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My friend Ken Callahan told me once, “Any team that can score 90,000 points can score 100,000.”

What did he mean by that statement? When a church has a goal of $100,000 and receives $90,000, too many leaders have a spirit of focusing on how the church is “$10,000 short.” We moan, bewail, and scold the congregation because we are “$10,000 short.” We focus on the lack, the gap, and the part that is in failure. Our church folks respond in the most obvious way—they focus on the lack, the gap, and the failure. In fact, after much of this talk, they realize that not only did they fail, but they are failures. This doesn’t do much to increase their giving confidence.

The appropriate response is just the opposite. “Gang, we just scored 90,000 points. Any team that can score 90,000 can score 100,000. We look forward to $10,000 more in the weeks ahead. That will complete our ministry goal.” This kind of statement reminds people to build off of their strengths and achievements, rather than their weakness. It reminds them that their behavior has been good. Folks know how to repeat behaviors. They are motivated to repeat them when they see how effective they have been thus far.

Negative reinforcement can, sometimes, produce a short-term result. The saying, “The beatings will continue until morale improves” might make morale improve for a moment, but the long-term result will be repressed anger and despondency. Over time these tactics wear people down. They do not improve behavior or results, much less build up the spirit.

Positive reinforcement anytime beats negative reinforcement every time. Reinforce strengths. Praise progress. Point to the scoreboard to remind them of their accomplishment, not their failure. Over time you will create a culture of giving that is both generous financially and healthy theologically.

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Glenn Howell
Director of Development
United Methodist Foundation of Indiana