Introducing Change In Your Church

By: Craig Curtis

With the coming of long-term ocean voyages in the fifteenth century came the introduction of a disease called scurvy. More than three hundred years later, the cure (vitamin C) was just beginning to be carried as a regular item on ships; though the treatment was known three hundred years earlier.

Why is it that terrific ideas and programs so often fail? Is the problem bad PR? poor planning? insufficient people skills? or all of these?

Introducing change, which is synonymous with innovation, is no simple task, especially in the church. People resist changes; they overlook and ignore them.

Have you a new idea you want to implement in your church? Whether the change is internal or is intended to attract people to your church, there is always risk when introducing change. The issue, then, is to control the introduction of change from the beginning. By examining your intended change using the following information, you can answer many questions before they are asked and hopefully avoid possible attack from your critics.

This system of evaluating your innovative idea centers on two major groups: The Players” and “Criterial Attributes.” Included is a set of questions to help you evaluate and implement your proposed change. First, though, we should define “The Players” and the “Criterial Attributes.”

The Players:

The players are the people involved in creating the plan and introducing the change and those who respond to the change. By knowing who the players are and what role they play in the grand scheme of your change, you can take a more objective look at the plan itself and its potential.

The Innovators. The first players are the innovators. You and your staff are generally going to play the role of innovator. Occasionally some of the congregation may develop a plan for change themselves and fall into this category.

In basic terms, innovators are generally dissimilar from other people in society. They appear to be weird and often are described as oddballs, eccentrics, or quacks. The innovator may eventually be adopted by the mainstream, but that is usually rare. Innovators are seldom responsible for the success of their innovation. Don’t be dismayed; changes don’t just ooze from between the pews. They have to begin somewhere. Who is better qualified to give birth to new ideas than you and your staff and other innovators in the church?

Opinion Leaders. The next group of players are the opinion leaders. They generally are considered experts on certain subjects and are listened to by others. They are either single-subject or multi-subject experts, though this expertise may merely be perceived.

The opinion leaders must have (or appear to have) certain characteristics that include: at least a moderate similarity with those you expect to attract, some experience in the area they are considered “experts” in, a successful track record, exposure to the target group, knowledge about the subject, the ability to be persuasive, and they should have social support.

Opinion leaders also tend to be (or appear to be) more mature or sophisticated than the average person. Opinion leaders are your best advertisement for promoting the change.

Early Majority. The third group of players are the early majority. These people are not originally part of the team (made up of innovators and opinion leaders) that initiates the change. They are part of your target group. They are the ones who are first attracted to what the opinion leaders are presenting. Therefore, the way these people are treated is crucial. They are going to be brand new to your plan and their reaction to what you are presenting either can cause the change to spread like wildfire or can snuff it out. This fact can affect the future of your change and even the entire church. When the change is successful, these people have a tendency to become permanent and stable members of your church.

Late Majority. The fourth set of players is the late majority. These people are the ones who can be greatly influenced by the early majority or can be frightened away by a negative response. These people eventually will adopt the change and great things can happen in the lives of the late majority. They also can be useful for bringing in the fifth set of players.

Laggards. The fifth and final group of players is the laggards. These are generally the hard-to-motivate people. They tend to avoid joining things or going where everyone else is going. If they ever follow the earlier groups, they will come long after the change has become the “normal thing” to the rest of the church. As far as the laggards are concerned, this is how things have always been.

The Criterial Attributes:

The next area we need to look at is the criterial attributes of the change. A word of warning about these attributes: they are perceived attributes and, therefore, can vary from individual to individual and from change to change. Regardless, they are useful for determining the viability of your proposed idea.

Compatibility. This attribute means the change, the program, or the idea to be implemented must be compatible with the people for whom it is intended. This basic attribute may seem obvious, but we are often tripped up by ignoring or forgetting the basics.

Relative Complexity. The second attribute, relative complexity, means we ask the question, Just how complex is this idea? Your plan may have some aspects that are complex. Then you must decide if those aspects put your plan in jeopardy. Perhaps the plan has some complexities that you know can be worked with and then can be altered accordingly. Be aware that if there is even the perception of complexity to any of the players you are dealing with, it could bring the plan to a halt. Complexities may include possible financial costs and funding, availability of materials, staffing a program, dealing with church politics, and so on.

Trialability. In grocery stores you can always find “trial size” containers of shampoo, mouthwash, cereal, and shaving cream. We like to try things and see how they work before we commit to them. The people you will be attracting to your change will want to know they can try your idea before committing themselves to it.

Observability. Your new idea should have observable consequences that are immediately visible. This attribute is difficult to apply to some changes you may have in mind. I don’t know of any minister who would not love to see his people come to know Jesus and then immediately start growing spiritually and bearing fruit. In today’s world we have instant everything, and your people will want to see the benefits of your new idea almost instantly to know what is in it for them.

Relative Advantage. Whatever your plan may be, there should be some advantage to using your idea over what already exists. Even when your change doesn’t replace another existing idea, you must decide if your idea has an advantage over doing nothing at all. Some ideas might require your people to commit additional time they were using for something else. If you are trying to replace an established idea with a new one, your new idea must be more advantageous or it may quickly die.

Making Use of These Ideas:

To assist you in using the information provided in this article, here are some questions you need to ask to better evaluate your idea. Get a piece of paper and write down your answers to each question. Sometimes when we see a planned change in print, and no longer in our minds, things become clearer.

Evaluate the plan. You need to examine your proposed change as it now stands. These questions should help you determine the viability of your idea and whether to proceed.

1. Is your plan compatible with the average participant you wish to attract?
2. Does the idea blend well with them (personalities, needs, availability, etc.)?
3. If it isn’t compatible, are there changes that can be made without compromising your position?
4. How complex is the plan?
5. If there is some complexity, is the complexity perceivable?
6. Is the plan “triable,” or are there immediate commitments?
7. Are there observable consequences or benefits that will be immediately available?
8. Is there a relative advantage to this plan over what already exists?

Evaluate the Team. If your plan seems worth pursuing, then you must examine your human resources to see what kind of team you have and will need and who your target group is.

1. Who has come up with the idea, designed the program, devised the plan? (If positions have been assigned, give titles with names.)
2. Who are your resident experts in this area that will help in making this planned change successful?
3. Who are the people most likely to be the first to follow the opinion leaders?
4. How can we best assist the opinion leaders in attracting these people?
5. Who are the people next most likely to follow the early majority?
6. How can we best aid the opinion leaders and early followers in attracting these people?
7. What will be available for laggards?

The next time you introduce a change, take time to go through these questions. You will find that when someone has a question about the “nitty-gritty” workings of the plan, you can answer those questions quickly and with confidence, rather than saying, “We haven’t thought about that.” The next time you have to present a plan to the church, you will have a concrete plan all laid out. With thorough planning, you will have a better chance of getting approval.

(The above material appeared in the July/Aug./Sept. 1992 issue of Growing Churches Magazines.)

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