We’ve been getting a lot of changes lately, some good, some bad, some I feel complete apathy about. This is a big shift from Pres. Monson’s time in the top job as he was in poor health for the last several years so seemingly nothing changed in the last few years. Now that we have someone in a position to make changes who is both physically vigorous and mentally alert, whatever innovations he wants to do are going to happen. It’s an interesting time to be a member of the Church, and there’s been plenty to talk about in the bloggernacle and at church as a result.

Proponents of these changes are often swept up in the idea that this represents a final rush toward the Second Coming, that we are clearly in a “hastening” to prepare for the Savior’s return. Of course, one facet of Christianity is that every generation of Christian (including in Paul’s day) has been convinced that the Second Coming was imminent. Don’t hold your breath, or as it says in Matthew 24: 36: “But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, but My Father only.”

Critics of these changes seem to say one or more of the following things:

  • Oddball. These are “hobby horses” of Pres Nelson’s being elevated to the rank of revelation by him now that he’s in power.
  • Trivial. These changes, even if positive, are minor.
  • Obvious. If the changes are viewed positively, the changes are common sense and overdue.
  • Off Point. Higher priority issues aren’t being addressed.
  • Contradictory. Some favored changes throw prior leaders under the bus.

Ultimately, that’s the problem with change. If you make a change that’s an obvious win, that everybody’s been clamoring for, well, then it’s not prophetic because it’s too easy. If you don’t make a change someone wants, they will think your priorities are wrong. Do nothing and they criticize you for your inaction. Do things, and they’ll criticize you for a zillion facets of the little things. Nobody can win when making changes. Ultimately, you have to be thick-skinned enough not to care what your critics say or you’ll never get anything done. Hopefully, you’re also smart enough not to listen to your fan club either, because they are going to laud your every move, even the ideas that are stinkers.

My favorite part of the two-hour block change was when E. Cook said the 3-hour block was difficult for some church members and then proceeded to list every conceivable demographic of church member. It was clearly difficult for all of us. I haven’t heard a lot of back talk about that shift, except perhaps the criticism that more “home church” means more unpaid and invisible work for women, and more assumption that when things fail, it’s the fault of women. I’m not saying that’s not true, but I refuse to accept unearned guilt. I also refuse to accept some earned guilt. It slows a person down. I’m busy.

Church members may be good little soldiers, but they are not renown in our contemporary church for their progressive views. Changes can be difficult for some to handle, some changes can be more difficult, and some people find change in general more difficult. People can be grouped into five categories in terms of how they embrace change:

  • Innovators (2.5%). Their motto might be “if it ain’t broke, break it.” They love to take risks and experiment with change. They don’t mind doing something the rest of the group thinks is crazy.
  • Early Adopters (13.5%). They are the pioneers, trying new ideas to sell them to the group. Of all these groups, they are the biggest though influencers.
  • Early Majority (34%). These folks tend to adopt ideas once sold by the early adopters. They can sense a new trend just ahead of the average and jump on board.
  • Late Majority (34%). These individuals tend to be skeptical of change, waiting to see how the early majority works out the bugs. They might hang back and be critical or simply have a “wait and see” attitude.
  • Laggards (16%). These are the traditionalists, the last to adopt innovations. They are not opinion leaders and have very little influence on others in a group. They are fixated on the past and may be rendered obsolete by their unwillingness to join everyone else. Often they stay firmly planted on their porch, shaking their canes as the world surges past.

You might think that innovators are all young people while laggards are older, but that is not accurate. Studies show that while young innovators may be willing to take risks, they often lack the insight and experience to innovate in the smart ways that catch on. The optimal age for innovating appears to be in one’s 40s and 50s, when a person has enough life experience to prioritize, and enough social skill and capital to make things happen. After that age, particularly in our digital age, innovating can become more difficult due to the pace of change and technological advancements.

These groups are useful to marketers who want to entice people to buy or “adopt” specific products, apps or forums. But anyone seeking to sell change to others should be well versed in how these social groups function in the change process. This model is most useful when the types of change being “sold” are technology or products, which are assumed to be building on previous technologies. But change doesn’t happen in a vacuum. Some ideas are better than others. People may be quick to adopt some changes and downright hostile toward other changes. The groupings assume the changes are inevitable, not that they are equal options in a marketplace of ideas.

Let’s look at a few different changes we’ve talked about in the bloggernacle.

  • Example A: Switching to digital scriptures. This one is the most on-point example since it is a technological change. Early adopters starting using smart phones instead of paper scriptures and quit carrying scriptures with them before it was the norm. The late majority seemingly waited for church leaders to signal that it was OK to switch to tablets instead of paper scriptures. Even now, though, seminary teachers (beleaguered by incessant texting of class members, no doubt) and some laggards insist that paper scriptures are better or more spiritual somehow. Pres. Packer insisted fairly early on that all the apostles get and use an iPad for their scriptures as they are more portable for their travel schedules. This is an example of someone high up being in at least the early majority category.
  • Example B: Embracing feminism and improving leadership among women. There are some bishops who have long considered the RS president to be on nearly equal footing in running the ward. These might be early adopters. There are others who demand fealty to priesthood hierarchy, shutting off women from decision making. We have church leaders at the top levels stating that they want more women to speak up, then qualifying “not too much.” Pres. Nelson’s first General Conference also cut women speakers to almost none and focused on promoting limited gender roles for women in the Women’s Session. There are mixed messages. This is an example of top leaders being in the laggard category, significantly behind most church members who are not in their same age cohort. However, among their own age cohort, there’s some reason to believe the apostles are ahead of the majority of octogenarians and older. That’s just not the majority of church members.
  • Example C: Moving to a 3 hour block. This was a quick change as soon as Pres. Nelson took the reins, but it was one long desired by the membership. It’s been a rumor since the mid-90s that it was going to happen. Given how long it’s been discussed, I can’t imagine anyone is still a laggard on this one.

What do you think?

  • Where do you tend to fall in these groups?
    • Does it differ based on what kind of change is being introduced?
    • Where do you fall in adopting new technology? How early on did you switch to digital scriptures?
  • Where do you see your fellow ward members falling in these groups? Has it differed in other wards you’ve been in?
  • Where do you see church leaders in these categories? Are there areas where they appear to be innovators? Provide specifics in comments.
  • Is it possible to introduce change without criticism? Is criticism part of working out the bugs in new ideas?

Discuss.