Your organization is perfectly tuned to get the results you are now getting. If you want different results, reward different things. You don’t get what you ask for, long for, beg for or hope for. You get what you reward. Whatever gets rewarded gets done.

As Andy Stanley says it, “What’s celebrated is repeated. The behaviors that are celebrated are repeated. The decisions that are celebrated are repeated. The values that are celebrated are repeated. If you intentionally or unintentionally celebrate something that is in conflict with your vision, the vision won’t stick. Celebrations trump motivational speeches every time.” (Making the Vision Stick)

There is one exception we will get to after while.

The Bible says a lot about rewards. God is a rewarder.

  • Hebrews 11:6 (NIV) And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.
  • Matthew 6:6 (NIV) But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.
  • Matthew 10:42 (NIV) And if anyone gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones because he is my disciple, I tell you the truth, he will certainly not lose his reward.”
  • Matthew 16:27 (NIV) For the Son of Man is going to come in his Father’s glory with his angels, and then he will reward each person according to what he has done.
  • Revelation 22:12 (NIV) “Behold, I am coming soon! My reward is with me, and I will give to everyone according to what he has done. (emphasis added)

Godly organizations do what God does: reward the behavior you want more of. Does this sound like we are appealing to selfishness? Consider these words by John Piper:

Someone, no doubt, will say that the gain is a sure result of genuine love, but if it is the motive of love, then love is not really love. In other words, it is good for God to reward acts of love, but it is not good for us to be drawn into love by the promise of reward. But if this is true, then why did Paul tell us in verse 3 that we would lose our reward if we were not really loving? If longing for the “gain” of loving ruins the moral value of love, it is very bad pedagogy to tell someone to be loving lest he lose his “gain.”

Giving Paul the benefit of the doubt, should we not rather say there is a kind of gain that is wrong to be motivated by (hence, “Love seeks not its own”), as well as a kind of gain that is right to be motivated by (hence, “If I do not have love, I gain nothing”)? Edwards says the proper gain to be motivated by is the happiness one gets in the act of love itself or in the good achieved by it. — Desiring God: Meditations of a Christian Hedonist.

There is quite a bit of literature in the secular press on the value of rewards.

In the soon-to-be-released book Make Your Group Grow (Group, June, 1010) I cited research from the book The Carrot Principle:

Extensive research demonstrates the value of rewarding. Healthstream Research conducted more than 200,000 interviews more than 10 years with managers and employees around the world. Here are a few of their findings:

• In response to the question, “My organization recognizes excellence,” the organizations that scored in the bottom 25% had an average return on equity (ROE) of 2.4%, whereas those scoring in the top 25% had an average ROE of 8.7%.

• Teams and offices rated most highly by employees in response to, “My manager does a good job of recognizing employee contributions,” also typically placed in the top scores for customer satisfaction, employee satisfaction, and retention.

• Of those who report the highest morale at work, 94.4% said their managers are effective at recognition. In contrast, 56% of employees who reported low morale gave managers a failing grade on recognition.

What kind of rewards are appropriate in church? Recognition mostly. Teacher appreciation dinners, timely notes, mentioning a good deed in a blog by the pastor are all appropriate. What I don’t recommend is passing out Blue-Ray players and IPods. Not only does it seem crass (at least to me) research indicates it doesn’t work all that well and can even backfire. Isn’t this what the Bible says? “Honor those leaders who work so hard for you.” 1 Thes. 5.12 MSG

Here are are few ways to honor those who work hard among you.

  • How do you honor those groups that reproduce? I knew one church that had both groups–the existing groups and the group that was coming out of that group to come forward during a worship service. They had people from the congregation gather around and lay hands on them and pray for them as you might missionaries going off to a foreign field. This kind of things sends an unmistakable message: this is the win; this is what we want to see happen; do more of this.
  • Do you hold an annual appreciation dinner for all your workers? (Not just teachers.) Do you have lots of rewards in all kinds of categories so lots of people feel they win?
  • When someone joins the church and you know a class or teacher had a part in it, invite them down front with the person joining.
  • Do you use your newsletter or blog to reward? Mention lots of names. Catch people doing right and reward them for it.

Notice that the rewards are all ways of honoring people, as the Bible says. I don’t recommend financially significant tangible rewards. My friend Richard King gives small gift cards to Dairy Queen. This is a good thing. A small token of appreciation this ways is good. I was at FBC Woodstock recently and attended their regular teacher’s training. They passed out Starbucks gift cards to certain folks. Again, small tokens of appreciation. . . a good thing.

Ken Blanchard coined the phrase, “Catch them doing something right.” We  tend to spend 80% of our time telling people what they ought to do and 20% of their time complementing them for what they did right. We ought to do the opposite. Spend a lot of time watching for people doing something right–even approximately right. When you see it, get a big spot light and put in on them. Honor those who work hard among you.

Where we could get ourselves into trouble is if we were to make a large financial incentive for growing a class. I have often said, “You could double a class if I offered you a million dollars, right?”  I mean this only to say that it is possible. I don’t think it appropriate to reward with any significant financial incentive. Crass rewards like flat screen TVs for packing the pew are just that–crass and offensive. And, they don’t work.

Daniel Pink has a new book out on this subject called Drive. It is a good read. Here is a two sentence summary of this findings:

  • What Deci found, and then confirmed in two additional studies he conducted shortly thereafter, was almost the opposite. “When money is used as an external reward for some activity, the subjects lose intrinsic interest for the activity,” he wrote.5 Rewards can deliver a short-term boost—just as a jolt of caffeine can keep you cranking for a few more hours. But the effect wears off—and, worse, can reduce a person’s longer-term motivation to continue the project.
  • “When money is used as an external reward for some activity, the subjects lose intrinsic interest for the activity,” he wrote.5 Rewards can deliver a short-term boost—just as a jolt of caffeine can keep you cranking for a few more hours. But the effect wears off—and, worse, can reduce a person’s longer-term motivation to continue the project.”

Any Stanley talks about this dynamic in his excellent book, Making the Vision Stick. He talks about receiving an email from a the mother of a child who was served by one of their small group workers with children. Here is what she said:

Dear Andy,

In your talk last Sunday, you spoke about the impact that small group leaders have on the children in their groups. I wanted to let you know about my son’s small group leader who goes above and beyond normal expectations. My son Graham is in the fifth grade and his small group meets at the 8:30 hour. His small group leader is Greg Stubbs. As you know, Greg was called into active service as a part of the Iraqi Freedom mission. Greg was sent to Italy and then to Turkey and then to an aircraft carrier. But did that stop him from being concerned about the members of his small group? No. Greg sent e-mails from Turkey telling of the work he is doing and asking about what the kids are doing. He even went so far as to call Graham from Turkey.

When you think about all the things that were on Greg’s mind and then realize that he cares enough about his small group members to keep in contact with them from a war zone, it makes you stop and think about the reasons we create not to keep in touch with our own small group leaders and members. We understand that Greg may be coming home in the next couple of months and we will certainly be ready to thank him for his service

Andy read this email to the entire congregation as an example of the win. This is what what we want to celebrate. This is what we are after. We want to see more of this. Everyone was deeply moved after hearing this email. Then Andy had Gregg–in full uniform–stand to his feet as the congregation burst into spontaneous, grateful applause. Now the clincher: Andy says, “For those of you who are too busy to serve because you have so many pressing things in your life, after the service I invite you to come and share your excuses with Greg.”

That year Northpoint needed 1300 new volunteers. They recruited 1700. Andy attributes it to Gregg’s example. I think Andy is wrong. It wasn’t just the example. Lots of churches have examples. The reason they exceeded their recruiting goal is that Andy rewarded what they wanted to see done.

Whatever gets rewarded gets done. Whatever is celebrated gets repeated.