Part 1: Motivations That Can Explain Interest

Why are some people interested in apologetics? What motivates them? The question matters: It could lead us to a better understanding of why some people aren’t interested. While many have wondered why the Church isn’t more interested in apologetics, not many have tackled it as the question it really is: a motivation question. The Spiritual Readiness Project is pursuing that question in a multi-year project intended to result in conferences, web resources, and at least one book. Our first research question explores positive motivation: the reasons some people are interested in apologetics.

There are many ways to look at motivation, but one of the clearest and most useful is Victor Vroom’s Expectancy Theory. His model says people are motivated to do something if they believe (expect):

  1. They have the capacity to do the task to some meaningful degree, and
  2. The outcome of their efforts in the task will be something that they value, and
  3. That outcome is important enough to justify the effort they invest in the task.

Or as the diagram shows:

Figure 1

The two arrows in this model represent the first two beliefs or expectations. The first one stands for, “I expect that what I produce I actually what will be related to my effort.” To understand this, think of two extremes: Picking up a large sack of flour, or picking up a wheat field. You can try a little or a lot; either way you’re not going to pick up the wheat field. Picking up a bag of flour, though really does depend on the work you put into it.

The second arrow is the belief that performance will yield an outcome you value. Suppose you want to mix pancake batter for a couple hundred kids at church camp. In that case, chances are you really do want to pick up the sack of flour. If on the other hand it’s dinnertime and you’re making spaghetti, you won’t pick up the flour, even though of course you could.

Finally, there’s the underlying theme of believing the outcome is worth the effort. Let’s suppose there’s an equally large sack of instant pancake mix in the pantry right next to the flour — but you’re also really famous for your pancakes from scratch. You’ll pick up the flour instead of the instant mix (and you’ll get out the eggs, butter, milk, baking powder, and your secret ingredient, too) because you believe that effort is worth the outcome.

Now in the case of apologetics, this approach would suggest four potential points of failure in motivation:

  1. “I don’t think I can learn it, no matter how hard I try,” or
  2. “I don’t see anything that I care about coming from it, or
  3. “If anything good came of it, I still wouldn’t, consider it worth the effort.”

Conversely, expectancy theory would predict that persons who have sufficient confidence in their performance, and who see a positive outcome being produced through their studies, will likely be motivated to pursue apologetics. It’s disarmingly simple; both of those statements contain a whole world of implications.

Expectancy theory is clear and useful, and it explains a lot, as we’ll see. It doesn’t do a great job, though, of highlighting the interpersonal/relational side of motivation. People tend to enjoy doing what they can do with other people, what others approve of, what gives them a sense of prestige or power related to others, and so on. Various social motivation and social learning theories relate to this side of motivation. We simply theorize that having support from friends nearby should be a factor motivating interest in apologetics.

Did you miss taking the survey? Want to add your voice? We’ve still got a place for you to do that.

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