When Christians lament young people leaving the church, one of the underlying assumptions is that children and teens are no longer motivated to become Christians and live the Christian life. While I believe there are many other factors involved, I think it is important to look for a moment at the idea of motivation.
There are two basic types of motivation – intrinsic or internal and extrinsic or external. As one might imagine, internal motivation comes from within the person. They do something because something internally has motivated them to do. Extrinsic motivation means the person is not internally motivated to do something and most likely won’t do it without some force on the outside strongly motivating them to do so.
For example, let’s say a student is sitting down. We want the student to stand. The student may be intrinsically motivated to stand because he or she is tired of sitting or wants to go get a drink of water. On the other hand, the student might stand because of extrinsic motivations. You might ask the student to stand or their Apple watch might remind them it’s time to stand up and walk around to meet a goal.
So how does motivation impact Bible classes specifically and a young person’s spiritual life in general? Christians need to be motivated internally to worship and obey God. The Bible talks about the ”heart” a lot. God wants the hearts of young people to motivate them. But God also knows that sometimes we need some external motivation to help jump start our intrinsic motivation. It’s one of the reasons He gave us the Bible and a church family.
Bible classes and ministry activities can serve as external motivators The key is to format them in such a way that they do not replace intrinsic motivation, but encourage it to grow. We need to do things that help wean our young people off of their need for constant external motivations to worship and obey God and help them build a strong internal motivation to do it. In future posts, we will discuss some ways to motivate students to truly become who God created them to be as well as some motivational techniques that can backfire.