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Book Review: Diffusion of Innovasions, Part II

October 29, 2010

Critical Reflections

Approaching this study from a ministerial perspective, the issue most worthy of deeper reflection is the importance of “opinion leaders” in the adoption and implementation of innovations in a local church.

As mentioned before, innovators are typically outsiders of a given social system based on their innovativeness and ability to see needs in advance of a system.  If a particular church (or denomination) is a system, then often, the pastor will be (or should be) the innovator.  Yet, this presents a problem of sorts.  If the pastor is the most innovative person, then it is likely that he or she is also somewhat of an outsider of his or her system.  This can happen for a number of reasons, but many of the same divisions often exist between a pastor and his congregation that exist between innovators and other systems.  Pastors may be different in their socio-economic and educational status than many laypeople within the church.  Pastors, also, are often separated by the perception that he or she is a “holy” person more so than participants in his or her church.  Whatever the case may be, pastors often stand as outsiders to the majority of their congregants.

If this is so, then the study of diffusion and the need for “opinion leaders” within local congregations is essential to pastors hoping to have a lasting influence on congregations with their ideas and ministries.  Though a pastor may have an influence on members of a congregation in proclamation and teaching, oftentimes, real change is not firmly established because there is a gap between what is preached and what is practiced.  Rogers calls this the “KAP-gap” (Knowledge, Attitudes, Practice), where there is a discrepancy between what is taught and believed, and what is practiced (176).  However, were a pastor to focus in on key leaders within the congregation, take time to cultivate the vision of the church and the adoption of the innovations or ideas (preaching? Ministries?), then the limited influence of the pastor would have a higher probability of being diffused by these opinion leaders to other members of the congregation.

The use of opinion leaders (or any other of the elements of diffusion) is really just to acknowledge that there is a rhyme and reason to the adoption of ideas and practices within a system.  Church leaders often trivialize scientific studies into human behavior for fear that to take seriously such studies would minimize the influence of the Holy Spirit to effect transformation in the life of its congregants.  However, from reading Rogers, it becomes apparent that God has designed human interaction in such a way that people will inevitably influence other people.  Within our social systems, there simply are those that have a great deal of weight.  It is through people that the Holy Spirit works to bring about change.  So, it would be wise for church leaders to understand the natural ways in which people interact and adopt innovations as also a way of understanding how God so often works.  The use of “opinion leaders” is one way in which we may become more effective in our desire to bring about change in our various ministries.


Diffusions of Innovation will forever change the way I think about how to “do” ministry.  If pastors and ministers are responsible for bringing an innovation to a congregation, whether that be the preaching of a message, the implementation of a specific ministry, or vision casting, to do so without an understanding the process of diffusion and ways to “improve” the odds of adoption creates unnecessary waste.  How often do pastors and leaders attempt to do ministry hoping people will just “get” it?  However, as Rogers so clearly demonstrated, an idea can be positively wonderful and yet fail to be adopted because innovators and change agents failed to consider the social and subjective aspects that influence a person’s decision to adopt.

As I read this book I kept being drawn to the issue of small groups ministries in local churches.  Now that churches are becoming larger, it is vital to the spiritual health of a church to have dynamic small groups where members of the congregation can connect with each other on a more intimate level than Sunday mornings will allow.  Yet, often pastors and churches have the most difficult time getting congregants to “buy in” to becoming active participants of small groups.  As a result, the spiritual lives of many congregations are devoid of intimacy and accountability.  In considering this I thought of a number of ways that this study of diffusion could positively impact small group ministries.

First, while many churches allow people to volunteer to lead small groups, I would be more selective in actively choosing small group leaders.  This is based on my understanding of the role of “opinion leaders.”  A small group leader should not only be someone who is spiritually mature, but also a person who is influential and socially connected with others in the church.  In other words, good small groups leaders will be spiritually mature but also “at the center of interpersonal communication networks” (27).  It may take time to find such leaders, and this element of social connection may need to be developed, but it would be crucial to the getting the “need” of small groups adopted.

Secondly, often pastors disseminate ideas or the vision of the church without allowing input and collaboration among laypeople in the church.  Because key laypeople are not given input, there is less of a chance of “buy-in” by them.  Therefore, I would look to have an ongoing relationship with the opinion leaders (small group leaders) of the congregation, collaborating with them to form the vision and implementation of the small groups ministries.  Once this is achieved, I know that I will have my “early adopters” who are committed to the innovation of small groups and are, therefore, willing to actively spread their adoption and appreciation of small groups.  Not only will these leaders be already socially connected, they will be socially connected with good news.  Though I’m sure many difficulties and challenges would arise—this is an ideal case—I feel that this process of finding key leaders and allowing them input into the vision and implementation of ministries is crucial to the widespread adoption of an innovation such as small groups.

In any case, regardless of the specifics of how to use diffusion theory in church ministry, one thing is certain, if I want my ideas to have staying power and effect change, there must be forethought into the process of diffusion and adoption. Rogers’ Diffusion of Innovation has taught me that there is an orderly process that accompanies the adoption of innovations that is empirically verifiable and useful for understanding how social interaction and influence works.

One Comment leave one →
  1. May 25, 2012 4:03

    hi I need this book. I am student in Turkey. my thysis subject is innovations. İf do you have this e book can you send me?

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