Sunday Sermons

Sunday Sermons

Be the Match

Be the Match

“If I give you a large piece of paper, and I ask you to fold it over again, and then again, and again, until you have refolded the original paper 50 times. How tall do you think the final stack is going to be? In answer to that question, most people will fold the sheet in their mind’s eye, and guess that the pile would be as thick as a phone book. But the real answer is that the height of the stack would approximate the distance from the earth to the sun. This is an example of what in mathematics is called geometric progression. Epidemics are another example of geometric progression: when a virus spreads through a population, it doubles and doubles again” (The Tipping Point, Malcolm Gladwell, p. 11).

The point of the above illustration is to remind us that huge things can result from what seems like to us a number of mundane or small steps. In the above book the author equally reminded the readers that it does not take a crowd to change things or have an impact upon the world.

The Power of the Few for Evil

“One sinner destroys much good” (Ecclesiastes 9:18). “So a little foolishness is weightier than wisdom and honor” (Ecclesiastes 10:1). “See to it that no one comes short of the grace of God; that no root of bitterness springing up causes trouble, and by it many be defiled” (Hebrews 12:15). There was an analysis done on a sexually transmitted disease epidemic in Colorado Springs. It was discovered that out of a town of well over 100,000 people, the epidemic was caused by the activities of 168 people, living in four small neighborhoods and who frequented the same six bars (Gladwell, pp. 19-20). In a similar example, in the book The Band Played On the author discusses at length the so-called Patient Zero of AIDS, a French-Canadian flight attendant, who claimed to have 2,500 sexual partners all over North America, and who was linked to at least 40 of the earliest cases of AIDS in California and New York.

The Power of the Few for Good

Jesus told His small band of followers, “You are the salt of the earth... You are the light of the world...” (Matthew 5:13-14). God was willing to spare the entire populations of Sodom and Gomorrah if only ten righteous people were found among them (Genesis 18:32). The future of the Jewish race was saved at times by the activities or faithfulness of a single person, such as in the case of Joseph and Esther. Major spiritual changes were accomplished by such individuals as Hezekiah and Josiah. The good news is that it has never taken a whole lot of people to bring about good changes in the world.  Economists talk about the 80/20 Principle, which is the idea that in any situation roughly 80 percent of the work is being done by 20 percent of the people. This also has a negative aspect as well. In most countries, 20 percent of the criminals commit 80 percent of the crimes, and 20 percent of car drivers cause 80 percent of the car accidents.

A Different Principle

“From whom the whole body, being fitted and held together by what every joint supplies, according to the proper working of each individual part, causes the growth of the body for the building up of itself in love” (Ephesians 4:16).

Among God’s people, every member should be involved, because we are not talking about being part of some mere earthly goal that we are working on and this is not just some sort of service organization or social club, we are talking the being members of the body of Christ and going to heaven.

I am Still Accountable in the Group

Studies have shown that one of the temptations of being in a group is that responsibility for acting is diffused, we start assuming that someone else will act or that someone else is taking care of things. In one experiment, people who saw smoke seeping out from under a doorway would report it 75 percent of the time when they were alone. But the same incident would only be reported 38 percent of the time when they were in a group.

Practical Steps

I believe that congregations of God’s people can avoid the 80/20 rule. Here are some practical steps:

  • Those older and involved need to delegate tasks to younger and newer members.
  • Older and involved members need to mentor and train other members to do what they do.
  • The spiritually mature need to keep tabs on, and make phone calls to members who are absent without any apparent reason.
  • When people are converted or when people want to place membership the elders, or men, need to present a clear idea of expectations for those who desire to be part of the group. That regular attendance, faithfulness and involvement are expected.

Change Can Happen Rapidly

We have all seen this when it comes to changes in the wrong direction. Also we have all seen fads suddenly take off and just as suddenly die out. The name that is given to that one dramatic moment in which everything can change all at once is called a tipping point. For example, 1987 was the tipping point when enough people have fax machines that it made sense for most people to have one. 1998 was the year that cell phones were small enough, cheap enough and the service was better, that suddenly everyone had a cell phone.

Taking a Look at the Few

In looking at the “few” that seem to spark so many changes, Gladwell found the following subgroups and these are the titles that he gave to them:

  • Connectors:

In the late 1960’s, psychologist Stanley Milgram conducted an experiment to discover how human beings are connected. He selected 160 people who lived in Omaha, Nebraska, and mailed each of them a packet.  In the packet was the name and address of a stockbroker who worked in Boston and who lived in Sharon, Massachusetts. The assignment was to write your name on the packet and then find a friend who would get it closer to the stockbroker. That friend would then write his or name on the packet and send to another friend, etc. Milgram found that  most of the letters reached the stockbroker in five or six steps. Yet he also found that not all degrees a separation are equal. Milgram found that a number of the chains from Omaha to the stockbroker followed the same pattern. Twenty-four letters reached the stockbroker at his home and sixteen were given to him by the same person. The majority of the letters that arrived at his office were delivered by the same two men.  These three people are the type of people that Gladwell calls “connectors”. They spend a lot of time building relationships, especially new ones, they know people who know people.

  • Maven – One who Accumulates Knowledge

These are the people that people go to when they want to buy a car, get a new vacuum, know where to stay or eat on vacation in another city, and so on. While connectors are the “social glue”, mavens are “date banks”:

  • Salesmen

These are the people who persuade the unconvinced, and they are critical to the tipping of word-of-mouth epidemics.


As I close, the church really needs all three groups and in some way all of us need to have some of each in all of us. 

  • We need to be social, reach out of people, form new connections, be involved in the community and really care about people.
  • We need to be well read in the Bible and have a ready answer.
  • We need to be excited about the message of salvation and excited about the life-style that being a Christian has produced: Acts 26:29; 2:40; 2 Corinthians 5:11

Mark Dunagan  |
Beaverton Church of Christ  |  503-644-9017