Monday, April 17, 2006


Deliberate Simplicity is counter intuitive. How can less be more? More, after all, is more. The answer is found partly in the “stickiness” of simplicity.

The experience of shopping at Costco is very sticky. By “sticky” I mean that there are qualities inherent in the Costco encounter that are extremely attractive and engaging. Small things can be big. Maybe it’s the $1.50 hot dogs. Or the free food samples. Or the lineup of plasma TVs as you walk in. Or the book table. True, the floors are concrete and the lighting is industrial, but wandering the wide aisles in search of treasure is pure fun.

Malcolm Gladwell in his bestseller The Tipping Point identifies stickiness as one of the reasons less can be more. He credits stickiness for the popularity of the very simple hit children’s show, “Blue’s Clues.”

It is half an hour, not an hour. It doesn’t have an ensemble cast. It has just one live actor, Steve, a fresh-faced man in his early twenties in khakis and a rugby shirt, who acts as the show’s host. Instead of a varied, magazine format, each episode follows a singular story line – the exploits of an animated dog by the name of Blue. It has a flat, two-dimensional feel, more like a video version of a picture book than a television show. The pace is deliberate. The script is punctuated with excruciatingly long pauses. There is none of the humor or wordplay or cleverness that characterizes Sesame Street. One of the animated characters on the show, a mailbox, is called Mailbox. Two other regular characters, a shovel and a pail, are called Shovel and Pail. And Blue, of course, the show’s star, is Blue because she’s the color blue. It is difficult, as an adult, to watch Blue’s Clues and not wonder how this show could ever represent an improvement over Sesame Street. And yet it does. Within months of its debut in 1996, Blue’s Clues was trouncing Sesame Street in the ratings.

Stickiness can be found in small things. Given a powerful enough vision, as Yoda might say, “Size matters not.” For instance, children viewing Blue’s Clues are often asked to help “find” characters on the screen. The participatory nature of the program engages children in a way that other programming does not. That simple factor, though unspectacular, and easy to implement, keeps kids coming back for more.

Small touches can make satisfied adult customers as well. The Polaroid picture (taken with their salesperson) with which Saturn customers leave the car lot is an artifact that engages the relationship in a way that a signed contract can not. The satisfaction that comes from that token is an excellent return on the investment of a $30 instant camera. A simple moment of recognition or mutual sharing can last a very long time and reinforce the experience significantly.

There are a number of sticky things we do at CTK. We serve good coffee free. We also have the flavored creamers. We start on time, and end on time. We talk in conversational tone. We have a Q&A time at the conclusion of the teaching. We under-emphasize the offering. We may not have all the bells and whistles that other churches have, but we make up for it by being memorable in little ways.

I remember well the first service I ever attended at CTK in Bellingham. The service started on time. The band began to play, and led an uninterrupted series of 5-6 songs. The pastor came up to pray, and then sat on a stool to speak. He spoke for 20-25 minutes in a clear and concise manner. The service closed with another song led by the band. There were no announcements. No “special” musical numbers. No comedy. No drama. No video. Yet it was extremely engaging. Almost startlingly so. The word of God was presented in a clear, compelling way with an obvious sensitivity to the unchurched. The service was done in an hour. Simplicity can mean having a very leisurely, but meaning-full service.

The mistake many congregations make when they launch a new service to reach occasional worshippers and people in the community is that they launch a complex service. They know how to do a complex, traditional service. They launch a complex, contemporary service. Why it does not work is not because it is a contemporary service. It does not work because it is too complex. To be sure, it is a contemporary service, but it has too many steps in the order of worship, the music is too complex, and the service is too wordy. They would have been better off launching a simple, traditional service.
Kennon Callahan, Small, Strong Congregations

It takes courage in today’s ecclesiastical landscape to keep it simple. You must fight fear. Psychologists state that in our modern culture there’s a “paranoia of omission.” There’s a sense that you have to cover all your options. There’s a fear that if we don’t have multiple attractions for people that we might not be able to engage them. Deliberate Simplicity requires faith that the gospel, simply presented, is sufficiently powerful and life-changing. The gospel is in and of itself “sticky.” The Word of God - all by itself - has the power to bring people to Christ and to keep them there.

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