The Power of Word of Mouth

Dr. James Emery White

I usually have several movies on my watch list. But one that I did not have on there, though I really liked many of the actors, was The Greatest Showman.

Not sure why it was low on my list. Maybe because The Last Jedi came out around the same time and I’m not a “go to a new movie every week” kind of guy. Maybe because it didn’t seem to have a hook that “hooked” me. Yes, P.T. Barnum was a fascinating historical figure, but it didn’t seem like a movie that was going to really detail his life. And while I really like Hugh Jackman, this wasn’t exactly Wolverine.

Then I got a text from my youngest daughter, Rachel. She RAVED about the movie. So much so that when she came in town on her birthday, she wanted to see it again with her brothers.

And THEY raved about it.

Okay, that’s a young mom with three kids loving it as well as two guy’s guys who would diss the Hallmark Channel for a re-run of Braveheart any day of the week.

Then, more than a few of our staff said: “Have you seen this movie? It’s great. You should see it.” 

More raving.

Which led my wife to ask, “Honey, will you take me to see The Greatest Showman?”

So I did.

And it was a good movie. I’m glad I saw it. It was moving, inspiring… just good.

And then I thought to myself, “Why did I see it?”

Only one reason:


And not just any word of mouth, but the word of mouth of those I liked, knew and trusted. Family, friends, people I work with, people who live nearby. And because it came from so many, I bought the ticket.

It reminded me – again – of the power of this for the church.

Michael Green wrote a treatise on the explosion of the early Christian church in the first century. Let me save you a few hundred pages of reading. His conclusion can be summarized in a single sentence: They shared the gospel like it was gossip over the backyard fence.

For more than 25 years, Mecklenburg Community Church has tracked why first-time guests come. Every first-time guest who lets us know they came are asked four questions in a follow-up survey:

  1. What did you notice first?
  2. What did you like best?
  3. How could we have improved?
  4. How did you hear about the church?

The #1 reason – for a quarter-of-a-century – has never changed. And there’s never even been a close #2. 

The #1 reason has always been: “Invited by a friend.”

So start talking about your church like a good movie. 

It’s the main way they will eventually buy a ticket.

James Emery White



Michael Green, Evangelism in the Early Church.

About the Author

James Emery White is the founding and senior pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, NC, and the ranked adjunctive professor of theology and culture at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, where he also served as their fourth president. His latest book, Meet Generation Z: Understanding and Reaching the New Post-Christian World, is available on Amazon. To enjoy a free subscription to the Church & Culture blog, visit, where you can view past blogs in our archive and read the latest church and culture news from around the world. Follow Dr. White on twitter @JamesEmeryWhite.