Ring Up the Praise!

Because most local church officers underestimate their own value, it’s also easy to undervalue the service of members who minister with them. So from time to time, remind yourself of a very important point: Money is not the most sought-after reward.

If you were able to pay each volunteer leader and program participant the minimum wage, would you get better performance? Probably not.

Richard Laliberte claims that $5.15 an hour “just doesn’t buy enough goodwill to get the minimum wage worker really moving.” He says that “the most effective (and cheapest) motivator is praise”—especially while the accomplishment is fresh and the praise is specific (“For Love Not Money,” Success, August 1998, pp. 63-65). Let’s pursue this.

In a sidebar to Laliberte’s article, motivation expert Barbara Fielder offers some age-based pointers, recognizing that what pumps up one worker may deflate another. I have adapted some of her ideas to prime your pump for praise.

High School Students—Praise even the basics. Praise them for being on time and staying for the entire Sabbath School session—program, mission report, and lesson study—rather than leaving after doing their part. Praise them for being attired according to your Sabbath School’s standards and for being cooperative—not necessarily cheerful. However, cheerful is not out of reach if you “promote a fun atmosphere.”

College Students—Fielder says that despite their bulging school and social calendars, these volunteers will stick with you longer if you can accommodate their schedule. Praise them when they do. Build relations with them that encourage them to talk frankly when they need to refuse an invitation to participate or to ask that someone substitute for their regular service. Praise them for covering their bases. Find ministry opportunities that tap into their major. Praise their excellence as it grows.

The Middle-aged—These busy people are usually pulled in many directions, and praise from all directions should follow them. As with all the age groups, tailor your timing and your expressions to fit their personality and temperament. Some like public praise; others want praise to be low-key.

Senior Citizens—Take advantage of their experience and expertise, including their abilities to pour oil on troubled water and to give a fresh perspective to a challenge. Praise them for their “negotiations.” However, don’t assume that they are always available or “need” to stay busy. Respect their well-earned retirement, and include them in more than Mother’s Day and Father’s Day programs. Be mindful of their physical limitations. Praise them for being your audience.

Just for fun, take the time to compute all the hours of service that volunteers give to Sabbath School for one month. Multiply that number by $5.15. Then count your blessings!


Faith Crumbly
© 2014 General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists