Witnessing, someone said, refers to a conversation between two people,
both of whom are nervous. How do we who love Jesus and believe the gospel
share His love with others in a world decreasingly aware of Him? How can
our evangelism‹personally and as a community of faith‹be more contagious?
Jonah Berger teaches at the prestigious Wharton School at the University
of Pennsylvania. His bookContagious: Why Things Catch On examines when one
idea, product, or trend seems to spread virally while others simply flop.
Berger offers six principles to create contagion in the marketplace. Each
of these can help us as we think about effective evangelism in our
time. Disclaimer: my application of the following points stands on the
conviction that the gospel is the power of God in salvation and the Spirit
brings life. We are gospel ambassadors, not salesmen. That being said,
Jesus showed us ways to communicate in a contagious manner (using water
with the Samaritan woman, asking pertinent questions as with Nicodemus and
the Rich Young Ruler, etc). Note also that Jesus was not afraid to see
people turn away from His claims, nor should we.
Knowing that evangelism is spiritual work, we can yet learn helpful,
practical ways to communicate the amazing gospel to a lost world. Here are
Berger¹s principles and my application to our witness:
Principle 1: Social Currency: Most people would rather look smart than
dumb, rich than poor, and cool than geeky. . . . what we talk about
influences how others see us. It¹s social currency. As believers we help
our gospel witness when we can step outside our subculture and speak with
unbelievers about things in culture with insight. We don¹t have to be
hipster philosophers, but we do need to have a clue about things that
matter to people in the culture, to be able to talk with regular folks
about regular things with insight. I often talk with people about movies,
for instance, and discuss common plotlines and themes, and as I can show
how they relate to the biblical storyline. I have on several occasions had
neighbors and friends remark they had never seen that before.
Principle 2: Triggers: How do we remind people to talk about our . . .
ideas? Triggers are stimuli that prompt people to think about related
things. Peanut butter reminds us of jelly and the word "dog" reminds us of
the word "cat" . . . People often talk about whatever comes to mind, so
the more often people think about a product or idea, the more it will be
talked about.² Being able to communicate our faith in ways that trigger
gospel ideas is critical. The church I serve, Richland Creek Community
Church, has done this in some ways. Several times a year we offer "Free
Pizza Friday" as a way to serve the community. We¹ve served thousands a
free meal with no strings. We want folks to think of the Creek as a place
that loves our community. Maybe in some cases ordering a pizza can trigger
that. We also have an exploding special needs ministry. We want
conversations with families of special needs children to be triggered to
think of our church. We are doing similar things with the Young Pros
ministry I lead. We recently had a reach week where all our small groups
went to restaurants with gifts for the servers. We want these young adults
to think of our church when they think about God. What are triggers your
church creates in your community?
Principle 3: Emotion: When we care, we share. So how can we craft
messages and ideas that make people feel something? Naturally contagious
content usually evokes some sort of emotion.² Here is a simple takeaway:
we need to live life with emotion, with passion, and when we talk about
our faith do so passionately. Movements are led by the passionate, not the
passive. We talk about what we really believe. In the Jesus Movement of
the 1960s and 1970s, a lot of young people came to Christ not because of
intellectuals, but because a lot of young believers shared Christ with a
Principle 4: Public: Can people see when others are . . . engaging in our
desired behavior? The famous phrase "Monkey see, monkey do" captures more
than just the human tendency to imitate. It also tells us that it¹s hard
to copy something you can¹t see. Making things more observable makes them
easier to imitate, which makes them more likely to become popular.
Followers of Christ have in effect gone into the closet while others have
come out. We need to be public, open, and gracious with our faith. Jesus
Let your light shine before others, so thatthey may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in
heaven.² (Matt. 5:16)
Principle 5: Practical Value: How can we craft content that seems useful?
People like to help others, so if we can show them how our products or
ideas will save time, improve health, or save money, they¹ll spread the
word.² People should believe in God because He is Truth. But, while
Christianity is not mainly a how-to manual, it does in fact work. We need
to show this in marriages, community, ministry, and service, even as we
speak of Jesus. Most people live on this practical level; showing them how
the gospel works can help us to show them that it is true.
Principle 6: Stories: What broader narrative can we wrap our idea in?
People don¹t just share information, they tell stories.² The great Story
of the gospel (viewthestory.com) is the greatest Story of all, and the
Story that makes sense of our stories. Let¹s regularly tell the stories of
faith: specific stories of God¹s faithfulness, stories of our own frailty,
and most of all, the great Story of Redemption.
Does one of these ideas help you to think of being more contagious and
less cantankerous in your witness? Let¹s be contagious in our
relationships with others.