Wednesday, February 23, 2005

tipping point

spent a good chunk of the day working on the church budget for next fiscal year. as we considered investing in some cosmetic improvements to the building our church community uses for our worship celebrations and offices, i was reminded of some interesting ideas about the power of context that i recently came across in Malcolm Gladwell's excellent book, The Tipping Point.

in it, he notes the precipitous decline in crime that New York City experienced last decade and sheds light on it's most direct cause: a crackdown on subway fair jumping and grafitti-free subway trains. apparently, the new head of the subway system at the time decided to invest a sizeble chunk of his budget and leadership equity towards making sure that anyone who tried to avoid paying a fare would be rounded up, taken to a police station, and prosecuted, and that no train would make its route if it had grafitti on it. as soon as a train had any grafitti on it, it was taken out of service until it was cleaned up, so that the grafitti artists' nighttime work never saw the light of day. the remarkable result in a very short period of time is that every kind of crime in the city declined. and dramatically. murders, robbery, assault, you name it. in other words, those small but noticeable changes to the environment created a "tipping point", such that a large number of people who might otherwise have been inclined to criminal behavior (and in previous years, had been) simply did not commit those crimes. simply because the environmental changes communicated ideas like: "someone is in charge here", among other things.

so anyway, got me thinking about what impact the physical environment in which we worship has on our worship and even on our common life together. what small things might create a "tipping point" that frees people to worship wholeheartedly who might otherwise have a low level of distraction or preoccupation or whatever, just enough to keep them from engaging with what God is doing at any particular time? could the transition from 2-ply to 3-ply kleenex create a tipping point? how about good lighting? fresh paint? well trimmed grass? what small things communcate ideas like: "God matters to us", "people matter to God", "there's more mercy here than we know exactly what to do with", "broken things get fixed with love", etc? seems like a fun idea to experiment with.


Anonymous said...

Hi Jesse,

One of the things I appreciate about the Milan Church is that kind of attention to detail which communicates: "We care enough about you and helping you connect with God to think of these things..."

But the element that deserves the title "tipping point" has to be the presence of God among his people. For, while your point is valid, it should be observed that there are plenty of churches with 3-ply kleenex et al, that have quenched the Spirit with cold hearts, or whatever. And there are plenty of churches that meet in shacks, or without any property at all, where the presence of God is sufficient to "tip them" towards intimacy with God and each other.

So the cosmetic stuff is not insignificant, but it's not the key element either.

I love reading through you blog! Keep writing!
Tim McNinch

Anonymous said...

Hi Tim,

Great to hear from you! How are you and Elizabeth? Have you one of these blog dealies so I can snoop around your thougths and activities?

Thanks for the encouragment, and for the thought provoking correction. Some of which is right on because you're smart, and some of which highlights a miscommunication on my part about the whole concept of the tipping point.

You speak true about God's presence. To paraphrase, "if I have 3-ply Kleenex and well designed signs, but have not Love, I am but a blowing nose or a confused symbol..."

My impression from the book Tipping Point, for what it's worth, is that only the stickiness factor (law of the few, law of stickiness, law of context)has anything to do with the heart of the matter (eg. God's presence), and even that only partly. the author isn't speaking about what tips an individual in a particular direction, but rather what accellerates the spread of many individuals moving in a particular direction, making particular choices, etc. among a large group of people in a short period of time, much in the way a virus can reach "epidemic" proportions, seemingly overnight.

So if one were to think of the spread of the gospel, say, in terms of an epidemic, one might want to look at the nature of the early disciples and churches in terms of how God specifically chose his "few", and look at the powerful message of the Kingdom and the King to see how the Spirit made it "sticky", and look at 1st century world context to see the power of "Kairos" time. Which would take nothing away from the gospel, of course, but rather would illustrate the great care God took to ensure that resurrection life burst forth on our dying planet among just the right people, with just the right power, at just the right time and in just the right place, so that his eternal purposes would be accomplished with Godspeed.

Bringing the discussion full circle, assuming God's presence in active in full strength in a place, among a group of people, how can we intelligently cooperate with God, exercising the normally limited dominion he allows us to share with him, so that his presence and love rule in a place, rather than simply residing there.

Hmm, as I read this over, seems a little muddled. Probably 'cause I am sort of babbling with very little knowledge of the subject, but gosh darn it Tim, you got me going with your insightful comments, so it's half your fault, right?

Anonymous said...

I think Tim makes a key point...."They'll know us by our love for each other"...Outward symbols such as speaking in tongues is meaningless to unbelievers but God's power demonstrated through a prophetic word which speaks into their life brings them near.

Yet, your question bears pondering since "love" is pretty abstract and prophecy is only one manifestation of God's power. He calls to us in many ways including through our senses.

So how we order the physical world is definitely important. Is it possible to construct our physical spaces to facilitate connecting with God? It certainly seems so, but if we don't then fill that space with praise that He can inhabit, it will be hollow in the deepest sense of the word.