Opinion Leaders: Do You Know Who They Are?

By Rev. Toni G. Boehm, Ph.D., USCR Ministry Consultant —

Opinion leaders? Who are they and what do they bring in support of ministry? Different from the old concept of matriarchs and patriarchs of a community (those persons who dominated ministry decisions because of a perceived status held), opinion leaders are those persons in a spiritual community who have the capacity to see trends and then support them in order to create shift or change within the community.

One of the best ways to introduce change in your ministry is to identify and work with the opinion leaders. Author Everett Rogers was the first to discuss 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 to 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?

Adapted from a work by Dave Travis (Leadership Ministry Network), August 19, 2014 .

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Toni G. Boehm, is your USCR Ministry Consultant. She can be contacted at 816-304-3044 or by email. USCR’s mission is to support your ministry and leadership education and training. All expenses, except the generous love offering for the experience, is paid by USCRegion.

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