Leading Change: Unveiling the Power of Innovation Adoption


Every leader’s desire is to not just bring vision to their church, but to see that vision become reality. If you’re like most leaders, though, you’ve found implementing new ideas to be very difficult – and this is why many give up in the process, and most churches don’t experience needed change.

You know change is inevitable, but how do you actually make it happen in your church?

What if there were a way to help ensure buy-in to the shifts you need to make in ministry?

As it turns out, vision has a secret weapon, and it’s all about getting buy-in from the right people in the right way. I want to break down how you can do just that using a cool theory called the Diffusion of Innovation. Trust me, it’s not as complicated as it sounds.

So, if you’re ready to roll up your sleeves and get your church culture on a whole new level, let’s get started.

Diffusion of Innovation

The Diffusion of Innovation theory, developed by sociologist Everett Rogers in 1962, explains how new ideas, technologies, products, or practices spread and are adopted within a society or social system. Diffusion in this context simply means the way an innovation spreads or disseminates through a social system.

The theory is widely used in various fields, including sociology, communication, marketing, and technology adoption. Diffusion of Innovation identifies different groups of individuals based on their willingness to adopt new innovations and describes the process through which an innovation spreads.

Let’s look at the Key elements of the Diffusion of Innovation theory. They include:

  1. Innovation
  2. Adopters (these are the influence groups in your church)
  3. Channels of Communication
  4. Time
  5. Social System
  6. Innovation-Decision Process

Let’s break these down…

Innovation: This is the idea, initiative, or practice that’s being introduced. It could be a new building program, a new way of doing ministry, or any other church initiative.

Adopters: These are individuals or groups within your ministry who are willing to try and adopt the innovation. Rogers categorized adopters into five groups based on their time of adoption:

  • Innovators: The first to adopt, risk-takers who are eager to try new ideas.
  • Early Adopters: Opinion leaders who adopt innovations early but are more deliberate in their choices.
  • Early Majority: Those who adopt an innovation before the average person but not until it has been proven effective.
  • Late Majority: Skeptics who adopt an innovation after the average person has done so.
  • Laggards: The last to adopt, often resistant to change.

Each of these groups need to be addressed specifically in a way that will speak to their core needs, and their method of doing new things.

Channels of Communication: This is the means by which information about the innovation is spread among members of the social system. This could be through sermons, group gatherings, mass media, interpersonal communication, social networks, etc.

Time: The process of adoption takes time and follows a predictable pattern. The rate of adoption can vary, but innovations tend to follow a bell-shaped curve over time. You need to be willing to commit the time, and commit to the timeline, for each adopter group.

Social System: The context in which the diffusion process takes place. This includes the current culture of your church, their social norms, and existing systems that can influence how quickly and successfully an innovation is adopted.

Innovation-Decision Process: Rogers identified five stages that individuals go through in deciding to adopt an innovation:

  1. Knowledge: Becoming aware of the innovation.
  2. Persuasion: Forming a positive or negative attitude toward the innovation.
  3. Decision: Choosing to adopt or reject the innovation.
  4. Implementation: Putting the innovation to use.
  5. Confirmation: Confirming the decision and seeking reinforcement.

Understanding the Diffusion of Innovation theory can help churches and ministry leaders develop strategies to promote the adoption of new ideas or technologies by identifying key influencers, addressing barriers to adoption, and tailoring communication efforts to different adopter groups.

Real-life Example: Digital Giving

Let’s imagine a scenario where a pastor wants to introduce the use of a digital platform for giving within the church. This innovation aims to make the process of tithing and offering more convenient for the congregation. Here’s how the pastor could apply the Diffusion of Innovation theory to ensure successful adoption:

  1. Identifying the Innovation:
    • Innovation: Introducing a user-friendly mobile app for online giving.
  2. Understanding the Congregation:
    • Adopter Categories: Recognize the different segments within the congregation, from tech-savvy early adopters to those who may be more resistant to change.
  3. Engaging Early Adopters:
    • Targeting Innovators and Early Adopters: Launch the digital giving platform in a soft rollout, encouraging tech-savvy members to be the first to try it out. Highlight the convenience, security, and benefits of using the new system.
  4. Utilizing Communication Channels:
    • Effective Communication: Leverage various communication channels, including social media, church newsletters, and announcements during services, to spread the word about the new digital giving option. Share testimonials from early adopters to build credibility.
  5. Addressing Concerns:
    • Understanding Late Majority and Laggards: Acknowledge potential concerns about the new system, such as security or unfamiliarity with technology. Address these concerns through informational sessions, Q&A sessions, and one-on-one conversations.
  6. Celebrating Successes:
    • Showcasing Early Success Stories: Highlight stories of individuals or families who have embraced the digital giving platform and experienced the benefits. Celebrate milestones to create a positive buzz within the congregation.
  7. Implementing Feedback:
    • Feedback Loop: Establish a feedback mechanism to continuously improve the digital giving experience based on user suggestions. This demonstrates that the church is responsive to the congregation’s needs and concerns.
  8. Encouraging Peer Influence:
    • Influential Congregation Members: Identify influential members within the church community and encourage them to share their positive experiences with the digital giving platform. Peer influence can be a powerful motivator.
  9. Reinforcing the Change:
    • Consistent Messaging: Continue to reinforce the benefits of digital giving through consistent messaging in sermons, church communications, and community events. Emphasize how the innovation aligns with the church’s mission and values.

By strategically applying the principles of the Diffusion of Innovation theory, the pastor increases the likelihood of successful adoption of the digital giving platform, turning it into a seamless and embraced aspect of the church’s culture.

Another Example: Discipleship

Let’s apply the Diffusion of Innovation theory to a scenario where a pastor aims to introduce a discipleship strategy focused on multiplication, encouraging disciples to make other disciples as they mature.

  1. Identifying the Innovation:
    • Innovation: Introducing a Discipleship Multiplication Strategy that emphasizes disciples not only growing in their faith but actively engaging in making new disciples.
  2. Understanding the Congregation:
    • Adopter Categories: Recognize different levels of spiritual maturity within the congregation, from those who are eager to mentor others to those who may be less confident in their ability to disciple.
  3. Engaging Early Adopters:
    • Targeting Passionate Disciples: Identify individuals who are already enthusiastic about discipleship and willing to take on a mentoring role. Invite them to be early adopters of the Discipleship Multiplication Strategy. Begin discipling them so they can experience it first-hand.
  4. Utilizing Communication Channels:
    • Effective Communication: Use various channels, such as small group meetings, church announcements, and social media, to introduce the Discipleship Multiplication Strategy. Clearly communicate the vision, benefits, and how it aligns with the church’s mission.
  5. Addressing Concerns:
    • Understanding Reservations: Acknowledge potential concerns about disciples feeling unqualified or uncertain about mentoring others. Host training gatherings and workshops and share testimonies to address these concerns and provide practical guidance.
  6. Celebrating Successes:
    • Showcasing Transformational Stories: Share stories of individuals who have embraced the Discipleship Multiplication Strategy and witnessed transformation in their lives and the lives of those they mentored. Celebrate milestones and spiritual growth.
  7. Implementing Feedback:
    • Feedback Loop: Establish a feedback system to continuously improve the Discipleship Multiplication Strategy based on the experiences and suggestions of those actively participating. This fosters a sense of ownership and collaboration.
  8. Encouraging Peer Influence:
    • Identifying Influential Disciples: Recognize and encourage influential disciples within the church who can inspire others by sharing their positive experiences with the Disciple Multiplication Strategy. Peer influence plays a crucial role in adoption.
  9. Reinforcing the Change:
    • Consistent Messaging: Continuously reinforce the importance of discipleship multiplication through consistent messaging in sermons, Bible studies, and church materials. Emphasize how this strategy is not just a program but a vital aspect of living out the Great Commission.

By applying the principles of the Diffusion of Innovation theory to discipleship, the pastor can create a culture where making disciples and multiplying impact becomes a natural and embraced part of the church’s identity. The focus shifts from individual growth to collective multiplication, fostering a community that is passionate about sharing and multiplying the transformative power of the gospel.

So, there you have it. Implementing your vision within your church is not only possible but also very doable just by understanding how people and cultures adopt change.

If you’d like to chat about anything you’re facing in your ministry, feel free to reach out for a free 30-minute consult with me. I’d love to hear from you!