The Tipping Point

In the book The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell, he tells a story about how a new hybrid corn seed spread through Greene County, Iowa, in the 1930s.  The new corn seed was introduced in Iowa in 1928, and it was superior in every respect to the seed that had been used by farmers there for decades before.  But, it wasn’t adopted right away.  Of the 259 farmers in the county, only a handful of them had started planting the new seed by 1932 and 1933.  In 1934, 16 took the plunge.  In 1935, 21 tried it.  In 1936, 36 more tried it.  In 1937, 61 used it.  By 1941, all but 2 of the 259 farmers were using the new hybrid seed.

The first farmers to try the new seed were the Innovators, the adventurous ones.  The slightly larger group who followed shortly after them were the Early Adopters.  They were the opinion leaders in the community, the respected and thoughtful people who watched and analyzed what those wild Innovators were doing, and then followed suit.  Then, came the big bulge of farmers who got on board from 1936-1938.  This group was called the Early Majority and the Late Majority.  They were the deliberate and skeptical mass, who would never try anything until the most respected of farmers had tried it first.  They caught the seed virus and passed it on, finally to the Laggards, the most traditional of all, who saw no urgent reason to change.

Gladwell’s point is that when new ideas are introduced, or when you are trying to spread your good ideas throughout the community, it always starts slow.  It starts with some Innovators and Early Adopters who are willing to give it a shot.  If they like it, and respond favorably, the message will spread throughout the community by word of mouth – from person to person, neighbor to neighbor, and friend to friend.  But, you need a small number who are willing to try something new, experiment with the new idea, and accept it into their lives.  The new idea has to be contagious enough, and sticky enough, to “infect” people with the idea that this is better than what they have been doing before.  Once about 25% of the people in the community adopt a new idea, the Tipping Point has been reached.  The majority will follow and its spread will not be stopped.

As Christians, we have good news that we are trying to spread throughout our community.  We want to persuade people who are not going to church, and/or who don’t believe in God, that what we believe will be better for them than what they have been believing.  We want to convince them that the way the Bible directs us to live will be better for them than the way they have been living.  But, a lot of churches are stuck.  We feel like what we are doing never quite seems to “take off” and get adopted by others in the community.  What is going on?

The research behind the Tipping Point gives us some clues.  If we want to make a difference in our community, if we want the good news of Christ to spread to people outside the church, we need to begin with the people in our community who are Innovators.  We need to persuade them to give our message a try, or give our church a try.  Then, we need to convince the Early Adopters to give it a shot.  If we can convince some the key leaders and opinion makers of our mission and purpose, we will hit the Tipping Point.  The idea will take off, people will follow, and the message will spread by word of mouth from person to person, from friend to friend, and from neighbor to neighbor.  It won’t happen overnight, but if we build it organically, it will eventually take off on its own.

In the Gospel of Matthew, the Easter story ends by Jesus giving the disciples the Great Commission – to go and make disciples of all nations.  Jesus wants us to go out into our community and into the the world.  How can we spread the good news of Jesus and make a difference in our community?  Who are the people we know?  Who are the Innovators and the Early Adopters?  Who are the people who will “take it and run with it”?

Churches don’t have to be stuck in a rut.  We don’t have to be caught in the mud.  We can start to gain some traction, re-gain our footing, and begin to impact some people who haven’t been reached before.  We always want to pray about this and seek the leading of the Holy Spirit.  But, if we understand how to get to the Tipping Point, it will not be impossible.  God can guide us and direct us in the ways he wants us to go.  And like the new hybrid corn seed introduced in Iowa in the 1930s, we can see new people begin to come on board every year.  If we get the ball rolling, it will begin to spread – person to person, friend to friend, and neighbor to neighbor.

 

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