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Thomas F. Fischer, M.Div., M.S.A., Editor
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Early Adopters: Key To Renewal
Rev. Thomas F. Fischer, M.Div., M.S.A.
- Five Adopter Categories
- Organizational theorist such as Everett Rogers have determined five categories of
responses to innovation. These include Innovators, Early Adopters, Early Majority, Late
Majority, and Laggards.
Of course, each category is represented by specific attitudes,
attitudes which are found in organizations
including churches. While Innovators are
venturesome, Early Adopters are considered respectable risk takers. Early Majorities are
slow and deliberate in the consideration of new ideas while the latter two groups, Late
Majority and Laggards, tend to be skeptical, traditional, and anti-innovation.
- Congregational Growth: A Function Of Adopter Behavior
- From a congregational health perspective, one may be able to rather accurately guess
which churches will grow, which will not, and which will cause innovative leadership the
greatest problems based on the distribution and number of each of these five types of
However, understanding these dynamics can also lead to an understanding of
many of the reasons pastors may experience disappointment in some congregations. Among
other things, understanding the impact of adopter behaviors may also explain why some
churches never change and will continue to resist pastoral ministry over and over
again. In such congregations, it seems that no matter what a pastor might do--apart from
the "miraculous" working of God--some organizations never gain
Finally, an understanding of adopter behavior may also shed insight as to which
churches are more able to healthily endure/survive conflict and which are most able to
rebuild and renew their ministry after the conflict is resolved.
- Differences Between Earlier and Later Adopters
- If adopter behavior can have such a dramatic effect on an organization such as the
church, it is important to be able to have an idea of what they look like. A simple
profile summarizing and contrasting their major attitudes and differences, is given below
Characterisics of Earlier and Later Adopters
Not A Factor
||More Highly Educated
|Size of Enterprise
||Small/"Mom and Pop"
|Measure of Success
||Commercial Profit Levels
|Attitudes Toward Credit
||Avoid Use of Credit
- After a brief consideration of the above, you may have come up with some insights
relating to how the composition of your leadership board and congregation influences your
congregation's life. It also has some influence as to what difficulties, challenges or
opportunities and successes may be expected in your congregation.
Some observations one
might make based on the above are...
- 1. There are dramatic differences between earlier adopters and later adopters.
- 2. The differences in adopter styles cannot be ignored at any stage of
implementation of any significant congregational ministry change.
- 3. The distribution of the five adopter types, though assumed to occur in nature
according to the normal distribution curve, does not necessarily follow the
patterns of normal distribution in individual congregations. Instead, dependent on
numerous factors, the distribution may be somewhat, remarkably, or severely skewed toward
a preponderance of earlier adopters or later adopters and laggards.
- 4. More severely conflicted churches have likely been very successful in
excluding the influence and presence of earlier adopters; More healthy, effective
congregations have likely been successful in excluding the influence and presence of later
- 5. Potential for significant congregational conflict is present when the pastor and
leadership demonstrate different adopter styles; Significant conflict is also likely when
the Pastor and leadership demonstrate similar adopter styles while the congregation, as a
whole, demonstrates a largely different style.
6. Just because there is no overt resistance does not mean that laggards
aren't very influential in a congregation. Laggards can say "no" in may
ways--even by saying "Yes". Lyle Schaller is right. There are many ways
to say "yes" and still mean "no." Such indirectness may
deceive the leaders into thinking that the change has been accepted when, in fact, it has
been rejected. The laggard's response has simply been repressed or delayed. At an
appropriate time, the laggards will respond with behavior appropriate to protect their
needs and promote their goals.
7. Though laggard congregations may be more tenacious in meeting bare sustenance needs,
vigorous ministry renewal is not a high likelihood. Whatever attitudes that sustain them
now will be the same that brought them where theyre at. Without intervention, those
same attitudes will likely prevail and dominate the church long into the foreseeable
8. Those congregations predominated by a leadership base of innovators/early adopters
will more quickly and more energetically recover from major conflict.
9. The likelihood for a pastor to bring renewal to a congregation dominated by laggards
may be very low while the likelihood for a pastor to lead renewal in a congregation
dominated by early adopters may be much higher.
10. Much of what a pastors leadership is able to affect may not depend so much on
his own abilities, talents and creativity so much as the relative prevalence and
distribution of adopter behaviors in that congregation which will support--or
11. Trying to change the skewed-ness of the distribution of adopter behaviors in the
church can be a various precarious task; indeed it it not without its difficulties.
However, humanly speaking, it is likely one of the most significant things necessary for
12. Sometimes the greatest challenges in ministry are when a minority of laggards leads
and overpowers a congregation with an otherwise normal distribution. In such churches
antagonistic activity may be at constantly high levels as the small number of antagonists
recognize the smallness of their numbers...and the precariousness of their position. In
such cases, antagonists can be quite fearful, hypersensitive, and vocal.
13. Last, but most important, only God can make a congregation healthy through the
gracious, efficacious operation of the Holy Spirit working through Word and Sacrament.
New Wine In Old Wineskins?
- As a church planters, one of the amazing experiences I've had is that while in
established churches on may have to pull tooth and nail and bleed for years to introduce
and implement change, introducing change in a brand new congregation is often much
simpler. Often church planters can establish the traditions, the program, the directions
early on, often with little or no resistance. This is not to say that new
congregations of laggards have not been formed. I'm sure there are such congregations.
However, since there are less traditions in new churches to defend, the task of urging
adoption is generally easier in the upstart congregation.
- Whatever the size, age or context of ministry, over time every congregation will
experience the precarious challenge of putting new wine into old wineskins sooner or
later. Having considered adoption categories and characteristics, perhaps pastors ought to
give a greater degree of respect to Jesus' dictum, "You can't put new wine in an
old wineskin. If you do, it'll break."
- At the least, recognizing adopter behaviors can do much to help pastors understand the
dynamics of change in their congregation. It can help pastors adjust the levels of
expectation for change and innovation in the church. Perhaps most importantly, it
demonstrates that too much "new wine" can cause the church to split...sometimes
irreparably. In such cases, change needs to be approached--and implemented--with a great
deal of discretion and patience.
- Pastors would do well to assess the degree, nature, magnitude and timing of change as it
affects their congregation. It might also be healthy for them to recognize that at times
churches can change beyond our wildest dreams and sometimes they can't...beyond
our wildest nightmares! In either case, there is still a common denominator:
God's calling to minister to the flock...whether they be early adopters or laggards.
- The Prophetic Legacy: Ministry To Laggards!
- Many of God's greatest prophets had that calling--to minister to the spiritually
stubborn, deaf, blind, and stiff-necked. One need only consider prophets like Isaiah (cf.
Isaiah's call, Isaiah 6:1ff), Jeremiah (cf. Jeremiah's call, Jer. 1:1ff), and, of course,
Jesus, to recall that ministry among the resistant is a major part of our heritage as
God's called representative in our congregations.
- The ministry can be a difficult lot; resistance, frustration, rejection, and loneliness
are a frequent experience. Because of this, it's often the most gifted and energetic
pastors with the highest levels of churchmanship who get most frustrated in those settings
where resistance and the potential for conflict is the highest.
- Recognizing adopter behavior can not only help you to understand the current state of
ministry in your church; but it can also help you understand it doesn't all
depend on you. God builds His church. As with Isaiah, Jeremiah, and the other prophets,
God has you there for a reason: to proclaim His Word boldly and faithfully.
- Whatever your situation, just be a willing instrument to patiently and faithfully seek
to maximize the multitude of ministry opportunities which abound in virtually every
ministry setting. God can move and shake a congregation; He can humble, exalt and work
through anyone: early adopter or laggard. After all, isn't that the essence of Grace?
- Thomas F. Fischer
For further information See Rogers, Diffusion of
Innovations, pp. 252 ff.
Index Articles 1-49
Articles 50-99 Articles
100-149 Articles 150-199
200-249 Articles 250-299
Articles 300-349 Articles
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was revised on:
Tuesday, October 05, 2004 11:02:56 PM