Did you know that Christians make up nearly a third of the world’s religions, according to the Pew Research Center? Christians are also so spread out on the globe, that no one region can claim to be the center of Christianity. These two facts tell us that, if nothing else, Christianity is contagious. Last month, a research team at the Santa Fe Institute released a study on contagiousness, or as they called it, the spread of good epidemics. Recognizing the countless research on the spread of harmful epidemics, such as the flu or pests in crops, the Santa Fe researchers decided to look at beneficial epidemics, like positive behaviors and good viruses.
The “Evangelical Pattern”
The research showed three different ways beneficial epidemics spread, and one of them was so similar to the way social movements and religions spread, that they named it the “evangelical pattern.” In the evangelical pattern, those involved actively seek to recruit others, thereby increasing the movement’s size. The research found that the evangelical pattern spread much faster than the exponential path which leads to a normal epidemic’s explosive growth. “That’s because as the number of susceptibles becomes smaller, the number of individuals trying to infect them gets higher” says the MIT Technology Review. “The result is super-exponential growth.”
The researchers said another reason the evangelical pattern spreads so quickly is because it creates an excitement that inspires people to get out and share their news. This is contrary to bad epidemics, such as the flu, which keep people in bed and isolated. When someone is affected by a good epidemic, such a Christianity, they want to tell their friends all about it. Just as we want to tell our friends about a new restaurant or iPhone trick, we delight in sharing exciting news that we think will benefit others as it has benefited us.
The explosive growth of Christianity was sown throughout history. It started with Christ and his disciples treading dust worn sandals to preach the good news. The growth continues to this day as more and more Christians spread the Gospel to all the nations. In fact, “the number of Christians around the world has more than tripled in the last 100 years, from about 600 million in 1910 to more than 2 billion in 2010,” according to a Pew Research study.
Christ’s Love is Contagious
For many, it’s Christianity's message of healing and forgiveness that is so appealing. An incredible example of this is the Christian movie, “Woodlawn,” which takes place in 1970’s Birmingham. In the film, a newly desegregated high school football team must learn to get along despite years of hostility. When a sports minister named Hank (played by Sean Astin) gives the football team a message of love and forgiveness in Jesus, nearly all the players leave behind their burdens of fear and hatred and become brothers. The faith of the team inspires an epidemic of faith among the high school students, staff, and even the entire town of Birmingham. To this day, people are still inspired by the "Woodlawn" story. The feature film has been called more than a movie, but a movement.
Films like “Woodlawn” remind us of the power of our faith. Even if we feel like we’re not good Christians or haven’t been as faithful as we could be, we can’t forget that even a spark has the capacity to start a fire. God wants to use us just as we are, where we are.
At one point in the film, the minister, Hank, tells the players, “When you play for yourself you can be great, but when you play for something higher than yourself, that’s when something amazing happens.” Christians know this secret, and perhaps it contributes to our contagiousness. Contrary to so many others, we seek something higher than ourselves. In that pursuit, we find that we are loved and worth more than we could ever imagine. Now that is a message worthy of telling and an epidemic deserving of “super-exponential growth.”
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