The Herd Effect

Have you ever been in a situation where a bunch of people started to “accumulate”?  Sometimes, this is as innocuous as a bunch of people looking and pointing at something, and others noticing.  Curious, the onlookers start to accumulate, at first searching for the object of interest, and then – if the situation maintains their attention – becoming part of the “crowd”.  (That happened at my work the other day, when some events on the street resulted in multiple co-workers getting out of their chairs, standing up, and watching out the window.)

In other cases, the crowd is less curious and more threatening.  Consider the circle that forms around two people about to get into a fight (whether on the playground, in a parking lot, or around an office cubicle).

In the book of Acts, some “souvenir manufacturers” (as I interpret them) were concerned that people learning about Jesus – and choosing to follow Him – would no longer worship the supposed goddess Artemis (or Diana, depending on whether you studied Greek or Roman mythology in junior high).  This may or may not have infringed on these craftsmen’s actual religious beliefs (I’m not sure whether or not their leader Demetrius was genuine in his statements recorded in Acts 19:36).  However, teachings about Jesus could definitely impact their sales.

Their actions resulted in a mob growing in the theater of their city (Ephesus), but notice what happened after that:

Inside, the people were all shouting, some one thing and some another. Everything was in confusion. In fact, most of them didn’t even know why they were there.
Acts of the Apostles 19:32 NLT

(You can read about the entire event in Acts 19:23-41, but I’m afraid that it doesn’t reflect much better on human nature in a crowd.)

In today’s environment, I fear that we – collectively – sometimes do the same thing.  Without careful consideration, hundreds or thousands of people rally behind partially-informed statements (whether from news snippets, unfounded claims from the Internet, or popular social trends).  Over time, the story grows in directions that were never warranted by the facts, or the cause becomes superior to the social ill that it was meant to curtail.  We become shouters in the marketplace, not really sure of what we stand for, or maybe supporting a cause that – if we fully understood it – would not entirely align with our values.

Don’t get me wrong: groups of people working for a common cause have done great things in the history of mankind.  Alignment around a positive vision – especially when done through the leading of the Holy Spirit – can result in God-driven revival, and blessings for all who are involved.  The problem occurs when we dilute our effectiveness by making every cause – real or perceived; legitimate or fabricated; major or trivial – a source of “outrage”.

So, what do we do to truly have impact on important subjects?  Let me propose a few suggestions:

Do some research.  Rather than jumping onto a bandwagon because other people are doing it, dig a little deeper.  Understand what you stand for, and what a cause is about.  (See Proverbs 14:15, which might be a good verse to memorize before listening to, reading, or watching anything claimed by another human being!)

Think.  What are the people on the other side of this situation thinking?  Do they have a point, or a rational reason for their beliefs or choices?  (Almost everyone thinks that they do!)  What love would God want us to show to everyone involved: even people who actually don’t agree with Him, or who acted contrary to His loving guidance?  After all, He loves me and you with all of our faults (remember Romans 5:8).

Pray.  I realize that it just takes a click to “Like” something, but don’t stake your image (and, if you follow Jesus, His reputation) too casually or cavalierly on a cause.  Ask God if He wants you to align yourself with an article, Facebook page, author, or principle.  Read James 1:5, and then ask God for wisdom in a given situation.

Share something thoughtful.  It’s easier to just rant and pile on than it is to offer well thought-out input to a conversation.  Rather than posting something online while you’re still angry, take a friend out for a burger (or a salad, I guess), and really talk though a point of view.  Listen.  Use the disciplines of logic and reason, rather than getting sucked into the traps of common logical fallacies and obvious biases.  And, sometimes, maybe don’t say anything at all (see Proverbs 29:8).

Do something.  Clicking a button or link, or ranting online is easy enough, but is it effecting the amount of change that a particular societal need actually requires?  See James 2:15-16.

In this last case, I think that Matthew West does a great job of making this last point in an artistic way that I cannot.  Listen for these words in the lyrics to his song, “Do Something”:

So, I shook my fist at Heaven
Said, “God, why don’t You do something?”
He said, “I did, yeah, I created you”



Let’s change the world, but in the way that God wants us to!


Scripture quotations marked (NLT) are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright ©1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, a Division of Tyndale House Ministries, Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

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