Compassion: A key motivator

Beryl Jantzi is director of Stewardship Education at Everence. 

Pastors and lay leaders often wonder, “How can we motivate our congregation to invest their time and resources in the life of the church?” Research shows that appealing to a set goal or a sense of obligation may work among leaders, but it fizzles among the grassroots. When a financial campaign is built on compassion however, it resonates among the membership and they give more generously. In the coming years, compassion and community will be the motivators that stir the grassroots to action and generosity.

You’ve lost that lovin’ feelin’

Kennon Callahan has written extensively on this subject of what motivates people to give. In his estimation motivation tends to show up in one of four ways.

Compassion:  Encouraging others to share, care, give, love and serve

Community:  Reinforcing a sense of roots, place, belonging, family and friendship

Challenge:  Highlighting goals, accomplishments and achievements

Commitment: Appealing to loyalty, duty, obligation and vows

In John 20-21 Jesus makes several appearances after his resurrection. One of his last is with Peter. When they meet Jesus doesn’t say, “Peter, are you up to the challenge before you!” Or, “Peter, can I depend on you moving forward?” Christ says, “Peter, do you love me?” When Peter replies, “Yes, Lord,” Jesus answers, “Then feed my sheep.”

Jesus appeals to compassion and community. So too, must today’s leader. When asking someone to teach a children’s Sunday school class do we say, “Mary, would you be willing to teach third grade Sunday school next year?” This is an invitation to commitment. Mary may do her duty, take her turn, but she will likely never fall in love with her class.

What if we would say, “Mary, we invite you to fall in love with this group of kids and give them the privilege of falling in love with you.” She is more likely to rise to the opportunity of loving others and being loved in return.

The pastor’s task is to connect with his leaders as Jesus modeled in his exchange with Peter. Inviting people to action based on love of Jesus and a sense of connection with their community speaks to the heart first and is then affirmed by the mind.  For more information about stewardship, generosity and motivating (people to give their best for God’s work), check out our new curriculum at