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Five Principles To Facilitate Change:
Insights And Reflection On Rogers,
Diffusion Of Innovations*
Thomas F. Fischer, M.Div., M.S.A.
- Having trouble introducing change in your congregation?
- Do you find that people tend to be resistant to certain ideas?
- Having trouble dealing with the frustration that things just
arent getting anywhere?
Studies in facilitating change, and introducing innovation, such as
Everett Rogers', have demonstrated that there are five principles of innovation which can
be used to help facilitate a smoother adoption of change. These principles are
1. The Principle Of Relative Advantage
- The degree to which a change or innovation is perceived by the members of an
organization to be better than the present state of operation is positively related to its
rate of adoption.
- As common sensical as the principle of "Relative Advantage" may sound, one
cannot be "sloppy" or non-chalant about communicating the relative advantages of
any proposed changes.
- From the very beginning it is important that specific, positive, and credible
information be provided to the congregation which very simply states how the proposed
change is superior to the current conditions.
- The information must be as believable as possible; dont give the appearance of
selling out your integrity by making grandiose statements promising more that what can
reasonable be delivered. Church leaders may be wise to follow the investment world when
promoting change: "past results do not predict future returns."
- Dont undersell the benefits, either. Communicate a visionary baseline
let Gods people ponder how God might be able to use it in even more powerful ways
than we can possibly imagine.
- 2. The Principle Of Compatibility
- The degree to which an innovation is perceived as consistent and in harmony with the
existing values, past experiences, and needs of the potential adopters is positively
related to its rate of adoption.
- Of the five factors of innovation, I believe this one may be the most critical to
examine. Tradition, time-tried denominational practices (not related to doctrine),
"what do other churches do," and of course "Weve never done it that
way before" are typically very strong in churches. Ironically, these attitudes are
strongest in the churches that may need it most!
- Churches can be as tenacious as they are enduring.
- The strength and impact of tradition in congregational life and function cannot be
especially in change processes. Without a continued renewal of tradition, the
tenacious hyper-vigilant guardianship of tradition can strangle a churchs mission
and ministry potential. No matter how good their intentions, those who ignore or
disrespect these deeply-entrenched traditions may become martyrs.
- Because tradition is such a formidable roadblock to change, pastors and other change
agents are often tempted to "plow through," "buffalo," and stubbornly
"bulldoze" their way through the mire and resistance. The harder they push, the
greater the pull caused by later adopters and laggards who become even more determined
guarantors of tradition
whether the tradition be a building, a way of worship, a way
of doing ministry, the constitution, or an understanding of the churchs teaching.
- It is here where conflict may escalate and intensify. At this point it is typical for
highly sensitive and emotionally charged traditionalists to seek out and support a key
antagonist as their "hero" to gather the troops and defend their
- Generally the "hero" is all-too-willing to take on the role. Experienced and
having successfully offered resistance in the past, the head antagonist will proceed to
undermine the proposed change...sometimes at all costs. The demonstration of how the
change is contrary to the best interests of the congregation and destructive of the
congregations values often involves the devaluation of those forces promoting the
- In worse case scenarios, opposition metastasizes the change issue into a personality
clash. Name calling, scape-goating, victimizing, and other destructive behaviors arise,
often directed against the integrity of the pastor and those who have the churchs
best interest at heart. The damage which occurs to the Kingdom in these "worst-case
scenarios" is, to say the least, heartbreaking and painful. Sometimes congregations
never recover from the damage. If they do, the scars may still remain for years
- If the pastor is to survive during change processes, he must have what John Maxwell
calls "currency." Because antagonists typicallyalbeit unfairly--will call
the pastors integrity, trust and performance into question, the pastor has to depend
on his "currency."
- If the pastor has been in a congregation long enough, has earned (or, in the beginning
of a new pastorate, has been given) enough good will among the majority of the people, has
enough successes under his belt, and has a perceived strong track record of integrity, he
can use this "credibility currency" to weather the change process.
- If the pastor doesnt have this currency, but still insists on pushing forward, he
is almost certainly guaranteeing himself a future in another setting. Positive
change, I believe, is almost always preceded by a positively perceived planning effort and
well-executed pastoral ministry.
- Healthy churches which have a long history of trust and positive regard of worthy
pastors who have repeatedly demonstrated their faithfulness are accustomed to being
generousand not frugalin doling out "credibility currency."
- Conflicted or dysfunctional churches who have a deep history of pastoral distrust may
find that no matter how beneficial the change might be, those promoting the change will
become unfairly targeted, mistreated, slandered and, after being tarred, feathered,
humiliated, and finally, removed.
- Having been burned once, those innovators and early adopters who had fostered the change
will likely be less motivated to be burned again. The results: the traditional values of
the congregation become even more entrenched and even more difficult to make similar
changes in the future without a greater degree of disruption.
- In severely conflicted churches, pastoral efforts toward earning credibility currency
will be ignored or twisted so that whatever good had been done is of no worth or, at best,
dubious in value. I believe the only ways that these churches can be cleansed are by
direct denominational action, congregational split (in which the pastor and the change
agents remain), closing the congregation, or Divine intervention.
- Whatever happens, the bottom line is this: if the values and traditions of a
congregation perceive the change as contrary to what they currently value, cherish and
believe, the change will face almost certain death and the change agent will get burned.
- When dealing with the Principle of Compatibility, perhaps the best groundwork for
heading off opposition is to initiate a congregational-wide process to define, promote,
and celebrate the purpose, vision, philosophy of ministry, etc. of that congregation.
- Outside consultantsespecially trusted denominational consultantsare often
the best ones to give the assurance to the doubting, suspicious, and potentially
antagonistic that the values and directions desired by the leaders of the congregation are
consistentand fully supportedby the denomination. Use of trusted and competent
denominational consultants also helps diffuse the focus of antagonistic disagreement from
away from the pastor and causes it to be deflected toward the denominational
giving an "out" to the pastor in the case of significant,
unexpected congregational backlash.
- Having re-stated the churchs purpose and values, it is easier to promote a change
primarily because is not perceived so much as another one of "pastors
ideas" as the change is an important and essential effort to conform the
congregations ministry in a greater way to its traditions and values as well as the
denominations leadership, values, goals, and overall philosophy of ministry.
- 3. Principle Of Complexity
- The degree to which an innovation is perceived as relatively difficult to understand and
to use is negatively related to its rate of adoption.
- If the proposed program has a too-detailed program manual, if it has overly complex
timetables, agendas, requirements, multiple manuals, etc., that you cant figure out
in five minutes of less, dont give it a second look. Its not worth your time
or your trouble. According to the Principle of Complexity, it probably wont work
- Though detailed materials may be needed in the backroom planning sessions, the church
and its leaders need to have the change presented in the most simple, concrete
terms possible. People are generally curious about changewhether they are disposed
to adopt it or oppose it. The more simple the information, the more clear-cut the
proposal, the easier the change and its benefits can be communicated, imagined,
experienced, and implemented, the greater the chance of adoption.
- Avoid fancy, indirect and circumlocutionary terminology which masks, hides, complicates,
or clouds the primary objective and purpose of the change. Communicate the proposed change
simply, concretely, and repeatedly through multiple communication channels.
- Second, publicize the change as one change, not multiple changes. Though laggards may
never adopt the change, the majority of people can handle a simple change at a time.
- Third, dont rush the change. Remember, as Schaller often pointed out, that older
people (and, I would add, "laggards") view time as passing quickly while younger
people (and, I add, "innovators") see time passing very slowly. Put another way,
the perception of time is relative to one's age. It is also related to the degree of fear
or ease one feels. The greater the fear, the slower the perceived passage of time.
- This variance in the perception of time is, perhaps, one reason that innovators and
early adopters will become quickly impatient that things arent happening fast enough
while older people and laggards will thing things are going too quickly. The pace at which
things ought to proceed ought to be relative to the pace most comfortable for all groups,
but especially the group that has the greatest likelihood of derailing the proposed change
at that given time. To ease their pain, keep the pace of change at such a rate that will
evoke the least amount of fear to the greatest amount of people while still conveying
adequate excitement and momentum.
- To be sure, this is no easy task. Considerations such as timing and readiness require
the change agent, like the poker player, to "know when to hold
and know when to
fold." Such information is gathered on the basis of personal observation, task force
recommendations, feedback from others, the response of the organization, the will of God,
and, of course, "gut feelings" and intuition...not necessarily in that order.
- 4. Principle of Trialability
- The degree to which an innovation may be experimented with on a limited basis is
positively related to its rate of adoption.
- Of the five principles to facilitate change, I believe the "Principle of
Trialability" is the most effective and helpful one for facilitating congregational
change. This principle recognized that people tend to be more likely to give fair
judgment to a proposed change if they can see, touch, smell, feel, and experience it
- Most fear in change may be due to the fear of the unknown. When people feeling they
cant go back to the security of the previous state of ministry if things dont
work, they become insecure, wary, suspicious, and distrustful. The Principle of
Trialability addresses this fear by offering a simple antidote of security: just try it!
- In my ministry, Ive probably relied on the Principle of Trialability the most.
Before introducing change, before planning out pages of well-thought-out strategy, before
developing any fancy programs, the first thing I do is to take an idea and ask some
trusted early adopters to try it. If it fails, its not ready. If it succeeds, the
process of preparing the organization for the change using the other four principles
begins. I find it immensely effective and satisfying. Most of all, it can save a lot of
- Trial periods need to be well-publicized opportunities for a wide spectrum of
congregational members to try, experience, and evaluate the proposed change. Publicize
well in advance what is going to happen, which people will experience it, what they will
likely experience, and the purpose for the trial period.
- Remind people that after the trial, evaluation will be done before the change is
adopted. This continued reminder gives a sense of security to those who might otherwise
reject the change. It also conveys leadership empathy, a feeling that the leader is not
just going to do what he wants to do regardless of others feelings. Perhaps most
important, it helps to convey that the pastor is open to other opinions and input. Thus
people feel freer to express their "voice" to the pastor, leaders, and others.
- The unique input which trialability encourages is essential feedback to help leaders
strengthen the adoption process. It enables them to evaluate in a first-hand manner the
members actual perceptions of the relative advantage(s), complexity, compatibility,
trialability, and overall response to the change. Those included in trial often suggest
areas of possible "re-invention" the pastor and leaders might consider to
increase the chances of adoption (cf. Principle of Reinvention, below).
- Other benefits of a "trial period is that those who would oppose the change
loose much of the opportunity to create major opposition momentum. Especially when new
innovations are timed so as not to fall on the heels of previous changes, organizers of
the opposition will sense that its not practical to take the time and energy
necessary to muster up troops up to oppose the change because by the time such
organization is completed, the "trial period" will have passed.
- Another result of the "trial period" is that it gives all potential
adoptersincluding laggardsa chance to feel the change, experience the
benefits, vent, voice their opinions, and offer their suggestions for improvement if
necessary. Or, perhaps, they may bring to light necessary insight and information which
had not been before considered. Nothing helps to sell a car like a "test drive."
Give people in your organization many opportunities to take the new change "for a
- Another result of trialability is that as more and more people get "hands on"
experience with the proposed change, the level of fear and sensitivity will either
increase or decrease, giving leaders a barometer of howor whetherto proceed as
planned. Heeding the signs, change proponents (including the pastor) gain opportunities to
build a greater degree of trust, respect, and credibility. This extra degree of
credibility may very well be needed during the fine-tuning stages of the innovation.
- Of course, the more people who "sign on" to accept the proposed change, the
greater the potential force to help stall and dismantle any significant organized
opposition. If successful, other people (including the laggards and antagonists) may
parade the innovation as "their" idea. Ultimate success is all but guaranteed
when the lead antagonist(s) who originally opposed the proposed change circulates widely
among members of the congregation saying, "How do you like MY idea?"
- I call this phenomenon "innovation amnesia." Though incredulous at the claim,
leaders, I believe, are best left letting others think it really was their idea and using
their energiesalbeit unappreciatedto carry the innovation process forward
toward final consideration and implementation. Be patient! Proper credit will come in its
time; and what goes around will come around. Bank on it!
- 5. Principle of Re-invention
- The degree to which an innovation is adopted is positively related to the ability of an
organization to adapt and re-invent it for its unique situation.
- Though frowned upon by consultants and others who promote their ministry programs in
congregations, an important part of the process of adoption of innovation is to recognize
that organizations and individuals will almost universally change and reinvent the
proposed innovation somehow.
- Various studies (e.g. Emrick, et al) found that as many as 56 percent of adopters
implemented only selected parts of the innovation, 20 percent of adopters made large
changes to the innovation, and the remaining made relatively minor changes. Another
government study (Rogers, 178) found that at least half of the innovations proposed were
re-invented immediately before full adoption. The lesson here is this: you may get what
you want, but it may not look like what you asked for.
Some Final Considerations
- Remember and respect the five principles of change.
- When publicizing and promoting change proposals, remember that mass media channels are
most effective with early adopters. Later adopters and laggards need more interpersonal,
two-way media, especially from others most like themselves.
- Never use the word "change." The word "change" is a
"trigger" word that sets off negative emotions (e.g. fear, anxiety, insecurity,
etc.). Instead, use synonyms for change such as "improvement,"
"enhancement," "expansion," "modification,"
"modernization," "update," and other more positive types of
terminology which tend not to evoke fear-related responses as quickly.
- At all costs, respect timing. Implementation of any proposal, if pursued too
quickly or at the wrong time, can quickly become divisive and out-of-control. If done too
slowly, if can loose support and momentum. Timing is, as the old adage says,
- Keep the level of observability of the proposed innovation as high as possible.
Publicize and promote it through as many channels as possible. After all, you have nothing
- Change is best received when it is seen as consistent to a well-publicized, coherent
plan of implementation consistent with the congregations vision. Thus, the
first step (after prayer) is always to set the vision, share the vision, uphold the
vision, promote the vision, repeat the vision, and communicate the vision at every single
- Never expect unanimity. In some changesand especially in the
stagesone must do as Lyle Schaller recommended: Count only the
"yes" votes. Let those who want the change support it move ahead and try it.
Through them and their experience with the change, God just may find a powerful way to use
what many nay-sayers thought would other wise be unworkable, unsuccessful, ineffective, or
just plain unnecessary.
- In severely conflicted churches, unanimous decisions may be symptomatic of a repressing
a significant degree of hostile emotions. Continue monitoring responses to the change
before, during and after adoption of the change...regardless of the strength of the
- Dysfunctional or severely conflicted churches will almost universally resist
until the pain is great enough. Many of these churches are quite adept at
and its representative messenger (i.e. the pastor). Sometimes
the changes they resist may be the changes they need
or have needed for decades.
Irrational as it may be, by definition dysfunctional churches would rather stick to their
position and loose church than to do something that, though initially painful, might give
a congregation new growth and vigor.
- The Pastor, in careful reflection before Gods throne, must humbly seek and respect
Gods will and determine whether it is essential to his calling and ministry in that
place to proceed with the proposed change or not. He must count the cost. If he decides to
proceed, he must prepare himself and be ready to bear the consequences of what the
decision to proceed entails--positive or negative--and strongly support the action through
full implementation as far as possible.
- Sometimes the change, like emergency surgery, must occur; at other times it may
be delayed; while for some churches those changes which absolutely must be made may be
broken down into incremental steps and patiently implemented over a much longer timetable.
We cant always control change, But we can sometimes control the degree, magnitude,
and timetable of change. But all in all, we must hand the process to God and trust Him to
guide and lead where we cannot. He will build His church!
- Especially when going through the process of introducing change, maintain your
churchmanship to the highest degree possible. Dont get angry. Be patient in
public; gentle in private, and always faithful in your ministry
even to the
antagonists. Be professional, pastoral patient and genuine. Demonstrate character and
integrity to all.
- At all costs keep all staff members informed of the changes, the progress, the
importance, etc. of the changes. Include them in every way, even in the early stages. In
some cases, the innovation may infringe on their area of ministry. In such cases, things
can become very uncomfortable.
When this occurs, it is important that the staff member be
communicated with fairly, frequently, and very, very early in the brainstorming phase of
consideration of the change. Seeking their positive input, giving them opportunity to
voice possible reinventions, and giving them the best degree of honest support possible
is, humanly speaking, your best first line of defense against possible staff rebellion.
* Everett Rogers, Diffusion of Innovation, 3rd edition. New York: The
Free Press, 1983.
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