Written by Bill Whitt
May 6, 2024

A Tailor-Made Approach to Change

As church renewal leaders, learning the art and science of change is crucial to our work. Here are six ideas about navigating change.

How do ideas spread? That is the question behind Everett Rogers’ classic book, The Diffusion of Innovations.

  • As church renewal leaders, learning the art and science of change is crucial to our work. Developing those skills by reading books like this one will pay big dividends.

This topic was featured at the Drive Conference at North Point Community Church. I took my ministry staff to the conference last week. One of my favorite breakout sessions was “Navigating Transition and Change” by Joel Thomas, the Buckhead Church campus pastor.

  • In this article, I’ll attempt to summarize Joel’s application of these ideas to church work. I’ll also highlight to their usefulness to church renewal work in particular.
Six Fresh Ideas About Navigating Change
Idea 1. Not Everyone is equally receptive to change
  • In Rogers’ book, he pictures people’s willingness to change along a bell curve. He notes that 16 percent of people are “innovators” and “early adopters.” On the other end of the curve, another 16 percent of people are “laggards” and “resisters.” In the middle are 68 percent of people who are generally open to change.
  • All of these types of people are in your church. You have innovative, entrepreneurial people who love to take on new ideas and try new approaches. You also have those who are wary of any change and who will be slow to come along.
Idea 2. Not everyone is equally involved at church
  • Joel Thomas notes that you can picture people’s church involvement as a bell curve as well. About 18 percent are in the “core.” At the other end, about 18 percent are in the “crowd.” In the middle are 64 percent who form what he simply calls the “congregation.”
  • Those in the core really love your church and will stick with you through almost anything. Those in the crowd are less invested and will be quick to leave.
Idea 3. Ideas 1 and 2 interact in profound ways
  • Not all innovators are in the core. Not all resisters are in the crowd. You actually have some resisters within your core team. You also have some innovators within your crowd.
  • You can picture the three categories from Idea 1 on a horizontal axis and the three categories form Idea 2 on a vertical axis. If you then draw a Tic-Tac-Toe board, the resulting nine squares will show all the various ways these categories can intersect and interact.
Idea 4. Each group needs a different approach
  • When speaking to people about proposed changes, you should figure out which square they are in and adapt your approach. Those who are innovators will be eager to hear your ideas and move quickly, but your pace will have to slow when interacting with the laggards. It will be key to listen carefully to their concerns and give them time to process.
  • It may be beneficial to gather similar people at the same time. For example, if a group mixes laggards and innovators, when you address the laggards’ concerns, it will only stifle the innovators’ passion and frustrate them.
Idea 5. Time management matters
  • When it comes to helping an idea spread, reaching certain groups of people is top priority. For example, your open core (10 percent of people) can help you reach the open congregation (40 percent) and the open crowd (10 percent). That’s 60 percent of the congregation!
  • By contrast, if you’re not intentional, the core resistant (2.5 percent) and core innovators (2.5 percent) will take up all your time. However, they represent a small portion of your congregation, so making decisions based on them alone will be unwise.
Idea 6. Watch out for the danger zone
  • What is the most dangerous group? The core resistant (2.5 percent)? No, they love the church and will stay, even if they disagree with the ultimate decision that is made. How about the crowd resistant (2.5 percent)? No, they will simply leave quietly if they do not like the change.
  • The most dangerous group is actually the congregation resistant (10 percent). They do not feel ownership, so they are more likely to slander the church as they leave loudly. Take great care with this group, as there is the potential for danger if you do not!

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