From the Archive: Think Big, Start Small

A couple of years ago I read Malcolm Gladwell’s classic, The Tipping Point, and came across something that sociologists call “the broken window theory.”

It has been one of the most powerful and helpful tools for helping me understand why so many Christians get stuck and live the sad existence of miserable mediocrity and comfortable complacency. And for how to get out of it.

“The broken window theory” says that if want to reduce crime in a neighborhood, one of the first and most effective things you can do is to fix the broken windows. Literally. If there’s a section of town that’s run down and violent crime, murders, and drug deals are on the upswing, sociologists have proven that by just fixing the broken windows on that block, those bigger issues are affected and crime is diminished.

That seems preposterous to me. You’ve got this big problem and you’re going to go waste your time doing something as simple as fixing a broken window? That’s like rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic as it heads toward the iceberg isn’t it?

But it works. Apparently it has to do with sending a signal that anarchy is no longer the rule of the day and that crime is no longer the status quo.

So what is at the heart of the “broken window theory?” If you boil it down, you essentially have two parts: 1) A big goal: reduce crime. 2) A small start: fix windows. But it’s the small start that makes the big goal possible.

From my experience, this is very true to form as far as what I’ve seen in people’s lives that don’t seem to have any traction and aren’t going anywhere. The problem isn’t just that they don’t think big enough. It’s also that they don’t start small enough. As a result, they usually give up quickly, because their initial steps are too difficult. Or they never get started at all, because their initial steps are too daunting.

A big dream without a small start is nothing but a daydream. God initiates the biggest changes in our lives through the little things.

You can’t have Apostle Paul’s walk with God overnight. Big dream.
But you can start praying two minutes a day starting tomorrow. Small start.

You can’t entirely mend a broken relationship overnight. Big dream.
But you can have a conversation and open the door, write the letter, make the call, say I’m sorry. Small start.

If your kid is far from God, you can’t bring him back overnight. Big dream.
But you could start praying for him every day. Small start.

Don’t get me wrong, I want you to keep believing, praying, and dreaming big. God does too – it’s in His very nature. But I also want you to see those big prayers and dreams realized. And that happens when you start small.

What small start can you initiate today that will get you on the path to accomplishing your big dream tomorrow?

This blog post was originally posted on October 4, 2011