As many of you know, I’m a student of the culture. I read incessantly and breeze through numerous articles that analyze and debate what is occurring in our lives. One of the books that caught my attention a few years back was Malcolm Gladwell’s book, Tipping Point. I must admit, I didn’t give it serious time when it was published back in 2000. But over the years, Gladwell’s concepts and thesis has proven true…and his overview of dynamics that bring about transformation and change have peeked my interest.
Here’s a quick “summary” of the book – Gladwell asserts that most trends, styles, and phenomena are born and spread according to routes of transmission and conveyance that are strikingly similar. In most of these scenarios, whether the event in question is the spread of syphilis in a major city in our country or the sudden spike in the popularity of a specific shoe that is being sold, there is a crucial juncture, which Gladwell terms the “tipping point,” that signals a key moment of crystallization that unifies isolated events into a significant trend. Gladwell introduces three primary “rules” for how “epidemics” spread.
The three “rules of epidemics” that he identifies are: the Law of the Few, the Stickiness Factor, and the Power of Context. He concludes his writing by pointing out that a few “super infectors” are also personally responsible for dozens, or in some cases, hundreds of transmissions of key content, cultural transformation and community change. This role is a category of people that Gladwell identifies as “Connectors,” who play an inordinate role in helping new trends begin to “tip,” or spread rapidly.
The Law of the Few: Influential People
The attainment of the tipping point that transforms a phenomenon into an influential trend usually requires the intervention of a number of influential types of people. First are the “Connectors”, individuals who have ties in many different groups and act as conduits between them, helping to engender connections, relationships, and “cross-fertilization” that otherwise might not have ever occurred. “Mavens” are people who have a strong compulsion to help others by helping them make informed decisions. “Salesmen” are people whose unusual charisma allows them to be extremely persuasive in inducing others’ decisions and behaviors. Gladwell identifies a number of examples of past trends and events that hinged on the influence and involvement of Connectors, Mavens, and Salesmen at key moments in their development.
The Stickiness Factor: Ideas that influence behavior
Another crucial factor that plays a key role in determining whether a trend will attain exponential change is what Gladwell terms “the stickiness factor.” This refers to a unique quality that compels the phenomenon to “stick” in the minds of the community and influence their future behavior. An interesting element of stickiness, as defined by Gladwell, is the fact that it is often counterintuitive, or contradictory to the prevailing conventional wisdom.
The Power of Context (Parts One and Two): How Context changes everything
Two other crucial aspects of the complex processes and mechanisms that cause trends to “tip” into mass popularity are what Gladwell terms the Power of Context. If the environment or historical moment in which a trend is introduced is not right, it is not as likely that the tipping point will be attained. Clearly, in order for a trend to tip into massive popularity, large numbers of people need to embrace it. However, Gladwell points out that groups of certain sizes and certain types can often be uniquely conducive to achieving the tipping point. Gladwell remarks that groups of less than 150 members usually display a level of intimacy, interdependency, and efficiency that begins to dissipate markedly as soon as the group’s size increases over 150.
NOW, why all this? As succinctly as I can state it, here’s the deal:
It was almost two years ago that Vicky and I joined our lives together with a faith community in Monroe, Washington. At that time, I promised the people of that community that I would do everything in my power, using the gifts God has graciously given me to be able to inspire, motivate, train, equip and release them and their gifts for Kingdom ministry. From my humble viewpoint, Peace was at a key “Tipping Point” in its history…the faith community was either going to be moving with the Spirit into the future following the empowerment and ministry of Jesus in our community or would be on a track toward community closure. To use Gladwell’s comments, the Context was right…everyone was embracing the fact that life as they knew it as followers of Jesus had to change…in fact, the specific context as a faith community of under 150 (to use Gladwell’s paradigm) made them the PERFECT context from which change could occur. What they needed was a new visitation from God…a renew “rekindling” of a spirit of love and dedication to the ministry of Jesus. Together, we had to put a line in the sand in saying that we were no longer concerned primarily about ourselves but about that which stirred the heart of God – people in our community who needed to experience God’s love, acceptance and grace (whether or not they EVER bought into our expression of faith and community living). We needed to become “super infectors” with the love of God.
As with many local churches (maybe even YOUR congregation) I believe Peace is again at that Tipping Point. I have spent almost two years teaching, conversing, praying, and revisioning in partnership with my brothers and sisters in that community. We have crafted statements and made promises before God and each other. Our context is right…the “stickiness” factor of the message and presence of Jesus is continuing to change lives…now we need to encourage each other to RELEASE God’s gifts in and through each of our lives. If any epidemic needs to spread it is the radical generosity of God’s love…person-to-person, relationship to relationship, heart to heart. Would you pray with us? Would you pray that we as a community can OWN this moment…the moments in His-story that are uniquely ours? This is our time to do Kingdom work…for all of us no matter the context, this is our moment that God has given us to be faithful to His call!