Wednesday, March 2, 2011

What Turns Intention into Action?

This morning one of my elders and I met with the superintendent of the local school. We had a great conversation about how our church can get involved serving the kids in the school and expressing our appreciation of the school's teachers. This discussion came as a result of our church's commitment to be more intentional about serving our community. Over the next months, we will be looking to motivate our church members to get involved with some aspect of service to our community. The challenge is this - how will we change the focus of folks in our church to get involved in serving more actively in the community?

This afternoon I sat down to finish reading a book entitled The Externally Focused Church by Rick Rusaw and Eric Swanson. In the concluding chapter, the authors told the story of a study done at Yale University where a professor tried to persuade students to get tetanus shots. The study was composed of two focus groups – one group was given a booklet which graphically illustrated the dangers of tetanus, the other group was given a booklet with language that was toned down and had no pictures. Both booklets announced that the university was offering free tetanus shots at the health center. The results were predictable – the students who were given the more dramatic information were much more likely to admit they needed an inoculation But one month later, only 3 percent of those students had actually gone to the health center to get the shot.

The professor conducted the study a second time, but with one key change, In the booklets given to both control groups, he included a map of the campus with the health center circled and listed the times shots were available. One month after that study 28 percent of students were inoculated, an equal amount from each control group. The variable that made a difference was not urgency or gravity of the information, it was the map and schedule.

The conclusion for the church is rather obvious – when we try to recruit volunteers, either for in church ministry or community service outreach, we need to give people practical information about how they can be involved. In some ways, this principle applies much more broadly than that. Sometimes I catch myself muttering bland spiritual platitudes from the pulpit, rather than giving people concrete or practical information about spiritual growth or service opportunities. There are many people in churches who want to serve and grow, but lack that mechanism to turn desire into action. Let's give it to them.

Now, you might be thinking – isn't there a spiritual aspect at work here as well? Absolutely – God's Spirit draws us into and empowers us for growth and service. No denying that. Let's just make sure that we provide the practical information the Holy Spirit can use to truly motivate that person from intention to action.

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