Motivation Mojo

Featured Articles / Leadership / Volunteers //


Selling the benefits


Walk out into an orchard, any orchard. What kind of trees are they? “I’m no arborist. How should I know what kind of trees they are?” Simple … look at the fruit. (Granted, we’re assuming it’s harvest time.) The same is true of leadership. One of the key indicators of leadership strength and vitality is the motivation of the team members. Esprit de Corps is a French term referring to the spirit of a group. I can’t tell you how many people I’ve run into over the years who complained about the lack of motivation of people in their organization or those they’re trying to recruit. “Everyone’s too busy.” “No one wants to come to our meetings.” “People just don’t have time these days.” Sound familiar?


From outward perceptions, we assume these comments are correct. There are so many options. In the world of children these days there are sports, tutoring, vacations, church, entertainment, and homework. It’s easy to write off a lack of motivation for leadership projects as an unfortunate result of opportunity overload. But in the world of leadership, “I’m busy” is code for saying, “As of now, you’ve not convinced me that I need to change my priorities. Your vision isn’t compelling enough for me to make room for it in my limited schedule.” People possessing a mojo for motivating others are called leaders.


Someone, somewhere, at some time, motivated these kids and potential volunteers to do what they’re now doing with their time. So, how can you become one of those motivators? People are continually making changes in how they spend their time, money and energy. Freewill is fluid. That’s what leaders do best … help people change their priorities.


Most are quick to blame the lack of team member motivation on the team member, instead of first looking in the mirror and asking, “How can I improve my leading so that people feel compelled to be a part of our ministry?” Isn’t there some kind of pixy dust you can buy from your favorite Christian publisher that’ll do the trick? Alas, in spite of what their glossy ads may suggest, there is none.


The old saying goes, “There are no boring subjects, just boring teachers.” It’s similar for leaders. There are no unmotivated people, just un-motivating leaders.


Here are three leadership issues to consider when striving to motivate both workers and participants in your children’s ministry.

  1. Be a thermometer, not a thermostat. Instead of describing the existing temperature of apathy in your church, why not turn up the heat? The sale begins at “no.” Leaders are salespeople. They’re selling ideas, dreams, and themselves. When students lack motivation, it’s an indicator we’ve failed to sell them on our vision of why we think student leadership is so important.
  2. Prime the pump. Zig Zigler used to say how silly it is to stand around a cold stove and criticize it. “As soon as you put out some heat, I’m going to toss in a log.” If you want heat, you need to add some fuel. What have you done to energize your volunteers? How have you fueled their excitement for involvement? Do they see the big picture? Do they see how they fit in the big picture? Have you tapped their sweet spot, that passion/ability combo that they’d just die to participate in?
  3. Reward desired behavior. The oldest motivational secret is to sell the benefits. Begin by answering the fundamental questions people are asking (silently, if not out loud): “What am I going to get out of this? What’s in it for me?” The law of physics says that a body at rest tends to remain at rest. You need more energy to get people initially interested in children’s ministry than to keep them there. Once they get involved, what can you do to create tangible and intangible rewards that reinforce their involvement? Are your meetings fun? Do you strive to work around their schedules? Do they get to improve their skills, use their strengths, and make friends? (Ah … the social factor.) Psychologists tell us that one size doesn’t fit all. What motivates some people won’t motivate others. Do you know the motivators of the students you’re going after? If not, invest the time to find out.


There’s no such thing as a truly unmotivated person. The teen slumping at his desk in math class, grunting answers to the teacher, races to the gym for basketball practice. The child resembling a bump on a log in children’s church, beams as he starts playing his favorite video game. Getting motivated people interested in children’s ministry will perpetually be a challenge, because the culture in which we live is less and less ministry oriented and more and more “what’s in it for me” minded. But, that’s all the more reason why we need to up our game and go after them. Your mission is individual recruitment and vision casting. “Jason, you’re an incredibly talented parent. Why don’t you consider being on our ministry executive team?” “Kristi, we know you’re hit and miss on Sundays. What kind of children’s ministry would you, your husband and your kids just say, ‘We can’t miss it?’”

The bottom line is that motivation is what leaders do. If you’re lagging in that department, the first place to look is in the mirror, not to beat yourself up, but rather to ponder how you can improve your game. Your ability to convince others has a lot to do with your leadership umph. Leaders like to be well led. They’re waiting for someone to ask them to do something great. Why not be the one? So, when you think there’s “no mo” motivation, consider how your leading can create the mojo of motivation.







About the Author

Alan E. Nelson, EdD is a lecturer at the Naval Postgraduate School and founder of KidLead Inc., ( He lives in Monterey, CA with his family and has pastored for over 20 years.