Rev Dr Edgar Mayer – Living Grace Lutheran Church, Toowoomba – Date: 10 November 2013

For more sermons and other writings, please check the following homepage: www.livinggracetoowoomba.org

 

Caught Not Taught

 

Two weeks ago – on Friday – we cancelled the Prayer Watch and instead enjoyed an outdoor movie night. There was no gathering for prayer but animated action – (the movie Epic) – with a shrunken down girl saving the world before being reunited with her Dad. Carl put up a big screen in their garden. Amy made popcorn and dozens of children – small and bigger ones – had a good time. Today, the attraction is the Family Fun Day – not necessarily my preaching (I know) or worship. The flyer said something about a BBQ lunch, jumping castle, treasure hunt, face painting and – last but not least – the world’s biggest water fight. I’ve come prepared. Here is my towel and you better get ready.

However, are we doing the right thing – as a church? How does a movie night or Family Fun Day tie in with our faith in Jesus Christ? In what sense is landing a water bomb on Paul Kupke’s back spiritual? This is a valid question which deserves an answer.

Without making this too philosophical – keeping it short – God is with us all of the time – 24/7. We are the temple of the Holy Spirit – permanently – which means that God shares all of our life – the serious side and the fun stuff. Therefore, this is what we want to practice and learn here at Living Grace. God is in everything and it is good. (He is joyful and loves to hear us laughing.)

I want to say a little bit more. The movie night and Family Fun Day are expressions of community life and the truth is that we cannot grow in our faith or pass on our faith unless we live the faith in community because the Christian faith is not taught but caught (from other members of the community). It is as you live with other Christians (in community) that you learn by observation what matters in a relationship with God – how to live with God. Before you listen to any words, you catch what the other person has in God.

I will come back to this truth that the Christian faith is caught – not taught – but there is another saying which is similar: You can teach what you know but you reproduce what you are. No matter what you say, people catch from you what really matters to you because the truth of your actions is far more powerful than the truth of your words.

As parents, sometimes we wish that it could be different. For instance, we teach them that God’s love is an unmerited gift – a free gift of grace – we can relax in God’s passion for us – but then they catch us in striving for God’s acceptance by fearful praying and fasting and being busy for him and as soon as the car breaks down or the plumbing fails they watch us wondering about God’s possible wrath because we have displeased him by not doing enough. Therefore, how will our children turn out if God does not intervene? They will not feel loved by God but be like ourselves who try to win God’s heart by pleasing him and, all the while, never believing that he actually is – pleased with us.

We may also teach our children about the church – that, according to the Bible, we are one people – functioning as the one body of Christ. Together we are the one temple (dwelling place) of the Holy Spirit and, like it happens in the Bible, we call each otherbrothersandsistersbecause in God we are one family. This is what we say but then our children watch what we do and they catch us gossiping and taking offense and being jealous of one another. Therefore, what kind of church members will they be? The same as us because much of life is caught, not taught. You can teach what you know but you will reproduce what you are.

This is a little confronting but not controversial. If we are not careful, the way we are – our immaturity – can undermine what we want to say and teach. Yet, this alone does not explain the saying that the Christian faith is caught, not taught. There is more. Why do we need the community of Christians to grow in our faith and pass on the faith? What is caught that cannot be taught in words alone?

Consider the challenge. The Christian life is absolutely alien to the world that lives without God:

 

1 Corinthians 2:6-10: We do, however, speak a message of wisdom among the mature, but not the wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are coming to nothing. No, we declare God’s wisdom, a mystery that has been hidden and that God destined for our glory before time began. None of the rulers of this age understood it, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. However, as it is written: “What no eye has seen, what no ear has heard, and what no human mind has conceived” – the things God has prepared for those who love him – these are the things God has revealed to us by his Spirit.

 

How can you learn a truth which is alien to the human mind (“what no human mind has conceived”) and can only be revealed by the Spirit of God? How do you bridge the gulf between what seems normal to most people and the wisdom and mystery of God? This is so enormous that words alone will not accomplish the task. You need to see real-life examples and demonstrations of the Christian life.

And this is how Jesus did it. He chose twelve men to follow him and live with him – travel with him, dine with him, work with him. These twelve were learning the truth from Jesus – listening to his teaching but more importantly catching the faith from his own life. They saw Jesus live out the strange truth of God and they caught something long before it made complete sense to them.

For instance, (at one time) Jesus and his disciples had dirty feet after a long day wearing sandals on dusty streets but there was no servant attending to them. Then, Jesus got up and did the unthinkable. He was their Lord and Teacher (in a culture that knew something about honour and respect) but he took off his shirt with the long sleeves, tugged a towel around his waist, poured water into a bowl and washed the dirty feet of his disciples drying them with the towel. This was a job that no one wanted to do but Jesus demonstrated something that they needed to catch from him. In God’s kingdom, great people serve and the greatest serve the most.

The disciples – the twelve – had often been bickering about their rank and who among them was the leader but Jesus corrected them and pointed to his own person because he had come to serve and his service was ultimately even more radical than washing their feet. He died for them and all people.

 

John 13:1-17: It was just before the Passover Festival. Jesus knew that the hour had come for him to leave this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end.

The evening meal was in progress, and the devil had already prompted Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot, to betray Jesus. Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God; so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him.

He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?” Jesus replied, “You do not realize now what I am doing, but later you will understand.” “No,” said Peter, “you shall never wash my feet.” Jesus answered, “Unless I wash you, you have no part with me.” “Then, Lord,” Simon Peter replied, “not just my feet but my hands and my head as well!” Jesus answered, “Those who have had a bath need only to wash their feet; their whole body is clean. And you are clean, though not every one of you.” For he knew who was going to betray him, and that was why he said not every one was clean.

When he had finished washing their feet, he put on his clothes and returned to his place. “Do you understand what I have done for you?” he asked them. “You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am. Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. Very truly I tell you, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.

 

Luke 22:24-27: A dispute also arose among them as to which of them was considered to be greatest. Jesus said to them, “The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those who exercise authority over them call themselves Benefactors. But you are not to be like that. Instead, the greatest among you should be like the youngest, and the one who rules like the one who serves. For who is greater, the one who is at the table or the one who serves? Is it not the one who is at the table? But I am among you as one who serves.

 

Jesus’ life-style of miracles also required the disciples to catch something from Jesus in real life rather than hearing about it in lecture halls and reading about it in books and isn’t it the same with us. The supernatural life-style is not natural to us and it is a challenge to keep believing God for what is not possible according to human strength and the more common laws of human nature:

 

Mark 6:47-52: Later that night, the boat was in the middle of the lake, and he was alone on land. He saw the disciples straining at the oars, because the wind was against them. Shortly before dawn he went out to them, walking on the lake. He was about to pass by them, but when they saw him walking on the lake, they thought he was a ghost. They cried out, because they all saw him and were terrified.

Immediately he spoke to them and said, “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.” Then he climbed into the boat with them, and the wind died down. They were completely amazed, for they had not understood about the loaves; their hearts were hardened.

 

Mark 8:14-21: The disciples had forgotten to bring bread, except for one loaf they had with them in the boat. “Be careful,” Jesus warned them. “Watch out for the yeast of the Pharisees and that of Herod.”

They discussed this with one another and said, “It is because we have no bread.” Aware of their discussion, Jesus asked them: “Why are you talking about having no bread? Do you still not see or understand? Are your hearts hardened? Do you have eyes but fail to see, and ears but fail to hear? And don’t you remember? When I broke the five loaves for the five thousand, how many basketfuls of pieces did you pick up?” “Twelve,” they replied. “And when I broke the seven loaves for the four thousand, how many basketfuls of pieces did you pick up?” They answered, “Seven.” He said to them, “Do you still not understand?”

 

Jesus expected his disciples to learn and catch something from being with him. Miracles happen all of the time and they were meant to expect them and rely on them. Failure to bring bread for lunch was never going to be a problem for Jesus who (on occasion) had been feeding five thousand people and four thousand people with plenty of leftovers.

This is where we also need community. The life-style of miracles is caught, not taught. We have to have demonstrations and examples of boldness. After everything that we have seen over the last few years, I am still surprised when God heals someone in response to our prayers. I am still surprised when miracles occur – when gold sparkles appear on people’s skin. I am still surprised when someone falls to the floor or a demon manifests. I am still surprised by the power of God. I shouldn’t be but – before a worship service or the rallies in the Jesus Tent – I am struggling with faith. Will God do it again? Do these things really happen? There is a sense of unreality to the supernatural – still. It seems surreal. Words alone would never get us into it but we catch something in a community where this life-style is practiced in obedience to Jesus. (This is why our children think nothing of seeing angels or the gold dust and praying when they are in trouble.)

However, there is an even more basic reality which is caught before it is understood. Madame Guyon is the author of many books which are still for sale centuries after her death but, at twenty years of age, she was not a Christian. She sought after God, yet struggled:

 

Thomas Upham: Life, Religious Opinion and Experience of Madame Guyon, edited and revised by an English clergyman, London: Sampson Low & Co, 1905, p28: Here she fell sick, and the prospect was that she would soon die … “My sins were too present to my mind,” she says, “and too painful to my heart, to permit me to indulge in a favourable opinion as to my acceptance with God. This sickness was of great benefit to me. Besides teaching me patience under violent pains, it served to give newer and more correct views of the emptiness of worldly things. It had the tendency to detach me in some degree from self, and gave me new courage to suffer with more resignation than I had ever done.”

But this was not all. Death had begun to make inroads into her family circle … [paternal half-sister, mother] …

Fully determined to seek God, in all time to come, she adopted those measures which seemed to her best … she ceased to give that attention to her outward appearance which she had done formerly … she diminished very much the time occupied at the mirror. In addition, she commenced doing something for the religious benefit of the servants of the family. She likewise began a process of inward examination, often performing it very strictly, writing down her faults from week to week, and comparing the record at different periods to see whether she had corrected them, and to what extent. The Sabbath was a day strictly observed … She laid aside all reading incompatible with her present position …

[At her father’s house] she became acquainted with a lady … She had sought and had found the consolations of religion, and loving God, “worshipped him in spirit and in truth.” …

Madame Guyon eagerly embraced this opportunity of religious conversation; and from this pious friend thus raised by Providence to instruct her, she seems to have received the first distinct intimations, that she was erroneously seeking religion by a system of works without faith. This devout lady remarked, on her various exterior works of charity, that she had the virtues of “an active life,” that is to say, the virtues of outward activity, of outward doing, but that she had not the “truth and simplicity of the life within”. In other words, that her trust was in herself rather than in God, although she might not be fully aware of it.

But Madame Guyon says significantly, “My time had not yet come; I did not understand her. Living in the Christian spirit, she served me more by her example than by her words. God was in her life. I could not help observing on her countenance something which indicated a great enjoyment of God’s presence. I thought it an object to try to be like her outwardly – to exhibit that exterior aspect of Divine resignation and peace, which is characteristic of true inward piety. I made much effort, but it was all of little purpose. I wanted to obtain, by efforts made in my own strength, that which could be obtained only by ceasing from all such efforts, and trusting wholly in God.”

 

P34: God was pleased to send one more messenger … There was a devout man of the Religious Order of St. Francis … Attended by a kinswoman, as seemed to be proper, she visited the Franciscan … When she had done speaking, the Franciscan remained silent for some time, in inward meditation and prayer. He at length said: “Your efforts have been unsuccessful, Madame, because you have sought without, what you can only find within. Accustom yourself to seek God in your heart, and you will not fail to find him.”

It was very probable that she had heard a similar sentiment before … but now the hour of God’s Providence and of special mercy had arrived. Clearly and strongly did the Divine Spirit apply a truth which otherwise would have fallen useless to the ground … the “just shall live by faith”

“Having said these words,” she says, “the Franciscan left me. They were to me like the stroke of a dart which pierced my heart asunder. I felt at this instant deeply wounded with the love of God; - a wound so delightful, that I desired it never might be healed. These words brought into my heart what I had been seeking so many years; or rather they made me discover what was there, which I did not enjoy for want of knowing it. Oh, my Lord! Thou was in my heart, and demanded only the turning of my mind inward to me feel thy presence. Oh, infinite Goodness! Thou was so near, and I ran hither and tither seeking thee, and yet found thee not … Why have I known thee so late? … It was for want of understanding these words of thy Gospel: ‘The kingdom of God cometh not with observation … for behold the kingdom of God is within you.’ This is now experienced, since thou didst become my King, and my heart thy kingdom, where thou dost reign a Sovereign, and dost all thy will.

I told this good man, that I did not know what he had done to me; that my heart was quite changed; that God was there; for from that moment he had given me an experience of his presence in my soul – not merely as an object intellectually perceived, but as a thing really possessed after the sweetest manner. I experienced those words in the Canticles: ‘Thy name is a precious ointment poured forth; therefore do the virgins love thee.’ … I slept not all that night, because thy love, O my God! flowed in me like delicious oil, and burned as a fire which was going to destroy all that was left of self in an instant. I was all of a sudden so altered, that I was hardly to be known either by myself or others. I found no more those troublesome faults, or that reluctance to duty, which formerly characterized me. They all disappeared, as being consumed like chaff in a great fire …

 

Christians may have something – there is an enjoyment of God, peace, hope – but the life in God is often caught before it is understood by others. There may be attempts to copy the life-style but it is a new life within which shines out. Finally, the Spirit makes you understand what you have caught from the other person. (Lacking maturity – for a long time – I did not comprehend sections in Charles Finney’s autobiography and the preaching of Heidi Baker.) This is why we need community.

 

[Consider also the following (http://www.dwillard.org/articles/artview.asp?artID=134): In 1 Corinthians Paul exhorts the believers to imitate him, to be “reminded of my ways which are in Christ” (4:16-17), and to “be imitators of me, just as I also am of Christ” (11:1). In 2 Thessalonians he indicates that the readers “know how you ought to imitate us”. He reminds them of how he led a disciplined life and worked hard to support himself, “not because we do not have that right [to support from them], but in order to offer ourselves as a model for you that you might imitate us” (3:7-9). To the Philippians he said: “Keep on doing the things you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, and the God of peace will be with you” (4:9). He elsewhere reminds Timothy that he had “observed my teaching, my conduct, my aim in life, my faith, my patience, my love, my steadfastness, my persecutions and suffering the things that happened to me in Antioch, Iconium, and Lystra” (2 Tim. 3:10-11). And in an earlier letter he directed him to “show himself an example to those who believe” (1 Tim. 4:12). The writer of the letter to the Hebrews counsels his readers not to be sluggish, “but imitators of those who through faith and patience inherit the promises” (6:17). They should “remember your leaders, those who spoke the word of God to you; consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith” (13:7). As it was for “your leaders,” the writer assures them, it will also be for you, and that is because “Jesus Christ is the same, yesterday and today and forever” (verses 8-9). The point of this much misapplied verse is, as the context makes clear, that the nature of discipleship to Jesus and its outcomes does not change.]

 

If God makes us learn by catching faith in him from one another, what does this mean in practice? We may renew our commitment to this community – the Living Grace church – and a Family Fun Day (with the world’s greatest water fight) is a good beginning. We are not only going to church or dropping into different events for certain services such as informative preaching or healing prayer or good music but we come together to live together so that we grow together. We catch the faith in community.

Last week, I was in Melbourne ministering to a German speaking Lutheran church (Johanneskirche) which is still getting their pastors from Germany and remains a member of the Lutheran church in Germany. After listening to me and our testimony of what God has done among us over the last ten years, they want to come here and pay the church a visit. The message is the community and what can be picked up from our lives.

This leads to another consideration. If community is so important and everyone is meant to learn the faith in community, what will happen to our church? Are we meant to grow and become a big church? For years, the pressure has always been to attract more people and increase church attendance and break through certain number barriers – 200, 500, 1000 average worship attendance. Yet, pressuring pastors and churches has not worked because I do not know any church that has broken through any of these barriers.

 

James Emery White: Most churches make it or break it in the first five years of their existence. Numerous church growth studies have shown that if you don’t break 200 in average attendance in the first two years, you never will. If you don’t break 500 in five, you never will, and so on.

 

Maybe growing churches like ours is the wrong focus. In 2000, a book was published with the titleTipping Pointand it became an international bestseller.

 

The Tipping Point Speed Summary

(http://brandgenetics.com/the-tipping-point-speed-summary/)

·         The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference

·         Author: Malcolm Gladwell

·         Publisher: Little Brown

·         Publication date:  2000

The Tipping Point has gained something of a cult status in marketing – as the black book of 21st Century Marketing.  But what does Malcolm Gladwell’s influential bestseller actually advocate, and how can it be applied to real world marketing?

The Tipping Point is a book about how hits happen.  Using the science of epidemics, Gladwell shows how small actions at the right time, in the right place, and with the right people can create a ‘tipping point’ for a product – the moment when a domino effect is triggered and an epidemic of demand sweeps through a population like a virulent virus.  For example, Hush Puppies ‘tipped’ in 1993, when a few fashion-forward hipsters from Soho New York started wearing the languishing brand again.  This triggered a chain reaction that cascaded though the US, increasing sales 70-fold and creating a word of mouth epidemic.  Using the three basic laws of epidemics, Gladwell outlines a simple three-point plan to get your product to its own tipping point.

1.  The Law of the Few

An epidemic begins when a few highly infectious individuals become viral vectors for a product or idea by adopting it themselves and spreading the word. Gladwell identifies three key types of infectious opinion leaders with whom you should seed your product at launch:

·         Mavens are opinion leading consumer experts who spread influence by sharing their knowledge with friends and family.  Mavens are gate-keepers of innovation diffusion because their adoption patterns are respected by peers as informed decisions.

·         Connectors are a second type of opinion leading consumer, deriving their influence not through expertise, but by their position as highly connected social network hubs.  As centres of social gravity, around whom people cluster, connectors are popular people who have a viral capacity to showcase and advocate new products.

·         Salesmen are the third type of opinion leading influencer, people with the power of persuasion.  They are naturally charismatic and contagious consumers – who often work in sales – whose enthusiasm rubs off on those around them.

2.  The Stickiness Factor

An epidemic spreads when the contagious agent, the product, is naturally infectious, or ‘sticky’ to use the broadcasting term.  A show is ‘sticky’ when we don’t want to switch channels, and Gladwell gives examples from television and books to show how small tweaks to increase relevance, talk-ability and memorability can have a massive effect on success.  Although he does not address consumer products more generally, the recent meta-analysis of a wide range of cult brands in the Journal of Product Management (2000) shows us the ten critical factors that make any product sticky or infectious:

·         Uniqueness: clear one-of-a-kind differentiation

·         Aesthetics: perceived aesthetic appeal

·         Association: generates positive associations

·         Engagement: fosters emotional involvement

·         Excellence: perceived as best of breed

·         Expressive value: visible sign of user values

·         Functional value: helps goal attainment

·         Nostalgic value: evokes sentimental linkages

·         Personification: has character, personality

·         Cost: perceived value for money

The implication from The Tipping Point is that we should develop products to fit this ‘sticky’ profile, because these are the critical success factors that can have a massive impact on sales.

3. The Power of Context

Finally, the spread of an epidemic will depend on whether the context is right.  Ideas and products that fit the context into which they are launched spread fast and wide, whilst others that don’t fit their context, don’t spread.  For example, a wave of crime in the New York subway was halted by simply removing the graffiti from trains and clamping down on fare-dodging.  The context changed and so did the people.  This power of context provides marketers with a powerful new strategy for the development of new products: Target contexts before you target consumers.  Consumers are contextual chameleons and will adopt your product if it fits the context, situation or occasion in which they find themselves.  It also means that consumers are more highly susceptible to influence at the point of purchase than we might think – underlining the critical importance of Point of Purchase promotions and personal selling. Whilst volume and price promotions will always work well in the purchase context, think about how you could integrate the six psychological principles of influence into promotions and promotional materials.

·         Scarcity: Our minds are hardwired to value scarce resources, so limit availability of the promotion or your product

·         Majority: The herd instinct is very much alive, so use the power of lists to show how your product is no 1, and watch the crowds follow

·         Authority: The brain is automatically predisposed to copying the behaviour of authorities, so show how your product is the preferred choice of category authorities

·         Beauty: We may not like it but we have an automatic reflex to think good looking people make good choices – so associate your product  with the choices of beautiful people

·         Reciprocity: We have evolved to reciprocate favours, so do something for the buyer, and improve your chances of getting bought

·         Consistency: The human mind automatically prefers to be consistent with past choices, so show how your product is consistent with the choices they’ve already made

So there you have it, the three-point Tipping Point plan for creating a hit: “The Law of the Few”, “The Stickiness Factor” and “The Power of Context”.  Does the formula work?  First results are very encouraging with Unilever, Procter & Gamble, Ford, Pepsi, Microsoft, Siemens and Apple all significantly accelerating sales with Tipping Point initiatives.  Already adopted as the 21st century cult book of marketing, The Tipping Point is providing marketers with an exciting new approach to the successful development and launch of innovations.

 

How do trends – belief systems – take hold in a culture and spread? The book compares trends that go viral (trends that take off with speed and great numbers) to epidemics and – encouragingly for churches – like epidemics – these trends do not require the efforts of a great number of people to make them happen. Few people are enough.

Then, there is a chapter that talks aboutthe magic number one hundred and fifty”.

 

http://chuckwarnockblog.wordpress.com/2007/04/30/the-150-rule/: The Tipping Point is far more than a marketing book.  Chapter 5 is subtitled, The Magic Number 150.  Here’s a quick summary:

 

§  Human brains are wired to handle approximately 150 social relationships.

§  Hunter-gatherer societies had an average of 148.4 persons in their villages.

§  The Hutterites, a religious community, have a policy of starting a new colony when they approach the 150 mark.

§  Gore Associates, makers of Gore-Tex, keeps their manufacturing plants under 150 persons because they found this size keeps people in touch with each other.

 

So, 150 seems to be a magic number in group size. Here’s where church comes in, particularly small churches. Dr. Israel Galindo’s book, The Hidden Lives of Congregations, describes congregational sizes. One of those sizes is The Shepherding Congregation that ranges from 50-150 participants. Beyond that, Galindo says, the dynamics of the congregation and its leadership change dramatically.

This Rule of 150 explains why it’s hard for churches to break the 150 barrier in attendance. And, it also helps us understand that even in larger churches, members will be limited in their social relationships, not by the size of the church, but by our own human capacity.

 

Tipping Point, p176-177: Take a minute, for example, to make a list of all the people you know whose death would leave you truly devastated. Chances are you will come up with around 12 names. That, at least, is the average answer that most people give to that question. Those names make up what psychologists call our sympathy group. Why aren’t groups any larger? Partly it's a question of time. If you look at the names on your sympathy list, they are probably the people whom you devote the most attention to — either on the telephone, in person, or thinking and worrying about. If your list was twice as long, if it had 30 names on it, and, as a result, you spent only half as much time with everyone on it, would you still be as close to everyone? Probably not. To be someone's best friend requires a minimum investment of time. More than that, though, it takes emotional energy. Caring about someone deeply is exhausting. At a certain point, at somewhere between 10 and 15 people, we begin to overload, just as we begin to overload when we have to distinguish between too many tones. It’s a function of the way humans are constructed.

P178-179: Dunbar's argument is that brains evolve, they get bigger, in order to handle the complexities of larger social groups. If you belong to a group of five people, Dunbar points out, you have to keep track of ten separate relationships: your relationships with the four others in your circle and the six other two-way relationships between the others.

That’s what it means to know everyone in the circle. You have to understand the personal dynamics of the group, juggle different personalities, keep people happy, manage the demands on your own time and attention, and so on. If you belong to a group of twenty people, however, there are now 190 two-way relationships to keep track of: 19 involving yourself and 171 involving the rest of the group. That’s a fivefold increase in the size of the group, but a twentyfold increase in the amount of information processing needed to “know” the other members of the group. Even a relatively small increase in the size of a group, in other words, creates a significant additional social and intellectual burden.

Humans socialize in the largest groups of all primates because we are the only animals with brains large enough to handle the complexities of that social arrangement. Dunbar has actually developed an equation, which works for most primates, in which he plugs in what he calls the neocortex ratio of a particular species — the size of the neocortex relative to the size of the brain — and the equation spits out the expected maximum group size of the animal. If you plug in the neocortex ratio for Homo sapiens, you get a group estimate of 147.8 — or roughly 150. “The figure of 150 seems to represent the maximum number of individuals with whom we can have a genuinely social relationship, the kind of relationship that goes with knowing who they are and how they relate to us. Putting it another way, it's the number of people you would not feel embarrassed about joining uninvited for a drink if you happened to bump into them in a bar.”

 

The book argues that another book – “Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood” – became popular and reading the book turned into an epidemic because of book clubs – people reading the book together – and then spreading the information by word of mouth. In the same way, religious movements owe much to group power:

 

The lesson of Ya-Ya and John Wesley is that small, close-knit groups have the power to magnify the epidemic potential of a message or idea.

 

I give you another quote:

 

If we want groups to serve as incubators for contagious messages, then, as they did in the case of Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood or the early Methodist church, we have to keep groups below the 150 Tipping Point. Above that point, there begin to be structural impediments to the ability of the group to agree and act with one voice. If we want to, say, develop schools in disadvantaged communities that can successfully counteract the poisonous atmosphere of their surrounding neighbourhoods, this tells us that werre probably better off building lots of little schools than one or two big ones. The Rule of 150 says that congregants of a rapidly expanding church, or the members of a social club, or anyone in a group activity banking on the epidemic spread of shared ideals needs to be particularly cognizant of the perils of bigness. Crossing the 150 line is a small change that can make a big difference.

 

What does this mean for Living Grace? We are not an easy culture to grow big communities because even within the church – the Lutheran denomination and others – we are pioneering again the way Jesus and his disciples operated in faith and miracles and the continuous presence of the Holy Spirit. For us – according to the book “Tipping Point” – the best strategy would be (so it seems) to embrace the number 150 and then plant new communities and alsoinfectothers. Do you think that the time will come that we help others to establish new congregations which are a little like ours?

This is simply a reflection on the size of our community and its effectiveness. However, I come back to the main point. The Christian faith is caught, not taught. Therefore, faith grows in community, not in class rooms only. We need to see the life with God demonstrated because our minds cannot otherwise grasp how great people in God serve others without complaining – like Jesus who served us by dying for us. We need to catch the basic truth of salvation from others because the human mind does not understand the miracle of grace and the power that transforms our hearts through faith.

Community is God’s gift to you – especially today. Enjoy the Family Fun. Amen.