Are we giving our ringers what they really, really want?

Do our ringers come ringing purely for the pleasure of the ringing itself? The likelihood is that most of them do not. You might think that it will depend on the standard of the ringing they are involved in but it is not that straightforward!

In 1993, McCullagh et al published research that studied the deeper reasons for people participating in hobbies and pastimes. These reasons or incentives are:

  • Affiliation
  • Mastery
  • Desire for sensation
  • Desire for self direction
  • Social comparison

What do these titles actually mean to us when we are teaching in the tower? How can knowledge of them improve our new ringer retention rates?


Affiliation is based on a desire to have positive and friendly relationships with others; to be part of a group or a band.

Many loyal Sunday service ringers will be in this category. These are the ringers who will turn up to ring for Christmas, be it midnight mass or Christmas morning service.

It is the social side of ringing which makes these ringers continue ringing and it may be that progressing to ring more methods and more complicated methods is not their priority; this attitude should be respected. Too much pressure to make progress may prove counter-productive and may actually disincentive this type of ringer.

To incentivise these ringers, ringing teachers should ensure they feel a valued member of the band, perhaps having a special role, be it formal, such as social secretary or informal, such as having responsibility for opening up for visiting ringers or winding the church clock.


These ringers wish to improve their skills, master new skills and pursue excellence. These ringers are characterised by wanting to do something well for its own sake.

This is the group from whom our expert ringers are likely to develop. These ringers will be keen to improve their striking, and respond well to goals set to monitor performance, such as ringing quarter peals and peals, which will be taken as an acknowledged measure of their achievements.

Desire for sensation

These ringers are incentivised by a desire for sensation; they gain their pleasure from the very act of ringing the bells and from the sounds, sights and excitement of being in a belfry.

These are the ringers who just want to ring and they will ring as often as they can. Tower grabbers frequently exhibit this motivation. This group of ringers also like variety during practice sessions and will be interested in learning new methods.

To incentivise these ringers, the ringing teacher should at take them to other towers or to group practices and later should arrange outings and tours. Within the practice, novel ringing activities will motivate the early ringer and when they are more experienced, learning a variety of new methods will hold their interest.

Desire for self-direction

Ringers who fall into this category wish to feel a sense of control or to be in charge.

These ringers may attend a practice outside their own tower and start giving advice to the local ringers without the permission of the Tower Captain.

To incentivise the self directed ringer, the ringing teacher should give them a position of responsibility and create situations where they have certain decision making powers, such as standing behind less experienced ringers, calling things or organising quarter peals or special practices.

If the teacher observes that they this type of ringer in the tower they can start to craft them a role that will fulfill this need. If the ringer is not sufficiently competent to take a position of leadership with a ringing related role, other, non-ringing roles will cater for their need. For example they may be made responsible for arranging social activities or ensuring there are sufficient ringers for services.

Social comparison

Some people participate in an activity because it provides them with an opportunity to compare themselves with others.

These people are most happy when they can demonstrate that they are better than somebody else. Such ringers are happiest when they can demonstrate that they are better than somebody else. They will enjoy striking competitions and being high up on the annual list of peal ringers. They may seek out an environment where they are able to demonstrate that they are better than others and may prefer to be a “big fish in a small pond”.


Have a browse through our recruitment and retention resources to explore practical ways of keeping your ringers interested.

Pip Penney