Tuesday, February 24, 2009

the 80/20 rule

This is an interesting article about the 80/20 rule which (apparently) exists in most churches. The theory is that 20 percent of the people do 80 percent of the work. Ed Stetzer describes lack of ministry involvement as the most common sin in many churches. He blames the problem on a three tier church structure of lay people, missionaries and clergy, and argues that congregations and clergy have a co-dependent relationship whereby the congregation needs to be rescued and the minister receives affirmation for rescuing them. The minister and the few involved people end up enabling the rest of the congregation in their helplessness.

I have some sympathy for Stetzer's ideas. It is disheartening when you see the same already overworked people turning up for yet another working bee. I know that I find it much easier to just do something myself than go to the trouble of convincing someone else that they can do it, and I do like the affirmation that comes from doing stuff.

But, overall Stetzer's article left me cold. In our church I think that well over 50% of the congregation are working to capacity on church stuff. For some people, capacity is attending a bible study group and being on one roster. For others, showing up on Sundays with their kids is as much as they can handle. I have a reasonably high capacity for visible busyness. That's how I am. Because of my stable upbringing, particular genetic makeup and physical health, I can get quite alot of stuff done. And I like doing it. But don't mistake it for Christian love and service. Some of it I do because of love for Jesus and his people. But if I wasn't a Christian I'd still be busy.

I think Stetzer's biggest problem is calling lack of church involvement sin. It may be sin. You may say 'no' to Sunday School teaching because you are lazy or because you don't care that kids are taught the bible. Or there may be another legitimate reason. It might not be sin.

The christian life isn't about doing stuff. It's about resting in Christ, standing firm in faith in him. We are called to love and serve his people but we cannot prescribe how each will do this.


  1. I like how you have put a more realistic/balanced view of you assessment of the amount of 'ministry'/church stuff people do, by looking at it from what their individual capacity is.

    So I agree with you that we shouldn't be worrying about making a (possibly self fulfilling) 80/20 rule about it. The more important task would be to encourage people in their Godliness. For some this might be encouraging them to do more ministry; and for others it might be encouraging them to do less.

  2. I also appreciate your consideration of what an individual's capacity is. I feel bad at times that I'm not doing more at my church, particularly when I used to do so much, but the truth is that I'm just not able to at the moment. It's important to encourage people to be involved, but not to be so over-committed that they end up having a nervous breakdown!