by Austin Maxheimer
Change is inevitable. This has always been the case, but it is felt much more acutely in our culture today. With each new technological advance and improved Internet connectivity, the life span of ideas shrinks. This means the life span of the practical expressions of those ideas also shrinks. There is a classic business axiom ‘evolve or die’ that can now be directly applied to churches.
The question for your church isn’t “are you going to change?” It’s “can you be the change agent?” And if you can’t be the change agent, it’s “how are we going to respond to the changes around us?” We live in a time of great uncertainty, and adaptability isn’t an option—it’s a requirement for survival.
Let’s be honest, over the last couple hundred years the Church is not where people’s minds naturally go when they think of innovation. There’s a certain resistance to change that has marked the American church. We haven’t been good about anticipating the responses to change because, well, we don’t want to change in the first place.
What we want simply does not matter anymore. It is an understandable tension bringing together our ancient faith with the modern world, but one that must be wrestled with in order to bridge the gap between what we know absolutely about our faith and how people in our culture need to experience Jesus.
Know Movement Dynamics
When you are anticipating responses to change, what you really want to see is a change in people’s behavior. Yes, you want them to understand the underlying ideology or theology and to be motivated by it, but in the end, you want to see them act differently. We want to see an external indicator of an inward orientation centered on Christ—no matter what the specific change may be.
In that sense, ministry leaders need to be anthropologists. We need to know patterns and trends that help us make educated guesses on how people will react when change is introduced. We need to know movement dynamics and the players that make a movement happen or not before we can anticipate responses to change.
If you have not seen this Ted Talk, it is well worth your next three and a half minutes:
Derek Sivers explains with humor and incredible insight how a movement begins at a concert starting with a lone nut dancing. In 1962 Everett Rogers wrote a seminal book called the Diffusion of Innovations that has served as the foundational work that others have built on since its release. Below is a combination of these two presentations, highlighting the crucial behavior needed in order to respond effectively to change.
The Change Agent or Innovators—aka “The Lone Nut” (1-5%). The vision for change is usually born inside one person or a small group of people who have the ability to see “what could be if…”
– Crucial Behavior: Share the vision with dogged determination. Make the change vivid in the hearts and minds of the people you hope will follow. But also show that the actual behavior can be done. It has to be modeled in reality. Naysayers and skeptics will be numerous at this point, so the innovators must make clear ‘why’ and show how easy it is to follow.
First Followers or Early Adopters (10%). As the vision is shared there will be a group that says, “Hey, that is a good idea,” and who will want to join in the change. They are what transforms a lone nut into a leader.
– Crucial Behavior: The first step is simply to create an inventory of these people. Next, the first followers have to be embraced as equals because that is how it becomes about the movement as opposed to the change agent. If you are an early adopter, your job is to share what energized you about the movement in the first place. The change needs your network of relationships.
– It is very important to continue with the first crucial behavior at this point. It’s easy to think the change has succeeded because you’ve gotten people to buy in. However, if you are wanting this change to be adopted and cultural, you have to continually share the vision with dogged determination throughout—especially once your energy lags.
Early Majority (35%) – Late Majority (35%). This is what is known as the Tipping Point. At some point the change shifts from a trending groundswell to where if you aren’t participating, you actually feel left out.
– Crucial Behavior: Sivers says something very interesting here; he says the next wave of joiners imitate the first followers more than the innovator. At this point, then, training for the first followers is vital. It’s tempting for innovators to move on at this point, but if you want the change to set in, your leaders have to develop competency to lead others through the change. The crucial behavior for “the masses” is simply to go public. It’s now time to show the world how easy it is to make this change.
Church Curmudgeons or Laggards (15-19%). Bottom line, not everyone will go with the change. That’s okay! Knowing this will free you.
– Crucial Behavior: Relentless positivity around the change and personal pastoring for the laggards…and of course even more sharing of the vision.