Last week I went to see the new documentary based on the book Freakonomics. This book is on my 2010 reading list, so I was excited to go and see it. I’ve only heard good reviews about the book. I really enjoyed the film and I’m sure it was not as great as the book. I may not get to reading it in 2010, but I still plan to read it at some point, especially around segments I saw in the film that I want to know more about.

So, I did go into this film with my “learning cap” on and there were a handful of great thoughts I walked away with.

The concept behind the book (and film) is motivation and incentives. Why people do things. One segment of the movie that spoke to me the most was an experiment they did in a public school to try to improve grades. In this High School, they gave $50 to every kid who had passing grades and entered them in a drawing for $500. It created quite a buzz. However, when the experiment was over, the kids who were consistently failing didn’t make any significant improvements. However, the kids who were on the fence tended to do well with the incentive. What they learned was that the same incentive doesn’t work with all people. They learned a lot, but didn’t really consider their incentive program as a successful venture.

As I thought about this for ministry, it confirmed some thoughts and feelings I have about incentives. I’m not going to lie, we all use a variety of incentives. From treats to games to music and decor, we’re using incentives and that in itself isn’t necessarily wrong. However, when we use one main incentive intended to apply to all kids, we’re making a mistake. All kids don’t respond to the same incentives.

This is why I’ve never been a fan of merit based programs (there are many mid-week church programs to choose from). These programs are HIGHLY incentive based where you get badges, pins, ribbons as well as Bible cash. The problem is that there is ALWAYS a segment of kids who aren’t motivated by these incentives and they often feel out of place in a program that is almost entirely based on incentives. So, what do you do for those kids? How do you motivate or include them?

So, just something to put in your back pocket. Incentives aren’t necessarily wrong. Everyone is motivated by them, it’s just that everyone doesn’t respond to the same one and we can necessarily mass produce motivation.