The Law of Stickiness
Have you ever felt as though what you say does not matter? I have this experience often. Many nights I come home and flop on the couch and wonder why I ever speak. It is as if nobody is listening. Then I read The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell and the “Law of Stickiness”that he has identified. Gladwell shares the story of Sesame Street and Blue’s Clues and how both shows were developed in such a way that their messages would stick. I think that this might be my problem. I do not often think about how to make my message sticky.
Gladwell’s “Law of the Few” says you need the right people. The “Law of Stickiness” says you need the right message. Gladwell reasonably states that if Paul Revere were telling people about a sale at his silver shop the Massachusetts countryside would not have been mobilized, there was something sticky about “THE REDCOATS ARE COMING!”
I think that this is critical for the church today. We lament that people are leaving the church. We lament the shrinking number of people trusting Christ. We decry the youth for checking out by the time they hit Middle School. Our researchers point to all kinds of reasons for these realities from the postmodern shift to divorce rates. It is not very often that we evaluate our message.
Somehow we have turned the stickiest message in history into a sheet of ice.
The gospel is sticky. The Apostle Paul puts it this way, “Jews demand miraculous signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. (1 Cor 1:22–24)” The message that has been entrusted to us is one that causes a reaction, a response. Unfortunately we have lost our communicative creativity and it has lost its stick.
The question we must ask ourselves as followers of Jesus is how do we get our “sticky” back? I think that we get our sticky back the same way that Jesus and Paul did. They spoke the language of the people. Jesus told short stories that got inside people’s heads. Paul understood the people he spoke to and bridged the gospel to their contexts. They used the right words.
What are the right words for us today? What is the language that the 21st century citizen of the United States speaks? I think that those around me speak in the language fo guilt ridden narcissism. The metaphors exist in film and popular music. This is the context we are speaking into.
In the midst of this how do we make our message stick? I think that the message will stick if we can become creative in our communication to create parables based in the metaphors of this generation’s context. We must not give over the metaphors and continue to speak a slippery message.
Jesus message is subversive. It cuts to the quick. It is by nature sticky. We have tamed it, we have set aside our imaginations, and as a result we have made it slick. I pray for a return to creativity, a return to cultural engagement, and a return to subversive preaching of the sticky gospel.