Persuasion and Influence

25 Jan

For many of us in ministry the use of persuasion and influence, outside of the pulpit, makes us uncomfortable. We don’t want to be seen as manipulative or unethical. So, when we need to convince someone to do something that they wouldn’t do of their own volition, we frame our invitation as a legitimate request (establishing our right as a leader to make the request), or we rely on rational persuasion (presenting logical arguments and factual evidence that a proposal or request is the best way to proceed).

Imagine for a moment that you need to persuade members of your congregation to experiment with greater musical diversity in worship. Framing the invitation as a “legitimate request” would involve some reference to an important article you recently read, or a workshop you attended with a recognized national expert who said that thriving churches offer diverse musical choices. Or, using “rational persuasion” you might argue that the last time the congregation experienced numerical growth in worship attendance was when alternative musical styles were introduced.

These two forms of influence work well when two conditions exist: when you are regarded as one having appropriate expertise in the area that you are trying to influence; and/or when the values of those that you are seeking to influence align with your own values.

Adaptive change in our congregations calls for more sophisticated forms of influence. We are asking people to adopt new behavioral norms and to step boldly outside of their comfort zones. We are increasingly inviting people to live in disequilibrium with us, and they may no longer believe that we all operate with the same values base. They may not trust our expertise in areas that they have not yet experienced. This requires skills in influence that move well beyond rational persuasion and legitimate request. We need to deepen our reservoir of influence tactics.

When Jesus was preparing to send the twelve out into neighboring communities to spread the Gospel he said, “See, I am sending you out like sheep into the midst of wolves; so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves.” (Matthew 10:16). We need to become a little savvier in our influence capabilities. We need to understand more about the science and power of persuasion.

Check out the following animated video, describing the Universal Principles of Persuasion based on the research of  Dr. Robert Cialdini, Professor Emeritus of Psychology and Marketing, Arizona State University.


Does this level of influence strike you as appropriate or inappropriate for our work in congregations; worldly or wise?

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