If Oprah were to start speaking for Christ on her show and through her other media channels, why it would be Pentecost all over again. With her influence, thousands would turn to Christ. The audiences at her shows already look like folks at a Pentecostal service.
The belief that society has a number of influential people and that if you use these influentials to endorse your product, you would be able to really push your product, is a fairly entrenched belief in marketing.
Open today’s paper. Or surf the TV channels. How many famous people are out there hawking this or that and getting paid big bucks for doing so? It stands to reason that if a known face with a known reputation tells you to do something, you will be more inclined to do so.
It’s has to be true because many in the church believe it as well. Just watch what happens when an influential turns to Christ. Everybody wants a piece of him and he or she is shuttled through the testimony circuit. If an influential accepts Christ, Christianity just has to be true. Why the testimony of an influential must be worth the testimonies of a hundred ordinary folks at least. Or is it?
Just think. When was the last time you bought a product or changed your thinking because an influential told you to do so? But think of the times that you changed your mind or at least considered a change in direction because a neighbour/taxi driver/colleague/friendly person you met while waiting to see the doctor, told you to.
There is new thinking on the role of influentials from the world of marketing as well. From a chapter entitled “The Myth of the Influentials” from their book, ‘Grapevine’, Dave Balter and John Butman write:
Word-of-mouth from celebrities, mavens, connectors, alphas, hubs, transmitters, trendsetters, whatever-you-want-to call-thems is always good. But it’s no more powerful or influential than word-of-mouth from the guy with the weird headphones who was sitting next to you on the train or the gal you dated over one summer.?
I know how tempting it is to believe in the myth of the influential. It took nearly a year of campaigns and thousands of interactions for us to understand that mavens and high-profile influentials are effective in specific ways and in particular categories, but that most of the time, everyday people are better. They are the ones who are having word-of mouth interactions that generate results creating awareness, changing perceptions, and driving sales.
Here are more interesting tidbits from their book, subtitled “The New Art of Word-of Mouth Marketing.”
*Word-of mouth happens when people talk about products in natural day-to day conversations and the products ?are put into the context of their lives and experiences and needs.?
*With about forty million blog readers in the United Sates alone and about one hundred billion emails sent each day, 80 percent of word-of-mouth occurs off-line; real people talking to each other in the real world.”
*”People create word-of-mouth because they like to share ideas, opinions, and information. There is no self-serving motive or expected result.”
If Balter and Butman are correct, and I believe they are, it would account for why the early church spread so rapidly even though they had few members who were influential in the eyes of the world.
Consider your own call, brothers and sisters: not many of you were wise by human standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, things that are not to reduce to nothing things that are, so that no one might boast in the presence of God. [1Corinthians 1:26-29 NRSV]
I am not implying that the early church grew because it happened to hit on a right marketing method. The church grew because of the power of the gospel and the power of the Holy Spirit.
But there are lessons here. Often I find that the church gravitates towards the famous, the clever, the rich, the articulate, the powerful, subtly or not so subtly giving out the message that the gospel must be true because it is validated by such influential people. The primary validation of the gospel is the cross, the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, “a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles.”
There is also the subtle or not so subtle implication that if God had the help of influentials it would help Him to reach more people. I want to be clear that we need the help of all of God’s people to get the word out, including the influentials each of whom will have their own sphere of influence.
But the Word of God and now current marketing thinking brings us back to the point that the gospel is for all and therefore the effectiveness of bringing out the gospel is for all as well. The most effective way of getting the word out is through ordinary people telling stories to ordinary people.
Balter and Butman’s work also has warnings for a church that often seems over reliant on canned presentations and has become over enamored with the internet. The ideal context for passing on an idea is a face-to face encounter between people who naturally share about what is going on in their lives.
Of course this raises other questions like, to what degree evangelism, and Christianity itself, is integrated into our lives and to what degree are our lives divided into secular and sacred compartments? Is God in the ebbs and flows of daily life? Or do we only encounter Him in special places and in special meetings?
As Christians we know we are called to a salt and light mandate (Matthew 5: 13-16). Through word and deed we are to point towards the Kingdom and the King. Praise God that in this Kingdom all are equally important, even in the matter of proclaiming His truth and His love.
Of course it would be great if Oprah became an evangelist!!
Your brother, Soo-Inn Tan