The Mound Ninja & the DNA of a Movement

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The local kids LOVE the Mound Ninjas!

Our little community of Mound, Minnesota, is again making the local news. This time its the strange presence of a group of friendly “ninjas” dressed up in costumes and walking around town. They’ve been at it for a few months already. At first, people didn’t know what to make of it. Then people starting taking sides.

To some, they are considered suspicious, a nuisance, or even dangerous. To others, they are just out to have some fun and make people laugh as they dance around on street corners, engage in mock fights and gather an increasing number of superheroes around their movement.

A movement. There’s an interesting concept.

I’ve long been interested in the dynamics that are involved in starting a movement — especially a little movement that can capture the attention of an entire community. (I’ve spent the past 10 years of my life spearheading two movements in Mound.)  I’m especially fascinated when someone is able to get an entire town talking about them in our busy society where its hard to get anyone’s sustained attention for more than a minute.

We’re currently in the middle of a sermon series exploring the explosive movement of the early church and how a small band of uneducated fisherman following a crucified leader could turn the world upside down in a generation. We’re interacting with the NBC miniseries “A.D. The Bible Continues” as we explore some of the necessary ingredients to this world impacting movement.

So, back to our friendly Mound Ninja and his comrades. What can we learn from their new found popularity and growing following?

Here are a few of the necessary ingredients to start a successful movement:

1. CAUSE. A movement needs a cause worth rallying around. Give people a reason to give you the time of day, or to invest their precious time, talent and resources in you. The most important thing is for YOU to believe in your cause strongly enough to risk your reputation promoting and investing your life in leading.

The Mound ninja, to the best of my knowledge, is purely trying to bring some fun and laughter to a serious, joyless world. His Facebook Page says,”I AM HERE TO ENTERTAIN, AND PROTECT THE PEOPLE OF MOUND AND ANY WHERE ELSE THAT FUN IS NOT PRESENT.” It’s not the loftiest cause in the world but its real and its honorable.  If he wants to continue building a following, he will need to clarify and effectively communicate this purpose for the many out there who are still confused about the nature of their motives.

Ninjas show up at our church's knitting group! :)
Ninjas show up at our MainStreet Church knitting group! :)

2. COURAGE (or CRAZY STREAK). Every movement starts with a leader with the courage to step out into unchartered waters and risking ridicule and, even more painful sometimes, indifference from the people you love most. “Are you crazy?” “That will never succeed!” “You’re just wasting your time and resources.” It takes great courage to put yourself out there all alone in pursuit of your goal.

The Mound Ninja and his growing entourage have this one nailed. They relish the attention of the confused onlookers. They spend their day getting honked at, cheered at, mocked and swore at. They definitely aren’t afraid to put themselves out there and face the mixed reactions of the onlookers.

3. CREATIVITY. Human needs haven’t changed much. People are still seeking happiness, health, justice, purpose, love and acceptance. Yet, the world is lacking new and creative approaches to securing these precious realities. Most people get pulled along in the stream of the status quo, accepting things as they are, and doing the things we’ve always done. Yet, people are captivated by creative new approaches. Everyone wants to end poverty — just give them a new and compelling vision for how to do it. Then you’ll have others’ attention.

The Ninjas are providing a new, creative mode of entertainment. In a world where most young people are glued to their video games or television screens, they are spending their time like Peter Parker designing costumes and engaging neighborhood kids in impromptu street theater. They are quickly becoming the town mascot and this is a relatively new idea in my book. If our schools can have mascots bringing laughter and school pride to loyal fans, then why not adopt a town mascot to bring that fun beyond the football bleachers. This is new and creative entertainment in an incredible mundane, unoriginal society.

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Enthusiastic followers of the Mound Ninja in costume

 4. COMRADES. Obviously, what transforms one crazy loner into a popular movement is comrades who share the cause. While we often give most of the credit to the leader of a movement, its actually the first few followers who are most essential for sparking a movement. See this fun video on “Leadership Lessons from a Dancing Guy.”

The Mound Ninja now has a Facebook fan club of over 700 people and many enthusiastic participants going out and getting their own costumes. His Facebook page has photos from fans and followers including parents dressing up their toddlers and going out to meet their ninja hero in person. When the Mound Ninja recently faced some pushback from local police, immediately he and the police found he had a lot of comrades ready to support him in his cause.

5. COMMUNICATION. In order to continue growing a movement, there needs to be constant, effective communication to keep the movement focused and prevent it from splintering into various spin off movements with slightly different agendas and purposes. Movements that really find momentum effectively use every kind of social media to bolster its influence.

The Mound Ninja and comrades are utilizing Facebook and Twitter, but they have some work to do as far as clearly stating their cause and purpose, and keeping people united behind whatever they are trying to accomplish.

6. COMMITMENT. Finally, movements experience an initial boost of excitement at the beginning. People love to get behind the newest trend and be part of the adrenaline rush of the early days. Over time, however, movements slowly lose that initial momentum and buzz. The honeymoon period fades and then you find out who is really committed. Opposition and hardship will also quickly reveal who is really committed and who the casual well-wishers are. Once the mission begins to require personal sacrifice, you quickly see who is committed. Movements that endure have high numbers and  levels of commitment.

Considering the Mound Ninja’s current cause is merely fun entertainment, it may be hard to inspire strong long-term commitment from the masses. People are more likely to commit themselves to a movement determined to end poverty, end sex trafficking, find a cure for cancer, or fight hunger than give their lives to dressing up as superheroes and dancing on the street corner.

Nevertheless, I think bringing laughter, smiles and innocent entertainment to a community like Mound is a fine cause to get behind.  As a leader of a local community and start-up movement trying to rally the city of Mound around the only true Superhero who has ever lived, and the greatest cause on earth, I stand amazed (and slightly envious) at the Mound Ninja’s following and popularity. I long for the day when local churches are able to get the city this excited about our cause and our leader!

For now, I salute you Mound Ninja and your entourage and wish you all well!

See recent news story from Fox 9 News here.

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