What is social proof and why does it matter to the church?

“Social proof” is a buzz-word in the marketing world. It is the concept that people are influenced by what they see others do. People are more likely to buy a new book if they see strangers on a train reading that book. People are more likely to order a product online when they see many others have bought it and given it high ratings.

We have grown up being constantly marketed to, and we don’t like to listen to someone who clearly has a vested interest. When I attend a Tupperware demonstration, the claims of the presenter don’t hold much weight for me – I know she’s trying to make a sale. When my neighbour speaks up about how great a particular product is, I am all ears. I want to hear about her experience of the product, which is more likely to influence my purchase. People are also more likely to change their belief systems when they hear multiple sources endorsing that belief, rather than a single source. Most people are savvy enough not to be influenced by an advertisement they see on TV; but when they also hear about the product on the radio, notice their FaceBook friends using that product, and see it in the hands of people they know, they are far more likely to be swayed to purchase it themselves. We tend to be skeptical of a single source of endorsement, and hold out to hear the voice of the masses before making a judgement.

Social proof is powerful. It makes perfect sense for us to wait and see how others receive a new product or concept before we commit to it ourselves. Generally, social proof is a valid confirmation of the worth and merit of a product; if it is a phony, or doesn’t live up to the advertising, the reviews of others will let us know not to waste our time or money on it.

The reason we meet together regularly as God’s people is to encourage each other in our beliefs and reinforce to each other that what we believe is true and trustworthy. We certainly need this encouragement and affirmation, as the world around us ascribes to a “social proof” that God is no longer real or relevant.

When we do church in a circle, we are able to express our faith to each other and affirm each others’ faith. This has far greater power than just hearing the pastor as a single source. In this modern, marketing-savvy world, the pastor has reduced credibility, as a paid employee of the organisation. The pastor can appear like the Tupperware consultant – keen to sell me his product, well-versed in the sales pitch. People need to receive encouragement and affirmation from each other, rather than only from the “expert”. If we relate to others in the group, then we will take great encouragement from what they say when it reinforces and validates what we believe.

Church needs to maximise the power for social proof to build up our faith, by letting us interact with our faith community.

2 thoughts on “What is social proof and why does it matter to the church?

  1. The testimony of other believers about what God has done in and for them is social proof. It is why we do church as a dinner around a big table. No sermons.

    • Sounds awesome, Dudley! I always think, if people understood the Lord’s Table as a dinner party, there would be a lot less sermons in churches. I mean, who gives a sermon at a dinner party? How inappropriate!


      – Kathleen

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