Gary and I were listening to All Things Considered on National Public Radio while running some errands on a Friday afternoon.  After asking him to turn off the radio so we could talk about an important matter, I suddenly shouted, “Wait!  Keep the radio on!”  I was utterly captivated by an interview with Robert B. Cialdini, who was discussing the new book he co-wrote with Noah J. Goldstein and Steven J. Martin, Yes; 50 Scientifically Proven Ways to be Persuasive. 

I’m not normally an impulsive person, but Cialdini was so persuasive that we stopped at Shuler’s on the way home so I could buy the book, which I finished in 2 days.  Yes provides the latest social-psychological research on how we can communicate in positive and ethical ways that persuade people to say “yes.”

With the presidential election just a week away, I think it’s safe to say that the goal of both candidates right now is persuasion, isn’t it?  John McCain and Barak Obama are doing all they can to convince you and me to say “yes” to electing them.    

Leadership in the church is all about persuasion as well.  Unlike politics, however, the essence of spiritual leadership is living out our faith in such a way that others are persuaded to say “yes” to Jesus Christ and become disciples.  Spiritual persuasion touches people’s hearts, convinces them of their potential, guides them to lose their lives in order to save them, and inspires them to become their best selves.  As one of our district pastors wrote in his annual pastor’s profile, “Leadership is about influence, the ability to direct and guide people toward a common goal and requires trusting relationships.” 

Here are some practical bits of church wisdom gleaned from applying the principles of Yes.

  • Testimonials from fellow church members who have taken Disciple Bible study or have gone on a mission trip or tithe are much more likely to persuade others to do likewise than a pastor’s plea from the pulpit.
  • People tend to respond more positively when the gifts they receive are unexpected and have no strings attached.  This is why servant evangelism is so effective.     
  • Reframing messages to focus on positive behavior gets positive results.  Rather than say, “Don’t be one of those members who doesn’t fulfill their pledge,” reframe it this way, “95% of givers pay their pledge in full.  You can, too!”  Rather than communicate, “Don’t be one of the churches to fail to pay your ministry shares,” say instead, “90% of our district churches pay 100% of their ministry shares.  You can do it, too!” 
  • When the Lay Leadership Committee reminds individuals how gifted, gracious and committed they really are, they are more likely to say “yes” and use those gifts in the church. 
  • Do not allow email to substitute for face to face communication.  Nonverbal cues, such as voice inflection and physical gestures, are important indicators of the true meaning of communication.  Before you send an email, reflect first on how it might be interpreted by the receiver.
  • Recognize your emotional state (sad, anxious, tired) before making an important decision.  Consider holding off on a decision until the emotions subside.  Postpone important conversations with someone who has just experienced a loss.  Recognize that bad-tempered clergy or lay leaders are not persuasive.
  • Do not underestimate the important of simplicity.  Vision and mission statements must be easily remembered in order to be effective.  Newsletters will be more widely read if they are in an easy to read format.  Keep the sermons simple!  Paradoxically, when we use overly complex language, we are perceived to be less intelligent. 
  • Fear paralyzes rather than persuades.  People respond to leaders who confidently present a plan for achieving positive results.
  • Building social capital is critical in ministry.  People do not forget the pastoral care we offer to them in times of crisis.  Nor will they forget the handwritten note of thanks we sent.  If people know that we love them, they’ll forgive just about any of our other mistakes.
  • Get people involved before asking them to become members.  It’s the old “foot in the door” technique.
  • What makes for lasting commitments?  Writing them down.  That’s why turning in signed pledge cards is so important.  People are much more likely to actively follow through with commitments when they actually sign up for something, and they know someone will follow up with them.   
  • Put a dissenter in the group.  Those who feel free to disagree with the majority often creative and complex thinking.  Consider all views.
  • Blaming others never works.  Take responsibility for your mistakes and follow up with a plan for how you will correct the mistake.  Others recognize the courage and humility it takes to admit we are wrong.   
  • Take the initiative to approach someone who doesn’t like you.  You have nothing to lose – there was not much of a relationship before anyway.
  • Smile, and the world smiles back at you. 

Remember, persuasion is not a gimmick.  Reading the book Yes will not guarantee you 50 proven ways to revamp your ministry style so people will say “yes” to everything you ask.  Rather, the key to your persuasive ability as a spiritual leader is how you lead with your heart and by so doing, deeply touch the hearts of others.   

  • Persuasion is about character, integrity and shaping the lives of others.
  • Persuasion is about having something to sell and loving to “tell the story.”
  • Persuasion is about guiding people to say yes to grace and yes to abundant life.
  • Persuasion is about connecting people with their call. 
  • Persuasion is about empowering, equipping and sending people out for ministry.
  • Persuasion is about inspiring a congregation to believe in and live out its mission.

Can you be persuasive?  Yes, you can!

Blessings, Laurie

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