Monday, July 21, 2008

Bribing students to bring friends

Recently, I saw something online that disturbed me just a little. I was looking through random blogs with the keywords "student ministry" when I saw this title: iPod Challenge. I like iPods and I like challenges, but I didn't like this one.

This was a challenge where the winner of the new iPod was the first student to bring 10 friends to a certain weekly youth event. I have problems with this type of "evangelism" and "outreach."

In my opinion there is a better word for this type of reward challenge - bribery. And it is even worse when its announced from upfront. It sends a couple messages to both the regular students and those invited.

1. This event/program/service/group is not worth your time. There is not value in what we do.
2. The only reason you were invited is so your friend can win something.
3. You are just a number in our system.
4. We are more concerned about numbers than people.
5. If you join the youth group, you'll have a lot of chances to win stuff.
6. We're going to trick you into coming to our event, so we can talk to you about Jesus.

I do not have problems with incentives. But to me there is a line. In my mind, its like rewarding students for memorizing Scripture. It shows that the only reason to memorize is to get a prize. At a certain level (age) you can do an incentive program, but I think you need to stop it at some point. There has to be a transition in the reason students read their Bible or bring a friend. If you never transition from "reward system" to "internal motivation" you have done the student a grave disservice.

I just picture this conversation in my head:
regular student: Hey Susan, you want to come to youth group with me?
invited student: Sure, thanks for inviting me.
(participate in youth group)
invited student: So, what was that about a iPod challenge, how do I get one?
regular student: You just have to invite 10 friends to youth group
invited student: Wait a second, you invited me so you could win an iPod?

What are your thoughts? How do you handle this issue?

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