurable, motivating young people
will be much easier.


Give Youth the Freedom to Fail

Many people are never motivated enough to try anything new because their leaders project the need for perfection. Youth leaders sometimes fear that the young people might not sing well enough, explain the
gospel properly, or present a valid testimony before the unsaved. Young people pick up this anxiety and become afraid to try.

Terry, a guitar-playing youth leader, asked one of his young men, Rob, to play the guitar with him during group singing at a picnic. After Rob missed a few chords during the first song, Terry kindly but firmly asked him not to play until he memorized the right chords. Rob never played for group singing after that, for fear that he might play the wrong chord and fail his youth leader again.

Young people need leaders who allow them freedom to fail, and leaders who encourage them and help them learn and grow from their mistakes.


Provide Adequate Training

Many people hold back from new experiences because they feel they are not able to perform the task assigned by the leader. You don’t ask a first-week piano student to play at a recital. You don’t ask someone
who has never seen a football game to quarterback the team. And you shouldn’t expect young people to do things they haven’t been trained to do. Such insight led the Reverend James Kennedy to develop the
witnessing plan called “Evangelism Explosion.” He realized that people needed to be trained in order to present the gospel effectively.

The church often fails to provide adequate training for young people in the areas of desired development. Learners are more highly motivated to participate when they know they will be instructed and assisted in accomplishing the task.

For example, you might want to involve your young people in helping to lead Vacation Bible School. For most students, teaching children in VBS is a new experience, one which they may feel inadequate to
accomplish. Therefore, motivation to accept the role of VBS helpers may be quite low. But if you spend ample time preparing your students for the experiences they will face, and give several good reasons for
participating which meet their diverse motivational levels, they will be more apt to become involved.


Give Immediate Feedback

Your learners need to hear from their leaders that they are doing well. This is called feedback. When a student recites a Bible verse, he needs a listener to tell him if he did it perfectly or if he was off by a word or two. When we have done well, feedback encourages us and motivates us to keep on learning. when we have missed the mark a bit, feedback lets us know where to make a correction, and helps us realize that we can keep going.

Even a seemingly great failure can be softened by feedback. A young woman was motivated to lead a campus Bible study, but certain critical students got out of hand and, in her estimation, demolished
her effort. She was greatly discouraged and did not want to go back the next week. Through feedback an understanding leader reviewed the experience with her, helped her remember the parts that did not go
well, roleplayed with her some ways of handling the critics if they tried again, and reassured her that she hasn’t lost her usefulness in God’s kingdom. Through feedback her motivation was rekindled.

Feedback is important in every area of youth work. It is needed with individuals in evaluating lesson assignments, memory work, and personal progress. It is also important after group experiences. Schedule a time for feedback or “debriefing” after a group meeting, film, outreach activity, etc. Let the young people tell what happened and how they felt about it. The snowballing effect of positive feedback will help motivate individuals and groups to greater levels of participation next time.


Build a Positive Group Attitude

The atmosphere or attitude of the group as a whole is most important in motivation. It is said that the attitude of the majority of the group will be the attitude that the new members assimilate. Have you ever noticed how an excited new convert is often quickly lost among the complacent members of the congregation or youth group? Motivating students to positive action is very difficult if the group attitude is
apathetic or negative.

How can positive group attitude be encouraged among young people? Three factors will help. First, focus on quality rather than quantity. Make every activity, every meeting, the best it can possibly be. Make
sure you are meeting the needs of students and providing adequate motivation with everything you do.

Frequency is the second factor. Meet as often as you can and still maintain quality. The more young people are together the more they will build meaningful relationships that make them want to stay together and work together.

Variety is the third factor. The more you vary your activities, the more needs you are likely to meet.

Adult leadership is also an important factor in good group attitude. Make sure all adults working in the youth program contribute to a positive group feeling through their enthusiasm and wholehearted
support of the program. Regularly scheduled planning meetings for teachers and youth workers are indispensable to this facet of successful youth ministry.


Provide Life Experiences

“Experience is the best teacher,” says the old maxim. Experience is also one of the best motivators. Experience is what convicts a young person of a need. If he has never encountered an elderly person
leading a lonely existence in a rest home, he will not know of that person’s need for a visit, or and friendly conversation. The way to motivate the young person to help meet the older person’s need is to let him experience that need by visiting a rest home and meeting older people.

Similarly, a Christian young person may not be deeply convinced of the need to study the Bible until he talks with an unbeliever who poses questions which reveal how little he really knows about the Scriptures.

Church leaders who seek to motivate young people will need to plan experiences which expose them to needs and provide opportunities for the Holy Spirit to do His convicting work in their hearts. Such
experiences should include “real-life” encounters, such as visiting an orphanage, interviewing people on the street about their faith, and providing short-term missions projects. Sometimes when “real-life”
experiences are not available, simulated experiences in class can also provide input which will motivate young people. For example, roleplaying a conversation with an atheist might move the participants to more diligent Bible study in order to defend their faith more effectively.


Recognize Multiple Motivators

All the human relationships are complicated by a multitude of factors. In trying to motivate young people, you will run into situations where a motivation that seems valid to you will not work because there is a
stronger motivation hidden within the learner. For example, John is constantly joking in class and you threaten to call his parents and discipline him. You are attempting to motivate him through fear of pain (parental discipline). What you don’t realize is that his behavior is being motivated by the enjoyment and attention he derives from being the class clown which is stronger than his fear of discipline. Your attempt at motivation fails because the hidden motivator is stronger.

Sue is an intelligent girl and you can’t understand why she doesn’t participate more in class. You assume that participating would be one way for her to gain the pleasure of peer approval. You don’t realize
that she’s much more concerned about one peer in particular–a boy named Bob. She’s afraid that if she answers questions in class Bob will think she’s too smart for him and won’t ask her out. Once again a
conflict of motivations occurs, and the stronger one prevails. A wise teacher realizes that there are many motivators at work in an individual and in a class. As he gets to know the learners he will gain expertise in dealing with the motivators and selecting the right way to motivate students.


Allow for Change and Growth

Another factor of motivation is change. The teen years bring tremendous changes to a young person’s life. Motives will vary from day to day and year to year as young people develop and grow. You need to allow for change in dealing with teens as well as discovering how to use change in building motivation.

Sometimes people who work with youth have the feeling that they want young people to be motivated by the “right reasons” for doing things. For example, we want teens to attend Sunday School because they are
motivated by the need to study God’s Word, not because they want to  win an attendance contest. The trouble is that those who are motivated by the right reasons are already attending, and the others are either
motivated by the wrong reasons (rewards), avoiding parental punishment or they aren’t coming at all.

You must start with a person where he perceives his needs, wants, and desires to be. The Lord Jesus did this. He started by talking about water to the woman at the well. But it didn’t take him long to approach the real need of her life: forgiveness of sin and right standing with God.

Similarly, in working with youth, you start “where they’re at,” and then through skillful planning, lead them to new motivations.

For example, you have in your class a seventh grade boy named Jim who has never read the Bible on his own and is not motivated by spiritual things. How can you get him to read the Bible? You know Jim likes to
hike. And so you offer to go hiking with anyone who reads in his Bible three times this week and can tell you next week what he read. You assign the Scriptures for them to read, carefully choosing passages
that specifically deal with areas where Jim has needs.

Jim reads the Bible so he can go hiking with you. But in his reading he encounters passages that help him with some of his problems. You have used the hiking to get him to read the Bible; this allows the Lord to work in his life, showing him the help he can find in the Scripture; and thus a new motivation for Bible study is introduced.

The high school sponsors of a church in Rome, New York, developed a program based on the idea that different things motivate different students. They called it “The Flight of the Outreachers.”

The program was divided into three courses of study, varying in difficulty. Each course included incentives along the way–rewards for completing certain portions of the course. These rewards included a Christian poster, a steak dinner, a banana split, an opportunity to throw a pie at the pastor, and a trip to a free local attraction.

Students who completed two of the courses received their choice of an overnight camping trip in a nearby state park or a Christian album. Those who completed the entire “Flight” were awarded a free week at a Christian Youth camp. (Notice how these “rewards” also provide additional ways for leaders to help students mature in Christ.)

Each “Flight-path” required both memory work and assigned reading. The easiest flight path, “Comic Relief,” had students memorize ten Scripture verses and read ten Christian comic books on the lives of
famous believers. Each student had to answer oral questions to show his comprehension of the reading.

The second flight-path, “Mark Trek,” led the student through the book of” Mark in ten weeks. For each step , he answered written and oral questions on the reading of Mark and memorized three or four verses.

The hardest flight-path, “Navigators Trip,” required the memorization of 70 verses and the completion of nine Bible study booklets plus one other Christian book, with oral questions on the reading.

Those who complete the entire course had learned 110 Scripture verses; studied Mark; read the lives of well-known Christian men and women; and completed a study course on the basic doctrines of the Christian faith.

Notice that the “Flight” program used a variety of extrinsic motivators to appeal to different types of students. These included the desire for rewards, the meeting of personal needs, pleasing the leaders, and the involvement and approval of friends. In addition, goals were ownable, reachable, and measurable.


Build Believability

In order for motivation to work, a person must believe in the outcome of the consequences. If, for example, you are trying to motivate a student to do something in order to avoid unpleasant consequences, he must (1) desire to avoid the consequences and (2) believe that those consequences will really happen. If he doesn’t believe it, he will not be motivated.

In the garden, Eve believed God’s word about death as a consequence of eating the forbidden fruit she did not want to die, so she did not eat the fruit Satan’s first tactic was to convince her that she would not
really die. When the threatened consequence lost its believability, it lost its Power as a motivator. Eve ate the fruit.

When Lot tried to motivate his sons-in-law to leave Sodom, he lacked believability. They thought he was fooling and they would not leave. As a result, they perished.

When you threaten to discipline a young person by sending him home from camp for misbehavior, he must (1) believe that You will do it and (2) not want to go home from camp. In one particular case, many young
people at camp were misbehaving. They ignored leaders’ threats about being sent home. But when the worst offenders actually were sent home, those remaining behaved remarkably well. The motivator now had credibility.

Similarly, if you decide to use a reward as a motivator, that reward must be (1) desirable to the student and (2) something he believes he will receive.

Many students have been told about the wonderful promises of God. Pastors and teachers can paint glowing pictures of the rewards the Lord has for His people. But teenagers often don’t see those benefits
in their own lives. Gradually they become less and less motivated to study about and discuss God’s promises.

We tell students about the wonderful benefits of studying the Bible daily. But often we do not give them enough guidelines and feedback to make their attempts at study positive experiences. After reading for
several days (possibly in a portion of Scripture not suited to their current needs), they decide they’re not seeing the promised benefits, so they lose motivation and ultimately give up.

Guidance is important in dealing with the motivation problems just discussed. Young people need help in seeing how God’s promises apply to them. They need help in studying the Bible on their own. They
need to be able to talk over their devotional times, to discuss what did and did not go well. They need broader perspective and explanation of God’s ways of working in their lives.

Teens need to learn that spiritual growth, like physical growth, often takes place imperceptibly, without the knowledge of the person who is growing. The adult world rightly teaches young people that a proper diet will make them strong and healthy. But no one expects a glass of milk or one balanced meal to double the number of pushups they can do. Popeye’s habit af gulping a can of spinach for “instant power” just
doesn’t work in real life.

Development is a process. Building good spiritual habits may produce no immediate, dramatic results. But the discipline developed over the months and years will have its effect. If you can help students gain this perspective, you will help them to be motivated to keep up with their practice of the Christian Life.

Consistency is an important factor in believability. If you discipline a student one time and not the next, or reward him one time and forget the reward next time, he will not know when to believe you. He will lose motivation because you have lost credibility.


See Yourself as a Model and Teammate

The teachers and leaders who work with young people must be believable as people. It’s useless attempting to motivate students to do things the adult leaders are not doing. Don’t try to get them to attend worship regularly, or go to a peer group Bible study, or serve on committees, if you’re not doing the same or the equivalent. Don’t send them out to live for Jesus. Go with them. Provide a strong example, as Jesus did for His followers. Show them how to live for Him, don’t just tell them.

The teacher is a teammate, not a judge. Foster the attitude that adults and teens are working together toward goals and changes. Teens back off from manipulation and judgmental attitudes. It’s our job to
gain insight into motivation and to work with teens as they are; it’s God’s job to change them. We are responsible for making usable plans to the best of our ability, learning all we can about young people in
general and our young people in particular, and being faithful in prayer.


Find Out What Motivates Your Students

The first step in applying motivational principles is to find out what motivates your students. This means getting to know them, both as a group and as individuals. The process of exposure takes time and effort, but it’s the only way to success. Here are some tips for getting to know more about young people.

Probe beneath surface answers. Sometimes a young person’s real meaning is obscured by oblique or even contradictory statements. Perhaps he’s afraid to let others know how he feels. Or a certain issue is so desperately important to him that he can’t deal with it directly. Words on the surface may suggest one motive, but the heart may have some other motivation entirely. Ask questions and listen carefully until you have arrived at the real issues and motives.

For example, Greg was not doing well in his high school English class.

Reading tests showed he needed to learn to read.

Teacher: Greg, let’s program you for remedial reading.
Greg: I don’t want to.
Teacher: Oh, you don’t want to learn to read.
Greg: I didn’t say that. (Pause) I mean, they’ve tried that stuff and I can’t be helped.
Teacher: They’ve tried what stuff?
Greg: They’ve used those machines on me and I can’t be helped. I can’t learn to read.
Teacher: If the reading teacher says he can teach you to read without using the machines, would you be willing to take the class? And if he says he can’t teach you to read, we won’t put you in that class. Is that OK?
Greg: Sounds great.

The motivator “you can learn to read” was no longer believable to Greg. Believability needed to be rebuilt before Greg’s desire to learn to read was a strong enough motivator to outweigh his desire not to risk failure again.

Try a questionnaire. If you’re just getting started with a group of young people, or if you feel you need a fresh start with an established group, use a questionnaire. Let young people express their own views, and let them know you care about their views.

These sample questions should get you started thinking up the kind of questionnaire that will help you get to know your young people.

1. One thing I really like to do is ________________.
2. A fun way to celebrate my birthday would be _______________.
3. A fun way to celebrate victory in a sports event would be. _______.
4. If someone wanted to hire me to do yard work, and couldn’t pay me with money but wanted to give me something, I would like to receive ______________.


Variety Is Important

Make sure you have a good variety of activities, involvement and rewards. This is the way to meet the needs and motivational levels of a variety of students. For example, if you schedule a volleyball night, have a quieter activity available at the same site for students who don’t like volleyball or for others who will enjoy mixing athletic and quiet activities in one evening.

If you offer rewards for Bible study, make sure you have a mixture of rewards that will motivate the different types of students. Or allow them to collect points toward choosing any item within a certain price
range at the local Christian bookstore.

Sometimes variety can be achieved in one project. For example, the young people at one church planned a dinner and talent show night for the adults in the church, inviting them to bring guests as an outreach
project. This event involved students who could cook, prepare publicity materials, serve tables, handle money, perform, give testimony, build props, operate lights, and so on. It was one of the group’s most successful activities.

Another important way to provide variety is to involve students with church activities and boards. Young people need not be segregated into “youth” activities exclusively. They will feel more a part of the church, and more responsible to it, if they are involved in “adult” activities and responsibilities. Here, too, the involvement should be geared to individual interests. A senior interested in accounting could work with the trustees of the church. A booklover could help with the church library. A potential secretary could  volunteer several hours a week typing or answering the church phone. A fellow or gal interested in teaching could serve as a substitute or helper in lower grades of the Sunday School. A musically talented student might help lead singing in children’s classes, plan music for an outreach program, or serve on the music committee.


Let Students Help Plan

The young people themselves are the ones who can tell you if your goals are attractive and attainable. They can tell you what appeals to them, what motivates them, and what does not. So include them in the planning.

Another advantage to involving young people in planning is that it will teach them to lead. They need the experience this provides. In addition, helping with the planning will raise their own “ownership level”–they will feel more a part of the group, more responsible to it.


Make Your Planning Complete

Planning an activity is only part of planning a complete learning experience or youth event. Once you have chosen the activity, you’ll need to plan motivational factors, preparation, and follow-up.

First, plan what motivations you will try to tap. How will these affect the various types of people you want to involve in the activity? Can you present several motives for doing the project?

Plan your goals carefully. If, for example, you’re planning a weekend camping outing to which each young person may invite one friend, plan to use the time for building relationships among the young people and
for sharing a witness to Christ with the visiting friends.

You also need to plan every detail of the trip carefully. Make sure young people know the purpose of the trip and what you plan for leaders and teens to do. Spend time in conversational prayer for the weekend with special focus on preparing to minister to the visitors. Teach young people how to give a testimony and how to show a person the Bible verses that point the way to Christ. Roleplay various situations that might arise during the weekend: include such diverse matters as leading a person to Christ and giving first aid for a broken leg; rebuilding a relationship troubled by a misunderstanding, and what to do if your tent leaks in the rain. Take care of practical matters like food, KP duty, arranging transportation, and keeping parents fully informed on details of the trip (including costs and how to reach their teens if need should arise during the outing).

After the trip, provide an opportunity for feedback. Invite students to share experiences, feelings, observations. Some may have led their friends to Christ, and this may motivate them to consider follow-up
responsibilities and to continue witnessing to others. Be sure to give them all the help you can as they reach out in this important way.

During the feedback time, discuss ways to improve the next outing. And plan additional ways to build relationships and witness to friends.

A properly planned activity can do much good in the lives of the young people and their group.


Evaluate Your Program Carefully

You may think your youth program already meets the motivational needs of its members. But don’t take anything for granted. Evaluate carefully and often. Here are some suggestions:

People are motivated to return when their needs are met, and they avoid repeating unpleasant experiences. Have you met students’ physical need for adequate light, warmth and comfortable seating? Have you provided for food when appropriate? Are you meeting the need for belonging? (Have special helpers for visitors so they won’t feel lost.) What other needs should you be meeting and how will you go about meeting them?

Create a checklist. As you plan an event, make sure you cover all the items. At the final planning session, double check all items on the list. As you designed a program, list fears or problems students may encounter in it. Plan how to overcome these trouble spots.

Get the adult and student leaders together after each event to determine successful aspects you want to repeat and mistakes you want to avoid in the future. Keep records of ideas and procedures. List helpful information, problems to be avoided, etc. Such lists can be invaluable in planning future events.

Keep a card file of students, listing pertinent information such as age, address, school, interests, etc. Include all the information you have about what motivates each one. Once a month check to be sure you have done something that will motivate each student. If you find any whose particular motivational needs have not been met, put those cards on the top of your stack and discuss with other leaders what you will do for them.


Training is Important

Students may learn by trial and error how to minister, to others and how to be effective Christians, but they’ll learn better and faster if they get specific instruction. Whether it’s sharing their faith, visiting older people, or conducting a bake sale, they need the knowledge and experience that adults can provide. There are four basic stages of training: (1) I do it while you watch; (2) I do some and you do some while I watch; (3) you do it while I watch; (4) you do it alone.

There are many ways to handle the first three stages, both in and out of the classroom. You can roleplay situations. You can take a student with you when you visit people. You visit the student campus and let
him watch you relate to other people. You visit the student on campus and let him watch you relate to other people. You can invite the young person to your house and let him watch you and your spouse interact.
As he sees you succeed in these situations, he will be more motivated to try.

Youth activities need not be complicated, costly, or large to motivate young people to participate. But they must meet needs. After all, we are in the business of meeting needs, not perpetuating programs. A sports night at church may cost nothing but energy, while it meets needs for fellowship, physical activity,  unstructured time with adult sponsors, and an alternative to the drinking party that school friends are giving.

If your programs are going to meet needs they must meet young people where they are and tap into their motivational level. Senior highs need to study the Bible, and your high school Sunday School may specialize in Bible study.

But your program will never meet their needs unless a bridge of motivation is constructed between the two. What will jar Alex loose from his complacency and interest him in studying the Word? What will draw Lisa’s attention away from the topic of cheerleading and onto the Scriptures for 60 minutes? How can Ramon be interested in visiting the invalids in the nursing home?

There are as many questions as there are young people in your group. And the answer to each is a motivator–a bridge between need and program, question and answer, individual and God. Your mission
as a youth teacher or worker is to invade the lives of those for whom you are responsible, learn where they’re at and what motivates them, and then build the motivational bridges which will meet their needs.


(The above material is a reprint by the Gospel Light Publications in Ventura, CA.)

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