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Ideas spread like epidemics

Author, Malcolm Gladwell wrote a book called Tipping Point which suggested that ideas spread like epidemics. All the concern with Coronavirus made me consider how the gospel might be contagious. According to Gladwell there are a few elements necessary to help an idea reach critical mass.

  • Once an idea reaches the tipping point, it spreads like fire.

  • Three kinds of people are responsible for getting ideas to tip.

  • Without stickiness, no idea will ever tip.

Definition of tipping point: the point at which a series of small changes or incidents becomes significant enough to cause a larger, more important change.

Gladwell speaks of agents of change. He calls this "the Law of the Few."

A few key people must champion an idea or concept before it can reach the tipping point. Gladwell calls one of those types, connectors.

"Connectors are the people in a community who know large numbers of people and who are in the habit of making introductions. A connector is essentially the social equivalent of a computer network hub. They usually know people across an array of social, cultural, professional, and economic circles, and make a habit of introducing people who work or live in different circles." ref. wikipedia

That's where the gift of evangelist is key. They tend to be connectors (although not exclusively as I will show you). Gladwell found that an idea spread much more rapidly when a connector was at the centre.

In terms of epidemics that's why health authorities are always looking for the person spreading the virus. When Coronavirus entered England it was a businessman Steve Walsh, who became the first one suspected of being at the centre of the UK infections. This man was a connector. He had been in Asia, then flew to the Alps and then returned to his connections in the UK.

The other two important people types involved in a tipping point according to Gladwell are:

  • Salesmen  – they enthusiastically share ideas and have a positive energy which is contagious.

  • Mavens  – they hoard information in order to be a source of great tips to their network, the people they influence with their advice.

For me this means that evangelists are not stereotypical, there is great variation in their personality and skills set. I can think of all three in people I know.

The other factor is stickiness which answers the question: “Is your idea memorable enough to make people take action?” In my opinion the message of a Messiah is a memorable one. A God-man came to earth and released the goodness of heaven on the world. It's pretty massive.

Why then does it lack stickiness? I think there are two reasons. First we have lost sight of the power of salvation and who Jesus really is. Secondly the church has fallen into the trap of institutional life rather expressing eternal life. How do we overcome this? I think God is already dealing with this in the Western church. The church is dying and a new resurrected one will emerge. A re-emphasis on Jesus will result, and releasing the evangelists (rather than domesticating them) will light fires that are hard to put out. This is why training and maturing evangelists is so important.

At a sociological level scientists discovered that if 10% of a population holds an unshakable belief "their belief will always be adopted by the majority of people who simply change their beliefs if their last two social interactions agreed with a new one."


Imagine if we re-empowered our gospel connectors and gave them the confidence and permission to be infectious. It would only take a 10% tipping point to see significant societal impact, perhaps even a good news epidemic?

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