The Butterfly Effect: Small Things and Big Changes

5 Min Read


Small things can have a big impact. That is the underlying premise of the butterfly effect. The idea that something big often has the smallest and humblest origins. Methodism is a textbook example of the butterfly effect, a global, powerhouse movement spawned in a small dorm room at Oxford.

When Charles Wesley decided to follow his brother’s footsteps to Oxford he did so with equal parts of excitement and trepidation. John had always been the more spiritual sibling and he had weathered the challenges of Oxford in remarkable fashion. Charles wasn’t so nimble on his feet. He struggled spiritually in his first year at University. Come to think of it who doesn’t? He came from a deeply spiritual household where he was taught to love and obey God from an early age. His mother was always around while he was growing up to be the voice of conscience, to guide, prompt and steer him in the right direction.

Oxford represented freedom from that constant vigilant watch care and the young Charles Wesley wasn’t quite sure about what to do with all that freedom. There were so many distractions, so many possibilities. A close shave with a certain young actress in London bought Charles to a crossroads and he made a simple choice; to commit his life completely to God. No more gamesmanship, no more flirting with danger. But he also knew that he couldn’t do it alone.


John was back in Epworth at this time helping their father with his financial woes which meant Charles didn’t have his brother to lean on for spiritual support. So he did the next best thing he knew. He gathered together a group of like-minded friends and they began to meet regularly to read their bibles, pray and keep each other spiritually accountable. They met in Charles dorm room and soon their weekly meetings expanded to include sharing their faith with others. It was the birth of the modern small group, possibly even of the modern campus ministry movement and it was also the birth of Methodism. It began with Charles Wesley’s desire to remain faithful to God amidst the pitfalls and perils of a secular university campus and it grew to embrace the spiritual growth of millions around the world. Did I mention that Methodism is a textbook example of the Butterfly effect?


But what about the Butterfly effect in our own lives? A young Campus Ministry Bible worker wakes up one cold and windy Melbourne morning and groans at the prospects of the day ahead. Another day of setting up the little Bible school table that she and her partner run week in and week out, three days a week. Another day of being stared at and ridiculed for daring to openly share the gospel on a secular university campus.

I dragged myself out of bed and dawdled through devotions, breakfast, and a shower till I was running late. I didn’t really want to go to work that day but I didn’t want to leave my friend Lauren in the lurch either so I decided to go.  I was balancing everything I needed on one hand while trying to put my shoes on with the other when a small voice whispered in my ear “take a copy of the Great Controversy”.

I pushed the thought aside and continued to slip on my shoes and reach for the front door when the voice whispered again “take a copy of the Great Controversy”. This time I paused and looked back towards my bookshelf where I always keep spare copies of the Great Controversy.

With a small sigh, I walked back to the bookshelf grabbed the nearest copy and added it to the stack of stuff I was cradling in my hands.


When I finally got on campus, Lauren was already setting up the table. I apologized for being late and then volunteered to dash into the nearby library to grab some supplies that we needed. When I came back Lauren was talking to a young man who was guardedly eyeing our table. We got to chatting and learned that he had stopped by our table to find out who we were. His name was Daniel and we offered him some of our literature, including a brochure advertising a seminar we were running that weekend. He politely declined, telling us that he had decided not to accept religious literature. Finally, Lauren offered to pray with him and he agreed to that.

As we bowed our heads in prayer the little voice I had heard earlier came back to me; “give him the book”. “But he doesn’t even want to take a brochure, why would he accept a book?” I argued back distractedly. “Give him the book” the little voice persisted. Once we had finished praying I said to him “Daniel, if I gave you a book, would you take it?” “sure”  he agreed, smiling. Without asking any more questions I hurriedly pressed the book into his hands.

He read the book, came to our seminar that weekend, got baptized a year later and a year or two after that was standing beside me at the Bible school table as a fellow worker. Today he’s a young minister actively winning souls for Jesus. As he shared his testimony at his baptism he ended by saying how grateful he was that Lauren and I had decided to brave the elements that day and set up our Bible school table. It brought me to tears. Not because I felt I had had a significant part in his conversion, (only the Spirit of God is able to convert hearts) but rather because it made me realise that if I hadn’t made the choice to get out of bed and go to work that day  I would have missed the opportunity of a lifetime.


Zechariah sums up the power of the butterfly effect by asking a simple question;  “for who hath despised the day of small things?” (Zechariah 4:10). Small things like starting a cell group on a secular university campus, small things like setting up a Bible school table on a cold day, small things like giving someone a copy of a life-changing book. Small things.

I pray that you seize the small things today because you never know the size of the impact that they might have.

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