How a small group of reconcilers can influence a church or organization

What do you do if you’re one of a few reconcilers trying to convince your church or Christian organization to wake up to the problem of racial disunity in the body of Christ and embrace a vision of reconciliation? There's hope! A whole body of research on minority influence – when a minority group influences the majority to accept its minority viewpoint – can help. If you’re trying to influence the majority group in your church or organization, here are some research-based guidelines that should help: Be as winsome as possible. Not surprisingly, minority group members are most effective at influencing the majority when the majority members actually like the minority members. This may seem like a no-brainer, but in my experience, people who are passionate about reconciliation often allow their righteous anger for injustice to impede their ability to be warm, caring, joyful, and gracious people. Sometimes, in our zealous quest for justice, we can forget to be forgiving, humble and loving. For both theological and strategic reasons, this is a mistake.

Build real friendships with the majority. When you’re a minority member who’s trying to influence what often seems like an un-feeling, oppressive majority, it’s tempting to want to distance yourself from the majority. Oftentimes, your instinct is to spend most of your time with other minority group members who can empathize with you and only interact with majority members when you’re trying to influence them. Again, for both theological and strategic reasons, this is a mistake. Not only does the Christian call to unity require us to embrace even those who oppress us, research shows that people are more easily persuaded by their friends.[i]  Reconcilers who want to influence oppressors must first become friends with them.

Appeal to the majority. People who hold a minority viewpoint often make the mistake of communicating an argument that is persuasive to the minority but not necessarily persuasive to the majority.  Use your friendships with majority members to get to know what the majority values, what the majority identifies with, how the majority views the world and what the majority has to gain or lose in the context of reconciliation. Then, craft and consistently communicate a clear argument that appeals to the majority (even if you do not personally believe it to be persuasive). For example, depending on the Christian group I’m speaking to, I’ll use either a more scripturally-based argument for reconciliation or a more socially-based one.  If you use arguments that the majority finds persuasive, they’ll be more likely to think critically about the pros and cons of your argument. Minorities who get majority members to think critically about the minority viewpoint (as opposed to simply dismissing it) are generally more effective at persuading the majority.[ii]

Be consistent and present a united front. The minority group must appear be very tight knit, expressing the same viewpoint over a period of time. If they do not do this, they will be ignored as a bunch of individual eccentrics[iii]. For this reason, it’s important for minority group members to communicate with each other regularly, so that they can present a consistent and unified message of reconciliation. This is tricky because our social justice urge is to immediately and individually respond to reconciliation and justice issues as they arise.  However, this research suggests that it is more effective to meet together as a group in a timely manner and craft a response that is from the entire group. [iv]

Be consistent but not rigid. Minority groups are more likely to influence the majority if they appear to be flexible and accommodating.[v]  This sounds preposterous to many justice-oriented people like myself who tend to think that justice should be carried out immediately.  However (and as much as I hate to admit it), the rigid, all-or-nothing approach is simply ineffective.  Research shows that if the minority group appears to be flexible and compromising, they are likely to be seen as less extreme and more moderate, cooperative and reasonable. These are the qualities that increase the likelihood that majority members will lean forward, with a desire to consider one’s argument.

Act influential even if you don’t feel influential. Confidence is key. It turns out that minority group members tend to be more influential when they simply act influential. Studies have found that “confident” behavior such as sitting at the head of the table can lead majority members to be persuaded by minority viewpoints. Further, one reason why consistently communicating your viewpoint is so important is that it implies that you’re confident that you are in fact right on this issue. So hold your head up, speak confidently and consistently, and sit at the head of the table.

One more thing. The irony that I’ve written a majority-centric guide for overcoming majority-centric churches and Christian organizations is not lost on me. The fact that this research, which is based on the structures of secular organizations, is so easily applied to churches and Christian organizations is disheartening. With respect to giving voice to minorities, reconciliation and power structures, organizations in the body of Christ should bear little resemblance to secular organizations. But they still do. So, those of us who care about justice and reconciliation in the Church still have our work cut out for us. Hence this little guide. I hope it helps you as you help others.

 

 



[i] Maass et al., 1982

[ii] Smith et al., 1996

[iii] Moscovici, 1969; Moscovici & Nemeth, 1974

[iv] Consistency is important because:

• Confronted with a consistent opposition, members of the majority will sit up, take notice, and rethink their position.

• Consistency gives the impression that the minority are convinced they are right and are committed to their viewpoint.

• Also, when the majority is confronted with someone with self-confidence and dedication to take a popular stand and refuses to back own, they may assume that he or she has a point.

• A consistent minority disrupts established norms and creates uncertainty, doubt and conflict. This can lead to the majority taking the minority view seriously. The majority will therefore be more likely to question their own views.

- See more at: http://www.simplypsychology.org/minority-influence.html#sthash.8BKtnsIP.dpuf

[v] Nemeth, 1987