7 Ways Your Church Can Go Viral
Think about it. When Christianity was an outlawed religion; when Christians were hiding in catacombs; when the only news sources were the orator in the public square, the gossip, or the personal foot courier; when expressing allegiance to anyone but the current political power was life-threatening—during all these challenges and outright peril—Christianity spread like wildfire—to the ends of the known earth!
Why is it is so hard today? Christianity is mainstream—safe. Christian thinking is foundational to our current governing and justice systems—accepted. We have communication tools at our fingertips that early evangelists never imagined—like magic!
There is a science to virality that today’s Christians must study if we truly want to reach more people.
Derek Halpern wrote about this in a recent post. There are seven characteristics of messages that “go viral”—that people willingly and eagerly share. Here are Derek’s observations and how they apply to traditional Christian mission and our congregations today.
Feel free to share your own examples of your congregation’s vitality.
1. People share incidents that are memorable.
The gospel and Old Testament are full of memorable stories. Yet, a noted seminary professor recently wrote that when he routinely asks students to name a favorite Bible story he is met with blank stares.
Practice answering this question. Be ready to share.
I thought of Jesus raising Lazarus. There is the drama and the setting in motion of so many agendas—some noble, some founded in fear.
I also thought of two Old Testament stories—the story of David facing Goliath and the story of Joseph forgiving his brothers. Both of these powerful stories provide daily inspiration.
And what about MY church TODAY? What is memorable—worth sharing? Here is just one small encounter that defines our faith community and is worth sharing.
One day a pastor, filling in during the long-time absence of pastors in our church, broke down in tears as he was giving the benediction. His wife had died weeks before. A nine-year-old boy walked to the front of the church and asked “What’s the matter?” The boy was better than a trained counselor. He stood there in front of the congregation and addressed an adult he had known for only a few weeks. He waited for answers to his questions. He wanted to know the name of his wife—all the details. The congregation waited patiently as the the child comforted the pastor. After church the boy took a piece of chalk and added the name of the pastor’s wife to the memorial for member soldiers that hung in our narthex. Memorable. Worth sharing!
All congregations have stories to tell. We just get a little rusty or timid when it comes to telling our own story. But our own stories have the power to go viral.
What was the last memorable thing that happened to you in church—that you are itching to share?
2. People share material that matters.
What biblical events matter? Miracles. Resurrection. Lovingkindness. Three examples.
I thought of our how our little congregation was able, through our website, to befriend Christians in Pakistan before their ministry hit the international news with horrific incidents of terrorist bombings. We were poised to help when established church relief systems weren’t.
I also thought of the more intimate spiritual lifeline that reaches into our own community.
What about your church experience matters so much that you just have to share it?
3. People share things of practical value.
This is probably the reason most people don’t attend church these days. We fail to see the practical value.
What is practical about the gospel message? Curing the sick. Feeding the hungry. Reaching the oppressed. Three good examples.
I thought of how our little congregation was able to welcome immigrants and create a cross-cultural fellowship that helped families assimilate into a new culture. Practical, nuts and bolts ministry.
How about your congregation? What is the practical value of your faith community that members and visitors can easily recognize and share?
4. People share things that project friendliness.
Again, there are many biblical examples—from the admonishment to let the children come to Jesus, to the acceptance of the woman at the well, to the forgiveness offered first to the thieves hanging on crosses with Jesus and then to us at the foot of the cross.
I’m reminded of how people once became active in our neighborhood congregation without actually joining or appearing on our church records. They helped with the East Falls Children’s Choir, music camps and our six-week summer camp. They attended AA Groups we hosted or the community meetings that shared our buildings. I am regularly reminded in my encounters in the neighborhood of the number of children who attended one of our day schools during the last 40 years. One mother commented to me recently that she hates walking down the street and seeing our locked buildings. She was never a member, but involved none the less.
How does your congregation project friendliness.
5. People share things that are moderately controversial.
AUUGH! No one likes controversy. But history teaches that most important advancements in civilization owe a good portion of success to controversy that matters and that grows virally. Controversy was surely part of the success of early Christians.
This has been a tough one for our church because we were labeled as adversaries and shunned by our regional body. That put us in a position where we were beyond moderately controversial. But sometimes there is no middle road. Time will tell if our reluctant willingness to engage in controversy will advance our congregation or not.
What about your congregation? What is important enough that your members are willing to engage in worthy controversy?
6. People share what is popular to talk about.
Let’s hope that’s short of gossip.
What do Christians like to talk about?
Jesus primed this pump with his admonition to NOT share the news of miracles. We still talk about these forbidden stories today.
What do we talk about today outside the biblical examples.We could talk about acts of love and kindness, but we often end up talking about things that exclude others from fellowship (homosexuality, popular morality, etc.). Let’s try to focus on the good. (That’s not original, by the way. It’s from Philippians).
7. People share things that are entertaining.
What entertains us in the church to the point that we want to share? Jesus knew that parables would entertain and teach. They are so very sharable.
At Redeemer and 2×2, we found our visits to 80 churches entertaining. We share our experiences in a book—our own parable of sorts. Undercover Bishop: A Parable for Today’s Church weaves our church visits into an exploration of small church ministry. We hope it is entertaining!
I didn’t start this post with any intention of promoting this book. But there’s no controlling online virality!
How can you entertain while sharing your message? Write your own sharable parable! Start your own spiritual blog.
Be a witness! Tell it! Tell it here if you like!