It took the Beatles four years to reach 10,000 hours.
It was 47 years ago today, February 7, 1964, that 3,000 screaming fans greeted the Beatles at New York’s Kennedy Airport. The band had just scored their first No. 1 U.S. hit with “I Want to Hold Your Hand.” But it took them four years and 10,000 hours of practice to master musical success. How many years would it take a businessperson to achieve a level of mastery required for effectively enacting shalom? Do the math.
In the early 60s, the Beatles seemed to come out of nowhere. Two days after arriving at JFK, the band electrified America on The Ed Sullivan Show. “Beatlemania” wasn’t a fluke, however. The Beatles’ success was largely the result of “The 10,000-Hour Rule.” Between 1960 and 1962, the Beatles played in a Hamburg, Germany club. “And what was so special about Hamburg?” Malcolm Gladwell asks in Outliers. Nothing. “It was the sheer amount of time the band was forced to play.”1 All told, the Beatles performed for 270 nights in just over 18 months. By the time they had their first flush of success in 1964, they had performed live an estimated 1,200 times—often for as long as eight hours per performance. By 1964, the Beatles had amassed 10,000 hours of practice.
“The emerging picture from such studies is that ten thousand hours of practice is required to achieve the level of mastery associated with being a world-class expert in anything,” writes neurologist Daniel Levitin.2 Anything includes everything, meaning it would take 10,000 hours of practicing shalom in order to be a world-class authority or expert in enacting shalom. How many months or years would it take a modern businessperson in the church to achieve such a level of mastery? Do the math.
Many faith communities seek to assist businesspeople in the marketplace by promoting programs that are curriculum-based and teach “faith and work” principles. But according to professors Vijay Govindarajan and Chris Trimble of the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth College, curriculum-driven programs teaching principles are not effective (Congress, for example, is, in principle, committed to civility and bipartisanship). Govindarajan and Trimble are the authors of The Other Side of Innovation: Solving the Execution Challenge. They say real life problems are, by nature, unpredictable and uncertain. Curriculum-driven approaches on the other hands are static and don’t capture how reality—as well as problems—actually work.3 Programs teaching principles don’t practice solving any actual problems, so mastery is not achieved. The Beatles, for example, didn’t achieve music mastery by studying sheet music.
A second approach is to encourage active involvement in the church, usually in corporate worship and small groups. Even if a church has the kinds of “thick” liturgies that previous generations practiced to achieve mastery in shalom (the Eucharist, the weekly reading of the Great Commandment, the Apostles Creed, Confession, a shalom greeting, kneeling, and the sermon), it would take over a century to amass 10,000 hours. Do the math. Church is 90 minutes a week and the average small group meets for two hours every other week. We know actual churchgoing is only half the professed rate, however.4 The average committed Christian attends church 26 times a year and makes it to a small group about 20 times annually. Do the math. It comes to roughly 80 hours of practice annually. At that rate, it would take 125 years to achieve the level of mastery required for effectively enacting shalom.
There is of course a better way. “We have attempted to transform our cities for years without success,” writes Peter Wagner, a former professor of Church Growth at the Fuller Theological Seminary. “I now believe the reason is because pastors and church leaders do not have the authority to do so. That authority lies within those leaders in the marketplace.” This is precisely what the Early Church practiced—assisting businesspeople in their places of work by solving problems. If you do the math, you see how this works in achieving mastery. If you work 50 hours a week and are practicing shalom for even 20 of those hours, you’ll amass 10,000 hours of practice in about ten years.
This approach accounts for the church’s success—which wasn’t an overnight sensation. Instead, businesspeople circulating from city to city had the most significant effect on Christianization. “Although wandering preachers may have been the first Christians to reach Rome,” writes historian Rodney Stark, “it seems likely that the primary bearers of the new faith were rank-and-file believers who traveled for commercial reasons.”5 By starting in cities and changing commercial enterprises, the gospel rode the wave of business travelers so that by A.D. 350 the Christian population of the Roman Empire had grown very large.
Early in the fourth century, Lucian the Martyr would declare, “almost the greater part of the world is now committed to this truth, even whole cities.”6 Tertullian, “the founder of Western Christianity” as well as church historian, would brag to the Romans of his day about how the church had filled “every place among you—cities, islands, fortresses, town, marketplaces, the very camp, tribes, companies, palace, senate, forum—we have left you nothing but your temples.”7 But when Tertullian writes church, he wasn’t thinking just clergy or church planters. He was including businesspeople.
When we do the math, the sane and sensible solution for the church is to start with real problems posed by real businesspeople working in real workplaces and assist these women and men in solving them. The church too often teaches concepts while the Beatles gained calluses (have you ever felt the fingertips of a guitarist?). By the time John, Paul, George, and Ringo made their first appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show, an estimated audience of 73 million U.S. television viewers, or about 40 percent of the U.S. population, tuned in. Sullivan immediately booked the Beatles for two more appearances that month. When faith communities effectively assist businesspeople in achieving the level of mastery required for effectively enacting shalom, all sorts of culture-shaping commercial institutions will tune in. But unless we start doing better at the math, businesspeople will never achieve this level of mastery.
1 Malcolm Gladwell, Outliers: The Story of Success (New York, NY: Little, Brown and Company, Hachette Book Group, 2008), p. 49.
2 Gladwell, Outliers, p. 40.
3 “The innovation machine” The Economist, August 28, 2010, p. 57.
4 John G. Stackhouse, Jr., “Where Religion Matters.” American Outlook. Fall 2002. pp. 40-44.
5 Rodney Stark, Cities of God: The Real Story of How Christianity Became an Urban Movement and Conquered Rome (New York, NY: HarperOne, 2006), p. 73.
6 Stark, Cities, p. 64.
7 If you are unfamiliar with this legacy, I recommend The Rise of Christianity (Rodney Stark), The Rise of Western Christendom (Peter Brown), and The Urban Christians: The Social World of the Apostle Paul (Wayne A. Meeks).