Would you rather be popular or influential? Of course, both would be nice, but if you must pick one as a life goal, which one would it be?

Popularity is defined as “the fact that something or someone is liked, enjoyed, or supported by many people”. Influence as “the power to have an effect on people or things, or a person or thing that is able to do this”.

POPULARITY

Let’s be honest, at a glance, it is attractive to be liked. You just need to do something or say something, and you can potentially gain overnight popularity.

But do you know that it can also disappear overnight? Think about it. A good example is a fashion trend by an artist. It may be popular today, then you wake up one day and they are no longer wearing it; then it goes out of fashion.

INFLUENCE

Influence is steadier in manifesting – slowly but surely. It takes time to build and it is longer lasting once you have it. I’ve never heard of someone becoming influential overnight; you must work at it.

Here is something to think about: People often speak of “My sphere of influence”. I am yet to hear of “My sphere of popularity”.

WHAT SOCIAL MEDIA TEACHES US ABOUT INFLUENCE AND POPULARITY

I think everyone would agree that social media is very influential. Most of us use it daily.

Facebook is characterised by ‘likes’, for both personal timelines and business/community pages.

I have had interesting insights over the past few years, since I administer my own page. For instance, 50 people may ‘like’ a page post. However, the reach might be as high as 800. Further to this, the number of people of the 800 who engage with the post (liked, commented or shared) may be 90.

So, what am I saying? The 800 reach is more significant than the 50 ‘likes’ or apparent lack of popularity of the post. But even more important, are the 90 people. Shares are great to have as it shows that you are reaching more people and will have potentially more viewership. People see what you say as worth passing on.

People do not always have to openly ‘like’ or endorse what you say or write.

CHOOSING INFLUENCE

As a pastor, youth worker, parent or teacher, you need to just go ahead and communicate something if you have the conviction. In the church and school context, it is likely to make an impression on many you are reaching out to. In other words, your aim is to have impact not necessarily to be liked.

The most important thing is having the voice and tools to potentially influence in a positive way, ‘like’ or no ‘like’.

Facebook has an option to advertise posts on your page because that way you can reach more people – those are the adverts with ‘sponsored story’ written and they flash on personal timelines. More reach breeds potentially more influence. We can liken the advertising to real-life communication strategies to increase your reach. Investing more time and creativity in the home for parents, and in addition, community mobilisation and outreaches for group contexts.

On Twitter, people may not show they like your post, but retweeting and sharing posts expands your reach – you want to be far-reaching.

On LinkedIn there are people known as ‘Influencers’ such as Bill Gates, Barack Obama and others. I have not seen a section that says, ‘Popular people’. That tells you a lot.

WHAT DOES THE BIBLE SAY ABOUT INFLUENCE AND POPULARITY?

Throughout the Bible, God focuses on influence rather than popularity.

A biblical principle is that wisdom will open doors to be influential. So seek God’s wisdom. As a start read the stories about the wisest man, King Solomon. “Those who are wise shall shine like the brightness of the firmament, and those who turn many to righteousness, like the stars forever and ever” (Daniel 12:3).

What example did Jesus leave for us to follow as Christian leaders in whatever environment we may find ourselves? Jesus was not the most popular person during his time. However, when we look back now, we cannot refute that he has been influential long after he’s gone. Can you think of anyone who has been more influential than Jesus?

We can’t just change the world by telling people what to do. We change the world by engaging and influencing the way people think and hopefully positively changing their attitudes and values. Ultimately this is all meant to translate to positive ways of doing things.

It is important to realise that as leaders with responsibility and stewardship over the next generation – children and teenagers, our heart must be to influence them to be Christ-like. They too must seek influence over popularity in all they do.  If we become popular in the process, that’s a bonus.

Being popular is not a bad thing in itself, but it should not be the focus, driving force or goal of life. If it is, then we’re headed in the wrong direction.

THE VERDICT

So, what’s your final choice? To be popular or to be influential?

Give me influence any day, and if I become popular in the process and many people like me, great – cherry on the cake! And if not, it’s ok. I have my cake anyway by fulfilling my God-given purpose and influencing people around me.

Pray for influence in whatever you do.

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