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God Goes Viral

Every ad campaign, book trailer, free music download, or YouTube video has in its genes a “viral” ambition — to reach the maximum number of people possible. The Gospel contains similar aspirations. So it shouldn’t surprise us that viral marketing, at its core, employs a very biblical principle.

Mass influence is the result of individual influence; enduring change is the result of incremental change

Okay, so Paul got zapped (Acts 9:3-19). There was no “incremental” about his conversion. However, to accomplish his new mission he couldn’t just “zap” others. He had to travel from city to city, write letter after letter, and debate his fair share of skeptics. These first-century Christians “turned the world upside down” (Acts 17:6) — that’s mass change. Yet the movement began door to door, house to house, city to city — which is incremental and individual.

It’s a pattern found throughout Scripture. God made a Man, not a nation. And God moves nations by moving Men. Jesus told the Twelve to “make disciples of all the nations” (Matt. 28:19). Now that’s viral! However, in order to do this they must start in Jerusalem (Acts 1:4), advance through the surrounding provinces, onward toward “the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8). Now that’s incremental! Yet this strategy predates The Great Commission.

God wanted to influence and change the world (which is also the dream of every viral marketer). So how did He plan to accomplish this impossible task? By sending one Man (an Individual) to concentrate on a few (individuals) for a three-year period (incremental). And did I mention this took several thousand years to bring about?

God wants His stuff sold. But apparently He will take His sweet time to convince the individual buyers.

If you’re an artist, an author, or a musician, you can best position yourself to reach the masses by reaching individuals. Viral marketing only works as the individuals in your circle are sold – kinda like the Twelve. If Peter, James, and John were not convinced, it was unlikely the world would be. Mass change always breaks down at the individual level.

Likewise, when individuals in your circle are not sufficiently “moved,” whether because of your product/message or its delivery system, your “movement” breaks down. Many slick, expensive ad campaigns have failed to generate the type of buzz that their producers have hoped. Why? Because until it moves the one, it can’t move the masses.

The temptation for the average marketer is to miss the trees for the forest. In other words, we envision the larger goal of world domination (at least product saturation) without analyzing its individual, incremental elements. Yes, God’s aim was the entire “world” (John 3:16). But His focus was one tribe, one Man, and the small group of followers He could amass over three years.

In this sense, buzz marketing has a biblical parallel. You want your message, book, video, or song to go viral? Well, the same is true for God.  Yet He’s willing to take the time (incremental) and make it personal (individual) in ways that the average marketer isn’t.

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{ 5 comments… add one }
  • David James June 14, 2010, 12:25 AM


    That’s a very true thing and goes right in line with some of the marketing material I’ve studied over the years and with the people I’ve talked with that have succeeded. You have to have the personal touch. If you don’t, then it’s just another ad or message one can ignore. It requires a lot more out of you at times, but from what I’ve observed in others, it can be well worth it. Yet another life lesson that is perfectly illustrated in the best life manual of all! 😉

    Be encouraged,

    David James

  • Rebecca LuElla Miller June 14, 2010, 11:51 AM

    Many slick, expensive ad campaigns have failed to generate the type of buzz that their producers have hoped. Why? Because until it moves the one, it can’t move the masses. Aptly put.

    If I may use an example from the recent California primary and the upcoming gubernatorial race, much is being made of the money Meg Whitman spent on ads. But PG&E spent nearly as much to try to pass Prop. 16. Without an opposition spending anything close to an equal amount, their message didn’t move the one, and ultimately didn’t move the masses.

    I might even say, the marketing had the opposite of the desired effect as voters discovered, one by one, what the proposition would actually have done versus what PG&E said it would do. The one moving the masses was much more effective in that instance than the slick, expensive ads.

    I don’t think Meg Whitman would have been any more successful if voters had perceived her to be different from what her ads said.

    So I guess this leads me to conclude that truth in advertising might be more important than slick and expensive. 😉


  • Jenna June 15, 2010, 4:57 AM

    You are right about many marketers “missing the trees for the forest.” With social media the way it is today, it is easy for an author to keep in touch with a fan base. The big picture is essential. But we can’t overlook the smaller parts that make it up.

  • Jill June 15, 2010, 8:34 AM

    Yes, yes, yes! I completely agree with you. But it’s funny how the internet makes that all the easier and all the more difficult at the same. The world is smaller. I’ve chatted online with authors I like who live in other countries–that’s how much smaller it is. It isn’t actually, though, because the internet also exposes how far away we are from people, from the personal interactions, from true, meaningful relationships. Christ was with his disciples–in person. He ate with them, traveled with them, etc. It’s difficult and risky reaching people on that really personal level. And I do mean it when I say ‘risky’.

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