What's The Nudge?

I have been using all methods of persuasion throughout my years as a church leader. It involves verbal and nonverbal communication in formal and informal settings. I have presented ministry ideas on paper, through email, texts and over the telephone. There have been numerous one-on-one meetings with key individuals, and there have been even more meetings with committees, teams and multiple groups covering tasks with diverse responsibilities.

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The goal behind all this activity has been to facilitate collaboration and hopefully gain “buy-in” to ideas, action plans, implementation strategies, and the advancement of the organization’s mission. I have found this process both exhilarating and exasperating. It requires patience, support, and openness to divergent ideas. The latter has always been a particular challenge to me and to my impatience! But I have found all of this to be a necessary process for getting things done!

I have been a student of communication all my life since receiving a bachelor's degree in Speech Communication in college. I am fascinated by innovative ideas, systems, and models for sending and receiving information. Our eldest son, Matt, is also on his own journey to becoming a better communicator and leader. He has been in a stimulating and stretching process of professional development for the past two years through the Harvard Kennedy School of Public Policy and Government. While the courses have been demanding, he has been excelling and growing in his skills of persuasive communication.

During a recent conversation, Matt shared a new idea with me called, “The Nudge.” I told him that I had been “nudged and shoved” numerous times at theme parks, crowded sport venues, and even at the grocery store while waiting in line! And I never felt positive whenever I have experienced an unwelcomed bump from behind! That’s not what this kind of nudge means!

The concept of “nudge theory,” as used in communication, is “a purposeful intervention meant to make it easier for people to do what they want to do anyway.” I admit that I have had many instances where I tried to bully, ignore, and otherwise benevolently force my ideas upon others. You can imagine the outcome. Most of us don’t take kindly to “strong arm tactics” and they are usually unsuccessful in the end!

How do we give a well-received nudge? Respect others and their ideas. Listen and restate the ideas back to the sender to make sure you understood what was said. Be patient and expect this collaborative approach to take more time. Ask questions for clarification. Most of us want to be valued as members of a team.

When evaluating an idea, compliment it with sincerity. Always “dissect” the idea and not the person sharing it! “Treating others the way you want to be treated” is still the Golden Rule for relating! Be willing to question yourself and even accept a change in the ideas you have shared. Invite feedback. Group decisions are usually stronger and will often look different than the original idea on the table! Compromise is not a dirty idea. Win-win is a better strategy to get buy-in and followship.

The Apostle Paul was a leader with vision and focus. He had dreams and ideas that God blessed. Yet, Paul partnered with a team of many others who helped to implement those ideas and turn them into vibrant church plants and countless changed lives! Paul modeled and spoke often about having a gentle spirit. He said, “Let your words become beautiful gifts (constructive) that encourage others; do this by speaking words of grace to help them.” (Ephesians 4:29b, The Passion Translation). This sounds like Paul’s idea of “The Nudge!”

The college basketball season is ending. The brackets of March Madness have distilled down to a Final Four. Paul frequently used sports analogies in his writings. Take note that he never “hogged the ball” in ministry. Paul was a total team player. He “passed the ball” and allowed others to contribute. Romans 16 is an example of how readily Paul commended, complimented, and valued his team!

Let’s try persuading others with a gentle nudge next time! Respectfully lead others in such a way that each decision-maker feels valued. Help them feel that their ideas contributed to the collective whole!

Mike Keppler, retired pastor,

active churchman and
doting grandparent.
Contact: drmjkeppler@gmail.com



  1. It takes a long of team work, we are blessed with many at our Wesley Methodist church. They have blessed us in so many ways. So very thankful


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