By Dr. Dan Reinhardt

I was frustrated as I vented to a good friend, “What’s the matter with this church?  This is a great vision, biblically-based, and exactly what we need.  I’ve done the research.  I’ve laid it out in careful detail.  Why don’t they get it?”

I had been thinking and working on a ministry plan, and had clarity on an exciting vision to move us forward. The pastoral staff had embraced it.  My good friends were enthusiastic.  I cast the vision with passion, eager to see my congregation move into a preferred future.  But there were many people who didn’t respond one way or the other – they just listened.  Standing at the back of the sanctuary shaking hands as people left, I was looking for a response.  “Thanks pastor. Have a good week!”  Sheesh.  It was obvious they had not “bought in.” Unless they did, this vision would not go forward.

Quite frankly, I was ticked off – but it’s not a good idea to vent from the pulpit. Fortunately, I had someone to help me think things through.  His response to this particular frustration came in the form of two questions:

“How long have you been thinking about this vision?”

“About two years.”

“Well, do you think that perhaps people might need two years to think about it as well?”

I was stunned.  The truth was suddenly clear, and I was rebuked – in a graceful, friendly way.

Sometime later I came across the work of Everett Roger, and his diffusion of innovations theory.  His work, first published in 1962, explained how people process ideas at different rates.  When I read this I understood why I had such different responses from my congregation – from the friends who were immediately excited with me, to those who folded their arms and refused to budge.

Understanding this could save your organization.  Or at least help you understand why your exciting vision doesn’t seem so exciting to everybody.

Roger’s research found that in the average group there are five categories of response to new ideas:

  • 2.5% are Innovators.  These are the people who love change!  They’re willing to take the risk for the sheer joy of trying something new.
  • 13.5% are Early Adopters.  These are next to come on board. Early Adopters enjoy good ideas and are willing to give them a chance … after thinking about it for a minute.
  • 34% are the Early Majority.  These are thoughtful people who do accept change, but not quite as fast as the early adopters.  They need more time to consider ideas and watch if they work before joining in.
  • 34% are the Late Majority.  These folks only accept new ideas when the majority are already on board.
  • 16% are the Laggards.  Laggards are very traditional, critical of new ideas, and only accept them much later when the ideas have become mainstream – or maybe never.

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This chart was a lifesaver for me.  It helped me understand people and change.  It improved my attitude significantly toward those who weren’t so excited about my vision.  By understanding them, and giving them time and evidence, they eventually came on board.

At CREST, we discuss the challenge of bringing change to your organization.  This is only one factor of many! Join us to find out why 80% of all change initiatives fail, and what you can do to be in that top 20%.