Navigation key

The Article Archives

Can thinking Small Change the World?

October 1, 2007
S. Michael Craven
tweet this  share this on facebook  

Recently Dr. James Emory White wrote an article entitled Archery Moms in which he commented on the work of Mark J. Penn and E. Kinney Zalesne in their new book, Microtrends: The Small Forces Behind Tomorrow’s Big Changes. On the weight of Dr. White’s recommendation, I purchased a copy for myself. He was right; “every now and then, something truly worth noting comes along” in the world of cultural analysis and Penn’s work is certainly worth noting.

Mark Penn is widely regarded as one of the most perceptive pollsters in American politics. You may recall that it was Penn who identified “soccer moms” as a crucial constituency in President Clinton’s 1996 reelection campaign. The unique feature of Penn’s approach is that he looks for and has been able to identify, with some success, small patterns of behavior that wield great influence in our culture. According to Penn, “Microtrends is based on the idea that the most powerful forces in our society are the emerging, counterintuitive trends that are shaping tomorrow right before us… In fact, the whole idea that there are a few huge trends that determine how America and the world work is breaking down.”

Penn points out that “changing lifestyles, the Internet, the balkanization of communications, and the global economy are all coming together to create a new sense of individualism that is powerfully transforming our society. The world may be getting flatter in terms of globalization, but it is occupied by 6 billion little bumps who do not have to follow the herd to be heard…. In fact, by the time a trend hits 1 percent, it is ready to spawn a hit movie, best-selling book, or new political movement. The power of individual choice is increasingly influencing politics, religion, entertainment, and even war.” Penn summarizes his observations as follows, “In today’s mass societies, it only takes 1 percent of the people making a dedicated choice—contrary to the mainstream’s choice—to create a movement that can change the world.”

I find this assertion intriguing. It seems to run counter to everything we have come to think and believe about cultural change. I think we tend to believe that in order to effect long term change, there must be a massive shift in thinking or behavior that becomes the majority consensus before real change can occur. In other words, we seek grand initiatives that promise sweeping results and we’re generally not interested in anything less. I think this might explain, in part, why we gravitate to and often stop at politics.

Political parties promise grand initiatives aimed at this or that problem with the implicit promise of producing sweeping changes in the status quo. However, sweeping changes rarely occur and what we often discover is that the only real “sweeping” needed is that of sweeping wishy-washy politicians from office.

Practically speaking, politics offers an easy way to respond to our social and cultural problems. All we have to do is vote periodically, support a particular candidate or party, and sign the occasional petition.

However, given the massive complexities of a large-scale society such as ours, doesn’t this strike you as rather simplistic? How do these political activities actually shape the philosophy of public education or the philosophical worldview on our nation’s college campuses? How do these activities work to shape jurisprudence, or form the sexual ethics of society, strengthen the social commitment to marriage, or resist the cultural shift toward redefining marriage altogether? How do these activities counter the scientific worldview that reduces life to its utilitarian purposes or redefines the meaning of human dignity? How do these activities actually shape any ethical matter? Finally, how do these political activities recover an all-encompassing understanding of reality as revealed in the person of Jesus Christ? These are the questions that earlier formed the basis for today’s political positions.

Don’t misunderstand what I’m saying—I’m not suggesting that we stop participating in the political process. I am suggesting that we have to do that and much, much more. The fact is, by the time the aforementioned issues manifest themselves in the realm of public policy it’s too late. The ideas that produced these points of conflict in politics began long before and the process of affecting real change occurs over a generation or more -- not in one political term.

Abraham Lincoln made this point quite succinctly when he said, “The philosophy in the classroom of this generation is the philosophy of government in the next.” Holocaust survivor, Dr. Viktor Frankl underscores this point even more powerfully:

I am absolutely convinced that the gas chambers of Auschwitz, Treblinka, and Maidanek were ultimately prepared not in some ministry or other in Berlin, but rather at the desks and in lecture halls of nihilistic scientists and philosophers.

He is absolutely correct. The Nazi’s “final solution” did not emerge out of a vacuum nor was it the idea of one madman; it was the belief of many who had slowly come to embrace ideas, which had emerged decades before. In essence, they had already been inculcated with a view of reality that would justify their barbarism. Consistent with Penn’s findings, these monstrous ideas did begin small and they certainly changed the world!

If Penn’s conclusions are correct then perhaps the Church should be encouraged and rethink its approach to society and culture. Apparently, small things do matter. If one percent is all that is needed to “change the world,” that is only 3 million people required to change America. That is less than the total audience for this weekly commentary! What if every reader determined that from this day forward we were going to live completely for Christ, following his example to truly love our neighbors? What if every one of us taught our children and the children of the church to understand all of reality in connection with the revealed Word of God, so that they might form a consciously Christian worldview? What if we then raised these children to fulfill the dominion mandate—pressing these truths about reality into the cultural arenas of philosophy, science, ethics, education and law—shaping the nation’s sexual ethics, society’s estimation of marriage, and defining human dignity?

What if we were simply faithful in the small things beginning with ourselves? Would this change the world? It did beginning in the first century and it has been ever since, as the Church has spread across the globe, being faithful, one by one, to take this new understanding of reality as revealed through the story and person of Jesus.

© 2007 by S. Michael Craven 

Back to Top

Response from : Jeannie Bargen  

October 1, 2007 11:14 AM

"what if every one of us taught our children".....That is what President Lincon's mother did and is the one small thing children need their mothers to be doing daily with joy. This is not instant results but a long road to a satisfied end.

Response from : David L. VanderMeulen  

October 7, 2007 12:48 AM

Good stuff -thanks for the great summary and "forecast". I agree the "holocaust", for example, was "enabled" by the fostering of social Darwinism, which I guess is related to nihilist or Marxist philosophy somehow also. Also found valuable the article or podcast on "What is Normal" - reminded me of Joni E. Tada's book she did with someone else that escapes me. Be encouraged.

Response from : Daryl  

October 7, 2007 2:57 AM

As Jesus spoke: "The Kingdom is like a mustard seed..."

Response from : Frankie Valdez  

October 11, 2007 1:39 PM

If every church in the world required every member to read the whole bible at least once a year in order to be a member and preached the whole bible stressing Rev.3:16, no one would be able to dispute the existence of God without looking foolish.

Response from : Darin A. Jensen  

October 11, 2007 2:30 PM

Appreciated your aritcle on 'contributing to unbelief'

I can personally relate to much of what you said. I have quit my Church of 10 years, and retained my faith. Church was not a spritual experience of depth. I found it humanistic and humanitarian. I found much of it fake and showy.

One of the "straws" was when the Moderator of our Baptist Church stood before the congregation and explained how reading Exodus caused him to think how sinful they (the Israelites) were. He was a somewhat prideful man, and wore two faces. The one i saw from the pew was not the one i saw anywhere else.

When i read it, i think how sinful WE are. I am reminded how ignorant we can become of our sins. I am reminded how we are saved by GRACE.

Your article reminds us of these things as well, and invites us to be honest with ourselves.

I appreciated that.

Response from : Kenneth Tremble  

October 11, 2007 8:27 PM

Here in Australian Laodician Church is right to fore with ALP decriminalizing Abortion making Partial Abortion & other methods of killing babies in womb LEGAL. I have sent emails to churches with no response. Only Faith groups care about it. So your article sums up what is happening. Kenneth

Response from : Nikki  

October 12, 2007 8:52 AM

Dear Michael:

I wanted to write in response to your comments concerning the Church, I agree whole heartedly with the comments of the Church conforming to the will of the World, I myself when God called me to walk this journey with him encountered a shocking disgraceful way of glorifying and honoring God, I attended a church in my early walk that became almost "Cult like" and taught me of a conditional God, I came from a Conditional Home, so what was different for me?..I struggled with my belief. I then left the church. This secularism is in all churches, Black and White. In another church I attended, I witnessed child abuse and violence, profanity, and all these people who claim to know, love and worship God had the audacity to tell me "spare the rod spoil the child"..punching a child in their eye is never sparing of anything, then there are the Hustler's and Pimps who claim to know God and have been called of God, yet hurt the Sheep, destroy the Sheep by telling them they are worthless and that they can buy their way into Heaven by paying for a word from God, Pastor's running off with women, on and on it goes, I have seen this culture materialize and grow more and more, I understand fully why the world cannot see a difference between them and us, I understand when you say that people leave the church to Preserve their faith, many a time I have said the same thing, I am NOT GOING BACK, but the Lord calls me back to show me the levels of Corruption that are at work. In one church here in New York City I asked for training, I mentioned that I felt I was with the wrong Group, I was called a "Devil" was told I was exulting myself above God, it was the single most painful part of my journey, I obviously left that church but I have NOT left God. It is apparent that there are people in places that are NOT called to these places of authority, they are NOT called of God to serve him and Honor him and Teach the Sheep, I call it Spiritual Wickedness in High Places, The world expects us to be different, the world expects to see Jesus when we walk into a room, the world expects to see the love of this God that they hear of, yet they see nothing but pretense, a sham. How did we as a Nation Called to return to out fathers heart get so far away from God and the Bible?, why did we stop believing that "The Truth Shall Set You Free", why did we turn and become an "Enemy" of God, for does he not say to "Become a Friend of the World we become an Enemy of God", I think often of the way we and I myself display God, I have fallen short many a time, but. When I read my bible and hear the Lord speak, I follow him in obedience, I care not for the world and all those things, I care about the lost, the wounded and abused..I just know that God is allowing the unbelievers of this world to show us the believers, It Is Time to Wake Up and Get Real, for does Jesus Not say that in Matthew 7 v 21 -24.. Not everyone who says to me, Lord Lord will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of MY Father who is in heaven. Many will say to Me on that day Lord Lord. have we not prophesised in Your name and driven out demons in Your name and done many mighty works in Your name? and then I will say to the openly I never knew you; depart from Me, you act wickedly disregarding my commands.

Response from : F M Richbourg  

October 12, 2007 4:00 PM

Excellent article. I debate atheists, etc. frequently on the Internet as a Christian theologian. What I find with them is that they are disgusted with the theology (as they understand it) of all of Christianity, not just a particular segment. I, however, have the advantage of having a far superior interpretation of biblical principles that appeals to those people as the current apostate version authored by Calvin and Augustine hasn't, doesn't and never will.

Of course, the hypocracy of all religionists offends everyone, Christian and atheist alike, so I point out that the Bible condemns those people along with all other unbelievers. Their hatred is really aimed at those of their own kind, not genuine Christians who are never hypocritical as long as they remain Christians.

What I'm saying is that the "church" is not the true church according to the intent and teaching of Jesus, and so it's teachings should not be taken as fairly representing those of Christ himself or any of the biblical writers. When I have thoroughly seperated myself from the nonsense of the churchianity they hate, they are ready and willing to listen to the truth as I understand it.

The "church" desperately needs a major theological reformation involving a thorough re-thinking of every single biblical principle that defines what Christianity actually is. Sadly, theologians and pastors today have not the slightest true understanding of their own faith. Yet, they fear going back to the original intent of Scripture to find the truth because that would mean ultimately having to admit that they have been ministering as blind leaders of the blind from the beginning and taking money under false pretenses. Our ability to reach the thinking lost will not improve until we get our own minds in sync with God's thinking. Apart from the powerful influence of a great spiritual awakening like that experienced by the people of Charles G. Finney's time, that is highly unlikely to happen. So, pray for a great awakening leading to a great theological reformation which alone can produce God's power for effective evangelism both here and abroad.

PS---I now live in Arlington, near you. But I attended college at Tennessee Temple many years ago and one of my religion professors was named Craven. I believe he was also a local pastor. Are you any relation to him?

Response from : Chris  

October 21, 2007 11:17 PM

We as christians are not totally resposible for the bad image but by golly we sure can take credit for most of it. We are so judgmental and hypocritical that our actions and our words are our witness. How dare we tell someone that they will go to hell if they.... or if they don't ...! The only time we should talk about hell is through a hail of tears. WE ned to love people to Christ not point the finger and try and fill them with fear. We also need to start to love them unconditionally just as Jesus does for us. We can't talk about controlling ourselves unless we show control either. How many of us "christians" get drunk, swear, ogle women etc etc and yet go to church on Sundays? Is this tough to read? Good. Then maybe I'm speaking to your heart. As christians we need to stand up for what is right. We need to stop doing those things that God tells us to stop. Each of us knows what their sin is. Especially the ones that we repeat. Are you still sneaking a look at porno on the computer? Are you swearing at work or backstabbing someone? Do you show unforgiveness? Are you harbouring resentment towards a friend, family member, workmate, neighbour? Are you spending time with your wife, your children? NO? Then fix it NOW. Go and say sorry even if you didn't do anything. Humble yourselves and that weight will immedialtely leave your heart and shoulders I guarntee it. Get your act together you lot. God says that not all who call him 'Lord Lord' will get into heaven. He's sees our minds and hearts. He will ask for an accounting. Yes the Catholic church did incredible damage in history but what have WE done to fix it?

Response from : Daniel Nails  

October 23, 2007 9:46 AM

Great Article, I my self have weakened in my faith and now realize that I can't depend on religion, because it has become cold and sterile, the world needs truth not religion. The bible saids when the spirit of truth comes it will guide us to all truth. Like Peter and the disciples, some of us have returned back to fishing (after Jesus was Crucified), confused about what is happening with Jesus (the Church), but that's alright because he's on the shores of our soul, preparing a meal of truth and power, to equip us to feed his sheep (the world) again. People or tired of religion portraying God as someone that want help them unless they give him money, mad at them because they want vote for a certain candidate, or you can only find God if you go to a particular church or apart of a certian religion. When Peter denied Jesus, did Jesus forget about Peter and didn't want anything else to do with him? like many churches do to their members, because they are not part of their club no more. No, Jesus sent for Peter. Paul said when he leaves, their will be some among us that will change the gospel for their sakes. Well it's happening right before our very eyes. Wolves in sheep clothing or running the sheep right out the church.

Response from : kscott  

November 6, 2007 8:00 AM

Great article. I am a Christian, and just wanted you to know that I am curious to read Hitchens book simply to understand atheistic thinking, so I can learn how to discuss the true gospel to him, and those who think as he does. I am passionate about apologetics and the need to understand the "enemy" in order to fight/persuade him..

Response from : Shannan Ross  

November 15, 2007 4:06 PM

Bravo. I agree we (Christians) do more damage than good. Why would people want to leave the madness of the world to come into the insanity of religiosity? If we would just act like Jesus, instead of acting the way we think Jesus would have acted, we'd be so busy about the Father's business, we wouldn't be accused of being dimwitted bafoons!

Response from : Jerry Uppling, Ph.D.  

April 21, 2008 8:45 AM

Thank you for a very well written article. I agree with the concept of self. To be so absorbed with love for oneself is a form of idolatry when it crosses the line and becomes an obsession of exclusiveness. Perhaps we should examine the way we present "the church". Too often the church is just another social outlet rather than an exclusive spiritual community for kingdom bound saints. Our presentation of The Kingdom may be self-serving when all we present is the physical nature of the visible church rather than the spiritual nature of the invisible church.


Response from : Valerie Buchand  

December 7, 2008 11:41 PM

I beleive that you must first know that Christ died for our sins, and rose on the 3rd day with all power in his hands. When we receive him as our Lord and savior, we receive that same power that was given to Jesus from his father. One important factor that christians forget or don't relize is the keeping power that they process. Who are we in this new life?, What are our promisies? How to walk in the word? Christians are brombarded with rhe cares of this life and often forget we are spiritual beings in natural bodies for the fulfilment of prophesy of old. The gospel have been watered down so much that the unbelevers don't see the difference. I believe we have to come back to our first works. We can not be a lover of the world and of God. You can only come to God through Jesus (that is scripture). Our natural mind can't comphend the thing of Christ.
Forgive me for the misspelled words.
Valerie Buchand

http://United States

Response from : reginald odell  

July 5, 2012 9:03 AM

i believe the club mentality has caused many to falter also the expectation of prayers and false prophets who make merchandise out of those looking for breakthroughs while in crisis never seeing there request come to pass causes many to depart from the faith the absence of the signs and wonders that follow them gives the believer no hope .morals in america is at a all time low which does not help and the voice of truth has become a wisper . i think god is so angry with what has happened in the church in america for leaving him out that we are destine for destruction . sin is pumped into the minds of people daily by the prince and power of the airwaves and we wonder why are you kidding me no one since dr. king has challenged the system for allowing our moral barometer to crumble.if we in the body of christ dont begin to cry loud and spare not and start to be doers of the word we might as well close the doors of the church .

Response from : Eric Hann  

July 5, 2012 11:46 AM

Hi Mr. Craven,

There's much I think I would agree with in this article - and I think I hear your heart in it. However, I have a couple of questions pertaining to 1) Your sources 2) Your logic.

1) I deem you to be correct in stating the general "belief in God" hasn't changed much. But you included a bite from another author which reads as follows:

“This growing interest in ‘questioning the existence of God’ seems to parallel the decline in church attendance or more precisely, those leaving the institutional church.”

So, for one, I'd be interested to know what statisticians you'd use to support the premise, that there is a "decline in church attendance" (or in the "institutional church") and what the overall trajectory of this "decline" includes (decline compared to... early turn of the century 18-1900's? Going back to 1700's America? Including America only? Along with this, I'd be curious if you've read the book "Christians Are Hate-Filled Hypocrites... and other lies you've been told" by Bradley R.E. Wright, PhD, professor of sociology and an expert in statistical research at the University of Connecticut.

Also... #2)
You stated toward the end of your article the following:

"I would argue that the 'world come to us' approach has largely stripped the Church of authentic faith in Jesus Christ and replaced it with a club mentality that seeks like-minded 'club members,' people who already share our values and are looking to be with their own kind. The 'go to the world' or missional approach presses into the world among those not like us, seeking to share the love of Christ through word and deed. Given these two approaches; do you think it possible that the 'club' approach coupled with the growing reaction to the 'Christian right' might send outsiders into questioning the existence of God?"

There could very well be some truth here, but... my question for you:

If this is the case – then why was “declining church attendance” previously used in this very article as a sign of any kind of problem?”

Let me see if I can put this in the form of a syllogism:

-The church is in decline

-We know the church is in decline, because church attendance is down.

-The answer to the church’s decline, then, is to challenge more people to not be an attendance "club," but to leave the church building, and to do mission work.

Brother maybe it's just me but, particularly as it stands on its own without any equivocation, I see this as logically fallacious. Could it even be hypothetically possible that, if church attendance really is down (again - based on what sources?), that it's because more and more churches are doing exactly what you're saying - they're sending people out and are not as concerned about "declining attendance" (?)

Again, there are items in this article that I agree with and have some potential merit - but you might at least think about what I'm presenting to you.

Your Brother in Christ,

Eric Hann

Response from : Helen L. Bradshaw  

July 10, 2012 9:40 AM

I (a born again beliver) agree with you 100%. The typical church has lost something by bringing politics and the world in. I myself left the your typical assembly of church for this reason. It seems to be the more numbers we have in church, and how big our church gets is much more important than making disciples and sending them out to to proclaim Gods message. To win souls through His (Jesus) love. As a child the church we went to was all about raising Disciples and missionaries and evangelists, Where did that all go. God have mercy on all of us that lose our way and forget what God's purpose was for sending us His one and only Beloved Son Jesus Christ. It's not about us, our wants and needs it"s about Him. Let's get this message out this is what is important. To be as Jesus is and to be filled with the fruits of the Spirit and most of all to love one another through Him.



Return to topics Return to articles
Back to Top

Respond to This Article

Form Authentication: 

Refresh the page if  
image does not appear  

Please enter the form validation code
you see displayed above.

Your Information:
You must include your full name. Submissions that do not include both first and last names will not be posted.



Email Address:


Respond to This Article:

Your comments will be reviewed and either approved or denied publication.


Back to Top

Navigation Key

 Return to topics
 Return to articles 
 Read article with responses 
 Respond to this article