In his autobiography, Benjamin Franklin tells of the time he wanted to convince the citizens of Philadelphia to light the streets at night as a protection against crime and as a convenience for evening activities. Failing to convince them by his words, he decided to show his neighbors how compelling a single light could be. He bought an attractive lantern, polished the glass, and placed it on a long bracket that extended from the front of his house. Each evening as darkness descended, he lit the wick. His neighbors soon noticed the warm glow in front of his house. Passersby found that the light helped them to avoid tripping over protruding stones in the roadway. Soon others placed lanterns in front of their homes, and eventually the city recognized the need for having well-lighted streets. — Holman New Testament Commentary – Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians & Colossians.

Last week we talked about the power of social proof–the fact that people are strongly influenced by what “my people” do. People are more likely to become Christians if we get them in a group of Christians and surround them with some fruit-of-the-Spirit folks. You will influence your people to do this by utilizing the power of the group.

But, everyone in that group is not equally important. Some are considerably more important–in terms of influence–than others.

John Maxwell talks about this. He talks about the power of the people he calls the E.F. Huttons–the people that, when they talk, people listen.

Advertisers know this. This is why they get celebrity endorsements. If I told you I used a Wilson tennis racquet you might not be that impressed. If Roger Federer uses one (he does) you go buy a Wilson.

Samuel Johnson once wrote, “Example is always more effective than teaching.”

Albert Schweitzer said, “Example is not the main thing in influencing others. It is the only thing.”

Every church has them and a wise leader knows who they are. He or she spends a disproportionate amount of time with these people of influence.

This from Influencer:

“Rogers was shocked to discover that the merit of an idea did not predict its adoption rate. What predicted whether an innovation was widely accepted or not was whether a specific group of people embraced it. Period. Rogers learned that the first people to latch onto a new idea are unlike the masses in many ways. He called these people innovators. They’re the guys and gals in the Bermuda shorts. They tend to be open to new ideas and smarter than average. But here’s the important point. The key to getting the majority of any population to adopt a vital behavior is to find out who these innovators are and avoid them like the plague. If they embrace your new idea, it will surely die. ”

“The second group to try an innovation is made up of what Rogers termed “early adopters.” Many early adopters are what are commonly known as opinion leaders. These important people represent about 13.5 percent of the population. They are smarter than average, and tend to be open to new ideas. But they are different from innovators in one critical respect: They are socially connected and respected. And here’s the real influence key. The rest of the population—over 85 percent—will not adopt the new practices until opinion leaders do.”

John Maxwell talks about this in his classic work, The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership:

I personally learned the Law of Influence when I accepted my first job out of college. I went in with all the right credentials. I had the proper college degree. I had a great deal of insight into the work because of the training given to me by my father. I possessed the position and title of leader in the organization. It made for a good-looking resume-but it didn’t make me the real leader. At my first board meeting, I quickly found out who the real leader was-a farmer named Claude. When he spoke, people listened. When he made a suggestion, people respected it. When he led, others followed. If I wanted to make an impact, I would have to influence Claude. He, in turn, would influence everybody else. It was the Law of Influence at work.

Behavior is more caught than taught. Behavior is contagious. All kinds of behavior is contagious. People do take on a behavior because you talk about it. They catch it like they catch the cold.

We start with a mind-blowing finding: Obesity is contagious. A groundbreaking study led by Dr. Nicholas Christakis of Harvard Medical School, which followed 12,067 people for thirty-two years, found that when someone became obese, the odds of that person’s close mutual friends becoming obese tripled! Remarkably, proximity didn’t seem to matter. Obesity seemed to “spread” between friends even when they were in different parts of the country. In explaining these findings, Dr. Christakis said, “You change your idea of what is an acceptable body type by looking at the people around you.”

Drinking is contagious. A study showed that when college males were paired with a dormitory roommate who drank frequently in high school, they saw their GPAs go down by a quarter point on average. There’s an endless list of other behaviors that are contagious, as well: marriage; shaking hands to greet someone; wearing fashionably fluffy boots; and investing in Google. And you might want to avoid hanging around with baseball players, lest you start compulsively spitting.

It’s clear that we imitate the behaviors of others, whether consciously or not. We are especially keen to see what they’re doing when the situation is unfamiliar or ambiguous. And change situations are, by definition, unfamiliar! So if you want to change things, you have to pay close attention to social signals, because they can either guarantee a change effort or doom it. — Switch, Heath and Heath

Who are the people of influence? Sometimes it is the people who hold positions–like the Chairmen of Deacons. These people are not always the only people of influence, but you do well not to ignore them. Ask yourself. . .

  • If the church burned down, who are the first five people you would call?
  • If you feared there was a doctrinal problem in the church, who would you call to discuss it?
  • If you wanted to add a new service, who do you think you need to get on board first?

Question: what do your people of influence believe about the ministry of hospitality? Unless they have embraced it, you won’t have much luck getting anyone else to do so.

Does your pastor attend Sunday School or a small group of some kind? Johnny Hunt does, and it is one of the reasons why Sunday School works so well at Woodstock.

There are a number of books on small groups that have come out in recent years. They all tout a specific model they claim to be all that. Although the models are commendable, the real reason they work is because the pastor champions small groups.

I wrote about this in the soon to be released What Makes Groups Grow. (Group: June 2010)

Larry Osborne champions sermon based-groups in his excellent book Sticky Church. Groups are encouraged to get together and talk about the pastor. (You might be thinking, “They do that at my church already!”) In this case, however, Larry encourages people to discuss how his sermons apply to their lives.

And again, while the idea of sermon-based groups is a good one, I don’t think you can attribute North Coast Church’s success solely to sermon-based groups. Much of the credit must go to Larry’s example, not his specific strategy. In an article in Outreach magazine, he says, “Involve all key leaders. Our lay leadership and staff are expected to be in a Growth Group. If your key leaders are too busy to be in a small group, it sends the message that small groups are an extra credit offering for those with time on their hands.”

Nelson Searcy, pastor of The Journey in New York City, believes in semester-by-semester groups, where people meet in groups for a set period of time, adjourn, and then start brand-new groups the following semester. The Journey has more people attending groups than attending worship. But again, I think the success has more to do with the pastor and staff leading by example. In Nelson’s words: “When it comes to implementing a successful small group system, every single person has to be involved, starting with the top.”

There are three steps to implementing this principle.

  1. Lead by example. Bill Hybels says it this way: “The leader must embody the vision.”
  2. Identify the people of influence.
  3. Do everything you can to get these people on board. Go through each of the influence strategies we have discussed and think about how to use that strategy with this group. As you “try to persuade men” especially try to persuade these men. Their influence will go a long way toward influencing the masses.

As you think about influencing your church, don’t think about influencing your church. Instead, think about influencing the people of influence in your church. Once they are on board, influencing the rest will fall into place.

I see churches violate this principle nearly every week in my conferences. They seek to influence the masses when the people of influence are not on board.