I know I'm going "off topic" compared to what I've written in the last few months. I think I've gotten to the end of that string. It's time to use this space for other work.
Michael I. Norton, Dan Ariely, and Daniel Mochon call it the "IKEA affect." These behavioral economists describe the increased value attribution people make when we invest our time and effort into something or someone. In their studies, they asked research participants to put together IKEA boxes, origami sculptures and Lego projects. In controlled circumstances they then asked people to put objective (monetary) values on their creations. The sheer act of investing effort into the projects increased the value the subjects attributed to the projects.
This isn't surprising to us, but it runs counter to the assumptions of classical economics. Classical economics assumes that we value things based on what we get out of them--not based on what we put into them. Anyone, however, who has tried to sell a house knows that this is just mistaken. My house--the building into which I have poured years of care, construction and cost--that building is always worth more to me than to any prospective buyer.
That is not a rational calculation. It is, however, a real calculation. The more we invest in a person, a relationship, a possession, a job, or a community, the greater will be the value of that entity to us.
Jesus says, "Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also." We think about this in the church many times primarily in terms of financial offerings. What if we were to think about this first and foremost in terms of emotional investment--value attribution. I suspect that is what Jesus really means here.
So attempts in many congregations to make for "easy entry" are quite wrong-headed. As we lower the bar for commitment and involvement, we assist people in decreasing their value attribution. As we make church life less demanding in the name of convenience or grace or whatever, we encourage people to believe that church life is less valuable than the other, more demanding, parts of their lives. I suspect that average church giving reflects this lowering of expectations.
I am not suggesting that simply making church life harder will increase engagement, commitment and giving. I am suggesting that we church folks need to allow our newer members to build something new in the church they have chosen. I am suggesting that every new member should be given the opportunity to experience the IKEA effect as they join a congregation. That might be a specified project such as a "new member flower garden" or something similar. I suspect, however, that we need to sit with new people and customize projects that will assist them in building attributed value.
If we present the church to new folks as a finished project, then we deprive them of the chance to be co-creators of value. They will never develop the connection to the congregation that long-time members have. Think about the passion people have when they have been part of forming a new congregation. We need to find ways to capture a bit of that passion whenever new people join. I believe that will transmit to some degree into increased giving.