The Encouragement Walk Experiment:
The Gift is You

You Are Beautiful artwork

So when they were sent off, they went down to Antioch, and having gathered the congregation together, they delivered the letter. And when they had read it, they rejoiced because of its encouragement. And Judas and Silas, who were themselves prophets, encouraged and strengthened the brothers with many words.

Acts 15:30-32

A few years ago at summer camp, we tried an experiment. A cabin of teenagers was going to walk from their cabin down to the ropes course, which was a 15-minute walk. We blindfolded their three counselors, and told the campers (out of earshot of the counselors) that while we were walking down to the ropes course, they were to take turns walking with each counselor, holding their hand, identifying themselves to the counselors and saying something nice or encouraging to the counselor. A typical comment went something like this:

"Hi Jasmin, this is Artemis, and I just wanted to tell you that you are doing a great job as our counselor. I love your smile, and the other day when you told us about some of your college experiences and got really personal with us, it really struck a chord with me. Thanks for being so real with us."

As the counselors were walking, not knowing where they were going, different campers would take hold of their hands, offer encouragement, let go, another set of campers would come in, and just pile encouragement on them.

Fifteen minutes later, we arrived at our destination. We took the blindfolds off the counselors, who were all crying. We asked the counselors why they were crying, and they said that they felt so good. They didn’t realize they were making such a difference in the lives of their campers. We asked the counselors how they felt and they said they felt so good, receiving such a great infusion of encouragement. Some of the campers were crying. When we asked why the campers were crying, they said that it felt so good to make the counselors feel good. When we asked what it cost us to do this activity, the answer was, “Nothing.” It was going to take fifteen minutes to walk to our destination anyway. It cost us exactly nothing to do this activity and yet everyone felt good. Those who were encouraged, and those who had been encouraged, everyone felt good. We call this activity “The Encouragement Walk.” And this has become one of the favorite activities at summer camp. People enjoy being encouraged as much as they enjoy encouraging others.

On one occasion when we were doing this, the guys and girls asked if we could do this co-ed, guys encouraging girls, girls encouraging guys. I asked the guys, before they encouraged the girls, “What do you think all those girls want to hear?” They answered, “That they are pretty.” It was amazing to watch the care the guys took in speaking to the girls. If only it could be like this all the time. 

On another occasion, we did an encouragement walk for the person who had organized our Camp Olympics the previous evening. After the Olympics, everyone was wet and cold and retreated quickly to their cabins to shower and clean up. This person hadn’t really received any feedback from the campers, though a few of the senior staff had complimented her. During her encouragement walk, many the campers told her that the Camp Olympics had been the best ever, how much fun they had, what a good leader she is, and more. When we were done, she told the campers how she had gone to bed the previous evening feeling like she had failed because she had only gotten positive feedback from a few of the senior staff; not from the campers. Everyone had had a good time, but if they hadn’t told her, she would have actually felt like a failure. Remember “nothing in, negative out?” Here was a classic example of that!

The lesson here is that when you like something that someone is doing, tell them!!! Parents, tell your kids that you love them and you are proud of them because this is what they are literally dying to hear. Because many of them are doing stupid things and dying sometimes because they are seeking approval and not finding it from parents, so they go to other places to find it and oftentimes these “places” are unhealthy, even dangerous. They want to hear from parents and also from peers. Young women want to hear that they are pretty from their peers, not only from their parents. Young men want to hear that people believe in them and trust them. Everyone wants to hear that they have some value.

This activity has shown us several things. First, it takes next to no time to offer encouragement. This activity is a great example of low cost and high return. Second, it is interesting to hear what people have to say about you, when they really put some thoughts together. Having been on the receiving end of an encouragement walk, it is really an amazing experience to have a ton of encouragement rained down on you, but it is also interesting the things people say. Little things that I don’t even remember saying or doing are things they meant a lot to them.  

Craig Groeschel, the well-known founder and pastor of LifeChurch in Oklahoma City, did an experiment similar to the encouragement walk at his church on Christmas. They surprised some members of their congregation with gift boxes filled with letters from family members, co-workers, and friends, who wrote about all the things they loved about them. Imagine receiving a box of letters offering you affirmation and encouragement. They called this experiment “The Gift is You.” Imagine what it would feel like to open a gift box, to find letter about you, and how much you mean to people. What could be a better gift?!

These two examples of a flood of encouragement benefit both parties, the one being encouraged and the one offering the encouragement. The one receiving encouragement will feel affirmed and valued. Also, the helpful feedback will inspire them to continue the work they are doing. When people tell me they really like something I’m doing, it lets me know that I should do that particularly thing more. That’s helpful feedback. The one offering encouragement will have to dig deeply to specify what it is that they like about the person they are encouraging. They will feel joy seeing the person they are encouraging feeling joy. And undoubtedly, their relationship will grow closer. Cabins that have done the encouragement walk at summer camp amongst themselves, campers encouraging campers, have reported that after doing this activity, the cabin got closer, cliques were busted up, and the cabin became more like a family.

At camp, we hang bags on the wall and the staff write notes of encouragement to other staff members throughout the week—I’ve kept my bag each year and reread the notes on a bad day. Whether you do encouragement walk for someone, or an encouragement box or bag, or even just taking the time to write a single letter to someone, telling someone what they mean to you is something that has low cost and high benefit. We all like receiving gifts. But there is a difference in buying something for someone or telling someone “the gift is you” and raining encouragement down on them. This is one of the best gifts you can offer someone, and it is one of the best gifts that someone can receive. And I say this from personal experience. It is a euphoric feeling to have a flood of encouragement poured on you. And it is almost as euphoric to help pour a flood of encouragement on someone else.

Lord, give me the eyes to see people around me who can use some encouragement. Sometimes it takes courage to offer encouragement. Give me the courage to offer the compliment, or write the letter of encouragement to someone who needs it. Help me to find joy in offering encouragement to others.

Lord, I also need encouragement, affirmation and feedback. Help others to see this need in me, and for me to see it in them. Thank You Lord for the many things You have done for me. There are not enough words to offer to You to thank You for everything that You are to me. Amen.

When you like something that someone is doing, tell them. That’s the only way they will know. And if you really feel bold, organize an encouragement walk or encouragement box for someone. Encouragement is one of the lowest cost, highest benefit things we can offer.

+Fr. Stavros

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    Fr. Stavros N. Akrotirianakis is the Proistamenos of St. John Greek Orthodox Church in Tampa, FL. Fr. contributes the Prayer Team Ministry, a daily reflection, which began in February 2015. The Prayer Team now has its own dedicated website! Fr. Stavros has produced two books, “Let All Creation Rejoice: Reflections on Advent, the Nativity and Epiphany”: “ and “The Road Back to Christ: Reflections on Lent, Holy Week and the Resurrection.”


Fr. Stavros Akrotirianakis

Fr. Stavros N. Akrotirianakis is the Proistamenos of St. John Greek Orthodox Church in Tampa, FL. Fr. contributes the Prayer Team Ministry, a daily reflection, which began in February 2015. The Prayer Team now has its own dedicated website! Fr. Stavros has produced two books, “Let All Creation Rejoice: Reflections on Advent, the Nativity and Epiphany”: “ and “The Road Back to Christ: Reflections on Lent, Holy Week and the Resurrection.”


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