The Math of Opposition

As we wrap our week on the declining church and what it would take to transform the church, here’s some math to consider.

Anyone who is going to defy the odds and help lead a church that grows and makes a difference is going to need courage.  The math that has helped me involves thinking through the percentages around change.

Whenever you want change, people will oppose it.  Doesn’t matter what it is, people get upset.  The math of opposition looks roughly like this:

10% are deeply opposed

20% are opposed

40% are neutral

20% are open

10% are eager

As a leader, it’s critical you choose which groups you listen to most.  If you have 30% in favour and 30% opposed, doesn’t it make sense to run with the 30% who are in favour?  Additionally, who you run with will help determine who the neutral people side with.  If you side with the early adopters you could have 70% of your church on board. In fact, when the 70% begin to speak up, the 20% who are simply ‘opposed’ and not ‘deeply opposed’ often change their mind – even if it is belatedly.  By choosing who you focus on you can ultimately find 90% buy in.

This will take dedication and leadership because

The people deeply opposed are louder than those who are open and eager for change

The people deeply opposed are angry

The people deeply opposed are demanding

But seriously, are you really going build the future on people with that mindset?  Didn’t think so.  What’s worse, if you continually let the opposition have the floor, those eager for change and open to change will lose hope and likely leave.  They’ll find another leader ready to embrace change.

Now…one last point.  And this is so critical for change.  The math above covers the people inside your organization.  Not those outside.  Let’s say your church has 1,000 people in it, and the community has 100,000 people you are trying to reach.

Those deeply opposed to change represent 10% of your church, but only .001% of your community.

Are you seriously going to let .001% of your community hold the future hostage?  Are you going to sacrifice the 99.99% of people who will eventually embrace good change for the sake of the .001% who won’t?  Didn’t think so.

And there’s your courage.  Now go change.


  1. Jonathan Holcomb on April 19, 2011 at 9:43 am

    This is extremely good stuff! I like how you contrast the percentages and really focus on “what is really important?” Another great resource on making decisions that I have found comes from Colin Powell. Powell states that if you feel like you need to make a move but don’t know if you have enough information yet, do the 40-70 rule. Powell acts on a decision if there is a 40 to 70% chance of success. You can’t wait for any higher, otherwise you will have missed the opportunity or your decision to make any impact has been lost.

    If you want more on this and what you wrote about as well check out: The Leadership Secrets of Colin Powell by Oren Harari. The first chapter touches on the process of change and bringing change to people.

  2. Mandy on April 7, 2011 at 10:17 am

    This is great stuff!

  3. Katie W on April 2, 2011 at 8:54 am

    LIKE! It is so true that the opposed are so much louder than the others. I love the numbers, it really puts things in perspective. Thanks!

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