Strolling Through Gordon MacDonald’s “Who Stole My Church?”, Part 13: Chapters 16

Reminder: I’ve been working through this book with my old college roommate, Hollywood. His church is going through it, and I thought it’d be fun to go through this book about a fictitious New England church realizing that they’re “aging” and struggling through the aspects of what that is and what it looks like so it doesn’t die. Anyway, these are the thoughts this book provokes as I go through it…and it won’t hurt for you to read the earlier entries on this.

One of my gifts for high school graduation was a Smith-Corona typewriter. It was electric. It had a special ribbon that let you hit backspace, re-type the letter that was a mistake and it would erase that letter. Fancy.

My liberal arts major demanded a lot of research papers so I spent a lot of nights in the dining hall of the Sigma Pi house typing them. Suffice to say that my Smith-Corona Selectric II with WordEraser Correction (“the most advanced typewriter correction system to date!”) pretty much got through college.

I took it with me to Dallas Theological Seminary in 1987. Early on, I was clacking away on some paper and a couple of the guys on my hall strolled in. Lots of papers at seminary, they said. Lots of time demands at the grad school level and so much to read, they said. The school bookstore has sweet deals on something called an Apple Macintosh SE and you could actually “compose” your papers, they said. Taking too many steps to complete the papers what with writing on a legal pad and then typing it out, they said. Besides, the Macintosh SE will do the footnotes for you and handle all the spacing and layout stuff, they said.

See, I’m kinda old school about things like this. I’m loyal…even to the typewriter that served me so faithfully.

So, for a few weeks I clacked away after spending hours in the library with my legal pad. “Do it your way if you want, but you can save time, man.” they said. For weeks.

And then one weekend Greg was going home to see his girlfriend and told me to take his Macintosh SE and just do ONE paper on it to see if I liked it. He even gave me a blank 3.5 disk of my very own to back up my work.

I was sold, man. They were right. “Composing” papers was better. It saved steps and legal pads. It handled the footnotes. The spacing. The layout. I discovered the joys of hitting “print.” I spent my newfound free time trying to scrounge composition time on the various Macintosh SE’s on the hallway when they weren’t being used by their owners. I purchased a lot of lunches for the lenders. They also let me play “Wheel of Fortune” with them, too. The Smith-Corona Selectric II with WordEraser Correction didn’t have that ability.

I tell you all this to say that I have this unbelievable ability to resist new things until somebody shows me how it’s better. But once they show me, I border on evangelistic zeal about that new thing.

The higher-order life-liver sister Jilly has been instrumental in this process. She’s always gotten into things before me and then usually converted me to the new thing once the new thing got an upgrade and I got the old thing.

Like the Palm Pilot. Before that, I’d just headed to the big box office supply store and gotten a year-long spiral calendar and wrote everything down. Next thing I know I’m learning some new alphabet with the stylus pen and using HotSync technology. I was also playing Torrey Pines golf course during elder meetings.

Like the iPod. Before that, I was very happy mowing the lawn or working out with the Walkman. Not to mention that I had a pretty extensive catalogue of cassette tapes to handle my music needs of the time. Next thing I know I’m not ever going into CD stores again, clicking “buy now” on iTunes and the Genius feature knows what mood I’m in and plays the songs I want to hear.

Like satellite radio. If you’re still listening to regular radio, my friends, you have no idea how great 220 channels of demographically researched goodness can be.

Anyway, chapter 16 has the pastor coming to his discussion group with a business book he read that describes how people respond to changes. The book he quotes extensively is entitled “The Diffusion of Innovations” by Everett Rogers.

Basically, there’s a bell curve of responses to innovation and change. According the Rogers, there’s about 2.5% of people who absolutely LOVE change and innovation–they’re daring and risky and push for changes all the time.

Then there are about 13.5% who are called “early adopters”–they know a good thing when they see it and are pretty quick to get on board once they get information.

The next group, 68%, are called “early majority” and “late majority”–usually split evenly but some take longer to come around than others. They like to think things through and talk about stuff and want to see if it works before they get on board.

The remainder, about 16%, are called “laggards.” They are bound by tradition and are the last to change, if they ever do. He makes a point to talk about how this shouldn’t be viewed negatively by any means…and he uses the idea of people who went through the Depression who had the natural tendency to be “bird in hand is worth 2 in the bush” mentality. They’d been burned and hurt and didn’t want to risk or change.

And this has a lot to do with local churches.

Because the vast majority of people are “wait and see” kinds of people. And when you combine those people with those that aren’t likely to change, well, that’s an overwhelming number: 85% are going to wait and see before they change if they ever do.

Of these categories, I tend to see myself as an “early adopter.” This was especially cool when I had a staff of 5, three of which were innovators, another an early adopter, and one was in the early majority. Our Friday morning staff meetings were designed to brainstorm and this is where they flourished. A lot of ideas were bouncing around and it didn’t take long to weed out the bad or goofy ones and we’d get a lot of synergy going around a change or innovation or tweak and the team would get behind it pretty quickly. They’d get VERY excited about the possibilities.

Then, we’d communicate to the parents and teens…

…who were much more reluctant. Why are you moving to two nights for the middle school? Won’t that hurt group unity? Why are you redecorating the room again? Why are you moving the weekend for the Pine Cove retreat? Will the move to Sunday morning for high school Sunday School hurt attendance? Do you really think middle schoolers going on a mission trip is practical? I could go on.

But the key to this is communication.

For example, at the end of my first year at CBC I discovered that we had a rat in the python regarding attendance. I was looking at the 5th grade numbers…the kids who would come into the middle school ministry in a few months. That number was nearly double the number of 8th graders who would be coming into high school. This meant that, in theory, our Wednesday night middle school program would be going from about 25 kids a week to 45 or so.

Well, they were meeting in a teen’s home because, first, that’s our philosophy of ministry. Second, 25 kids in a playroom isn’t too uncomfortable. But 45? Well, we’d need more space to effectively disciple. The problem was that our church’s children’s ministry used our entire facility on Wednesday night and ate up a HUGE volunteer pool.

So, we had to change.

Immediately, we had 15% on board with moving to Tuesday nights at the church…all staff, elders, deacons, etc., seemed to understand and were excited about the possibility of using high school students to minister to middle school students. But we knew we’d get resistance, so we knew we’d have to communicate clearly and effectively with parents and teens.

We called a meeting and it was heavily attended.

After giving the statistics and showing them we had an issue, I showed them the changes we’d like to make. We were clear. We were concise. We used logic. We shared our vision. We used our enthusiasm.

And then we set the hook: “We’ll be happy to chuck all this if there’s anyone in this room who’d be happy to host 45 middle schoolers every Wednesday night for 32 weeks.”

No hands went up. Everybody chuckled.

Meeting adjourned…and most folks went away happy. Or at least they understood and could get excited. Within 6 months we’d had the 85% buy-in when the late adopters saw how cool our ministry was and how effective we’d been. Sure, we lost some of the laggards.

But I remain convinced that would’ve gone terribly bad if we hadn’t done all our homework and communicated clearly and concisely…with passion and enthusiasm because we really believed this was the right thing.

So, in my mind…

…since some people really like their…

…Selectric II with WordEraser Correction
…terrestrial radio

…they have to be clearly shown the benefits of innovation.

Or you’ll cause more problems and create confusion and hurt unity and there will be more unintended consequences in a congregation than you can imagine.