WHAT is the best way to understand the emergence of fashion trends, the ebb and flow of crime waves, the creation of best-sellers, the rise of teen smoking, or the popularity of a political campaign? Think of them as epidemics.
At least that’s what sociologist Malcolm Gladwell argues in his New York Times-acclaimed book, The Tipping Point (Little, Brown). “Ideas and products and messages and behaviors spread just like viruses do,” he says. “Tipping points are a reaffirmation of the potential for change. The world around you may seem like an immovable, implacable place. It is not. With the slightest push-in just the right place-it can be tipped.”
Maybe you, as I sometimes do, begin to feel that revival in the church is beyond the pale of possibility-that the spiritual condition of God’s people (myself included) is simply too immovable, too implacable. But tipping points-that slight push that starts an epidemic-have been at the forefront of past revivals. Interestingly, Gladwell chose the Methodist movement as one of his primary case studies. He observes that in the 1700s three things came together: (1) the right person (John Wesley), (2) the right message (a call to a revival of Christ-centered holiness), and (3) the right context (Wesleyan cell groups). The First and Second Great Awakenings spread like wildfire, primarily because of the contagious, irrepressible combination of preachers, evangelical doctrine, and small groups. This does not deny the sovereign interventions of God. It simply acknowledges the means He used to create the epidemic.
The right person, the right message, and the right context-isn’t that what we should be praying for? When we have those things in place, the Master Sociologist can initiate the tipping point. And we have a genuine “epidemic” of revival on our hands.
The Right Person
These are the Christians who resolve, “there is no other effort that matters.” I call them “prisoners of hope.” They know that revival is the great hope God offers His praying people (culminating in the final revival, when Jesus comes again). So they become “messengers of hope,” spreading the infection of God’s promises for revival everywhere and every way they can. They flood the church with a vision of and passion for Christ that compels Christians to fervently pray and prepare for an epidemic of spiritual awakening to Him.
The Right Message
This is the conviction that “there is no other vision that matters.” But it must be a full-orbed message, defining the hope of revival the way the Bible does. Only then can God’s people pray and prepare in full agreement with God’s purposes.
The “right message” will always highlight three great biblical themes on revival. (1) Focus-the hope that God will open our hearts to see and embrace more fully all that Christ is and all that His kingdom is about. (2) Fullness-the hope that God will invade His people by the Spirit and fill them with a greater experience of the presence, life, ministry, and power of His Son. (3) Fulfillment-the hope that God will complete the gospel’s advance worldwide, victorious among the nations, and that He will do so through those united to His Son.
The Right Context
This is the situation that confirms, “there is no other choice that matters.” Are we not in such a context right now? Our nation is plagued by spiritual and moral disintegration outside the church, paralyzed by strongholds of religious carnality inside the church, overwhelmed by the billions yet to be reached with the gospel. What other choice do we have but to join the messengers, embrace the message, and prepare for divine visitation?
There’s an even more basic element, however, of the “right context.” In his book, Gladwell uses multiple case studies to substantiate his conclusion that the smaller the context, the more quickly you reach the tipping point that unleashes the epidemic. “Small, close-knit groups,” he says, “have the power to magnify the epidemic potential of a message or idea.” What does that mean for us? Simply this: we don’t have to create huge crowds in large arenas to nurture the church toward God-given revival. In fact, lacing the nation with hundreds of thousands of small prayer groups (Houses of Prayer? Concerts of Prayer? Prayer Triplets? Pastors’ Prayer Groups?) may be the most revolutionary approach we can take. “That is the paradox of the epidemic,” writes Gladwell. “That in order to create one contagious movement, you often have to create many small movements first.”
Oh, how we need an epidemic that will expose our communities and our nation to the virus of God’s saving power! Pray for the right people, the right message, and the right context-and for that Savior-initiated tipping point!