by Dave Travis
One of the best ways to introduce change in your network of churches is by working through opinion leaders. This view was popularized by Everett Rogers , best known for his categories of innovativeness (see graphic below). The second group on this continuum are the early adopters, a category that contains the most opinion leaders.
Opinion leaders are known for adopting an innovation at just the right time. They are not the actual innovators, but they adopt the new idea more quickly than others. Rogers emphasizes that opinion leaders have to be one or two steps ahead of their followers, but not miles ahead as the true innovators often are. Innovators jump many times from innovation to innovation, but early adopters work through the innovation to systematize and grow an idea.
Early adopters take what is learned and observed by innovators and adapt it to their context. This group more carefully tests and plans as opposed to innovators. They are not the “rah rah” type but rather can more carefully describe what they are doing and how.
Opinion leaders are the people most closely watched by the rest of the system to determine the validity of an innovation. They have greater social system participation than others on the “innovativeness” spectrum; they have more friends and like to make friends, so they tend to be more extroverted than introverted. Opinion leaders essentially show by their example and communications a way to reduce the risk to later adopters.
Most important, opinion leaders show that “normal leaders” can do the innovation.
One example is the way the multisite movement has spread. The earliest pioneers were largely innovators. Then many early adopters jumped in and began show others (often with support from Leadership Network) how it can be done. As other churches saw that one didn’t need a superstar pastor to be successful at it, the multisite phenomenon began spreading far more widely and rapidly.
Who are the opinion leaders in your church, and how can they be drawn into the innovations you want the entire congregation to embrace?
For my reflections of meeting Everett Rogers personally and other thoughts about his Diffusion of Innovations book, see this video below, where Warren Bird interviews me.
People interested in Everett Rogers and innovation might also enjoy following contemporary researcher and writer Tim Kastelle.
See also How to Be a Better Change Agent.