What gets rewarded gets done

I got this email today from Linda Lowber: "What would an example be of a reward that you would give to a teacher or a class or department who was 'doing things right'? I like the idea but am not sure of what a reward might be, other than recognizing them at a banquet. What about during the year?"

I thought it was a great question and deserves a careful answer. Remember: whatever gets rewarded gets done. Pure an simple. Whatever gets rewarded gets done. Not what we ask people to do; what gets rewarded gets done.

We spend too much time telling people what they ought to do and what they should have done and not enough time rewarding them for doing the right things. It is rewarding, more than asking, that shapes behavior.

It is what Ken Blanchard taught us in the One Minute Manager: Catch them doing something right. Whoever you want to influence--whether it is your kids or your Sunday School teachers or the fellowship leaders in your class--catch them doing something right and reward them.

It is what the Bible says, "Dear brothers, honor the officers of your church who work hard among you and warn you against all that is wrong." 1 Thes. 5:12

Here are a couple of other translations that spell this out:
We beg you, our friends, to pay proper respect to those who work among you, who guide and instruct you in the Christian life. 1 Thes. 5:12 [TEV]

Brothers and sisters, we ask you to show your appreciation for those leaders who work among you and instruct you. 1 Thes. 5:12 [GW]

Strictly speaking, these verses are speaking of how you treat your pastor and staff, but I think the broader principle is that we are to respect, honor and show recognition to anyone doing a good job.

The Bible teaches that God is a rewarder: And without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him. Hebrews 11:6 [NASB] If God is a rewarder, we should be rewarders as well.

Back to Linda's question. How do we do this? I would recommend you think of doing it the way Hal Pettegrew of Walnut Street Baptist Church in Louisville, KY does it. Hal (or, perhaps I should say, Dr. Pettegrew), is both the Minister of Education at Walnut street and an education professor at Southern Seminary. Hal has the distinction for me as being the only host that I have done four conferences for, two at his old church and two at the current church. I have a couple of new books coming out so so I can go back!

Hal Pettegrew

The last time I was at Walnut Street I spoke at a Teacher's Appreciation Banquet. I have spoken at a number of these, but Hal did it as well as or better than anyone. He rewarded people for doing the right things.

First, Hal had lots of winners. Everyone who grew their class any got a certificate. If you averaged 10 last year and 10.001 this year, you got a certificate that said, "Growing class." Hal made it easy to win and hard to lose.

Hal rewarded the whole class. He gave out baskets of candy bars with the instructions that they were to take the candy bars back to class and let the whole class celebrate together.

Hal rewarded classes that doubled. Hal is in a pretty tough situation. It is an old, downtown situation with not very many visitors. It is a hard place to grow a church and a hard place to grow a class. Still, he had one class that had more than doubled in one year. By rewarding this class, he is sending and not-so-subtle message to everyone else that even in this hard situation, it is possible to double. It is one thing to say we ought to double. It is one thing to say, "Here is how we can double." It is quite another thing to put a spot light on one teacher and say, "Last year, he had eight in his class. This year he averaged thirty."

In most churches, even in plateued and declining churches there are one or two teachers that are really producing. Often, they do it for no recognition. The Bible teaches we should honor these people. It is the right thing to do. It also sends a message to the whole church that it is possible to double a group. Many will never believe it because Josh Hunt wrote a book on the subject. They won't believe it because they hear a seminar or watch a video. They will believe it when they see Bro. Joe Bob doubled his class and I can do it too.

By the way, if you are a denominational worker, I think this works at this level as well. Find the churches that are growing and get a spotlight. If you like how they are growing, get a spotlight. If you don't like how they are growing, get a spotlight. If they love Willowcreek or hate Willowcreek and they are growing, get a spotlight.

Hal was very creative with his awards. He tried to come up with lots of different awards to make lots of winners. He had a reward for each age division and a number of special awards in various categories. You could reward enrolment growth as well as attendance growth. You could award most new members, or most baptisms in a class. You can measure on a percentage basis or just by raw numbers. The former tends to favor smaller classes, the later larger classes. You could reward attendance at training events. Whatever you want more of, get a spotlight.

Hal had one special reward that was voted on by the teachers: "Teacher of the Year." I happened to sit next to the lady who got this reward. He had printed up a certificate on his ink jet printer. I watched her after she sat down as she ran her fingers back and forth across that piece of paper. "No one has ever done anything like this for me before," she whispered softly to herself. "I can't believe they did this for me. I just can't believe they did this for me."

It was just a piece of paper.

It illustrates something very important about rewards. You don't have to give away big screen TVs to get people to do what you want. Just say thank you. Just honor those who work hard among you. Just a piece of paper.

I Corinthians 9.25 reminds us that athletes will bust their back sides for seemingly small rewards: "To win the contest you must deny yourselves many things that would keep you from doing your best. An athlete goes to all this trouble just to win a blue ribbon or a silver cup, but we do it for a heavenly reward that never disappears." 1 Cor. 9:25 [Living]

You don't have to get them a big screen TV. Just say thank you. Write a note. Print up a piece of paper. My guess is that when this Teacher of the Year goes to be with the Lord and and her family is looking through her personal things, they will find a piece of paper that Hal printed on his ink jet printer.

She is going to work harder because of that piece of paper. She is going to pray more, visit more, study more. She is going to do all the things that a Sunday School teacher is supposed to do because Hal caught her doing something right and rewarded her for doing so.

What are some other ways for you to reward those who are doing something right? You might try to brainstorm 20 ways at your next staff meeting or teachers meeting. Here is one way.

When I was an interim pastor at Scotsdale Baptist in El Paso, I got in the habit of ministry by dictaphoneing around. I bought a dictaphone and when I went to church I would try to catch someone doing something right. On the way home, I would dictate a thank you letter.

One time I wrote a letter to all of the greeters. "Thank you for helping us to be obedient to the command of God to greet one another." (Romans 16.16)

That next Sunday night as I was meeting and greeting, one man stood up as I got to his seat. "I want to thank you for sending me that letter." He had tears in his eyes. "No one has ever thanked me for anything I have done at church" Now, I had tears in my eyes.

It was a piece of paper.