In ministerial circles, it is not uncommon to hear the phrase “Faith is caught, not taught.”The point of the phrase is that faith is something that involves more than just transmitting information. With that in mind, it might be helpful to know just what makes a message go “viral” – what makes a message “contagious.” Seeking answers, I recently read a very good book: Contagious: Why Things Catch On by Jonah Berger (Simon & Schuster) in which he identifies 6 ingredients needed to make a message go viral. Those of us in the catechetical ministry might consider reflecting on these ingredients as we look at how we proclaim the Gospel of Jesus and seek to evangelize.
- A message will go viral if it makes people look good/sound interesting. People tend to share information with others if that information makes them “look good” (sound intelligent) to others. This means that the information must be unusual, extraordinary, and worthy of notice. Question: what are you teaching today that will make your learners want to share because the information makes them “look good?”
- A message will go viral if it is related to “triggers” that keep it in the forefront of people’s minds. In other words, the message needs to be connected to images or events that occur in everyday life so that people can’t avoid “bumping into it.” Think of Jesus’ parables that are connected to images from the everyday life of his listeners. Berger says, “top of mind = tip of tongue.” Question: how is what you are teaching today related to everyday life?
- A message will go viral if it taps into an emotion that causes physiological arousal. Think of messages that provoke awe, amusement, excitement, anger, or anxiety. Cynical approaches feed on anger and anxiety to spread a message (as in “fire and brimstone” preaching). Our proclamation of the Gospel needs to provoke awe and excitment as well as righteous anger leading to works of mercy and acts of social justice. Question: What emotion does the message you are teaching today provoke?
- A message will go viral if it is public, visible, observable. When soemthing is observable, it is easier to imitate and, in general, people tend to conform to what others are doing. Berger asserts that “behavior is public and thoughts are private” and “public visibility boosts word of mouth.” Notice how many people are talking about Pope Francis’ “behaviors” – taking the bus, paying his own hotel bill, washing the feet of inmates and women, etc. Also, think of the importance of the Works of Mercy in Catholic Tradition. Question: how does the message you are teaching today translate into observable behavior?
- A message will go viral if it has practical value. Messages go viral if they contain “news you can use.” People like to pass along practical, useful information. You’ll most likely share this post if you’ve found that it contains practical value! We pass along information that will save others money, time, or effort, or present them with a unique opportunity. As I typed this post, I heard a radio commercial for a Paul McCartney concert in Milwaukee and I immediately thought of who I should share the info with! Question: What practical value does the message your teaching today have?
- A message will go viral if it can be told in story form. Lessons that are encased in a story have a better chance of going viral simply because they are more interesting than basic facts. The most popular posts here on my blog are when I tell stories of my actual experiences of teaching! Again, think of Jesus’ parables and why they are so enduring. Question: How are you using story(ies) to convey the message you are teaching today?
Now, let’s see if you’ll share this post with someone else! 🙂