I heard a juicy bit of wisdom about religious communities on a radio story about the new release from Rovio, the makers of the Angry Birds video game for smartphones. Naturally, they are trying to replicate their success. Why is Angry Birds so phenomenally popular? The interviewee said that in addition to having “endearing characters,” it follows the formula known to successful game-makers of all types (in fact, the tag line for the board game Othello was almost exactly this): it is easy to learn but hard to master. So you get right into it, and then you want to keep at it, trying to improve, trying to get a high score or three stars or (in the case of a game like Othello) a strategy that will consistently beat your friends’. It makes it hard to put the phone down. I know this well from personal experience.
Definitely good advice for congregations. Getting acquainted has to be made easy enough that a newcomer can join in without climbing a steep learning curve, and there has to be enough depth (theological, philosophical, social) that people have reason stay for years, and preferably, for generations. And, of course, it also helps to have endearing characters.