80 20 Rule

  • Have you ever lamented that only a slight number of church members seem to do the lion’s share of ministry in your local church?
  • Have you ever thought about the fact that in virtually every church a small percentage of givers contribute a large part of the church budget?
  • Have you ever wondered why district superintendents seem to spend an inordinate amount of time with a small number of churches?

Italian economist Vilfredo Pareto gave us a clue a hundred years ago.  It’s now called the Pareto Principle, but we know it better as the “80 20 Rule.”  In 1906, after observing that 20% of the people inItaly owned 80% of the land, Pareto created a mathematical formula to describe the unequal distribution of wealth.  He then tested his thesis by carrying out surveys in other countries and found that a similar distribution applied.

In the 1930’s and 40’s quality management guru Dr. Joseph H. Juran recognized a similar universal principle which he named the “vital few and trivial many.”  It was Juran who first named this phenomenon the Pareto Principle, that 20% of something is always responsible for 80% of the results.

The actual mathematical principle is that “where something is shared among a sufficiently large set of participants, there must be a number k between 50 and 100 such that k% is taken by (100 − k)% of the participants.  K may vary from 50 (in the case of equal distribution) to nearly 100 (when a tiny number of participants accounts for almost all of the resource). There is nothing special about the number 80% mathematically, but many real systems have k somewhere around this region of intermediate imbalance in distribution.”  (Wikipedia)

The Pareto Principle can be found in many and varied places. 

  • Marketing experts tell us that 20% of ads give 80% of results.
  • Diet gurus tell us that we should eat until we are 80% full and 20% empty.  Also, 20% of what we eat puts on 80% of the pounds we gain.
  • During a defined period of time, 20% of horses will win 80% of races.
  • Business leaders tell us that 20% of their customers account for 80% of their sales, and 20% of their sales account for 80% of their profits.
  • Microsoft noted in 2002 that by fixing the top 20% of the most reported bugs, 80% percent of the errors and crashes would be eliminated.
  • Come to think of it, I probably wear my 20% most favorite clothes about 80% of the time!

The Pareto Principle can also help us understand our local churches and manage our ministry effectively.   

20% of the people in our local churches do 80% of the ministry.

Because a relatively few people seem to do most of the work in our churches, pastors, especially in larger churches, have to be very intentional about the use of their time.  According to the Pareto Principle, it makes great sense for pastors to focus their energy on training, equipping, and preparing the 20% to lead, which will produce 80% of congregational growth.

On the other hand, is it more beneficial to help the good become better (the 80%) or the great to become superstars (the 20%)?  With a little TLC, attention and Holy Spirit nudging, can we nurture the trivial many (80%) into the vital few (20%) category rather than write them off?  After all, we are people of hope who never give up on anyone.  Is it possible to move the “trivial many” to the “useful many?”  Apply the Pareto Principle to all you do, but use it wisely.

20% of what we do every day produces 80% of the results.

A classic principle of time management is that we should focus primarily on those tasks that will give us the greatest benefit.  If we have 20 things on our to-do list for today, 4 of them (20%) will be worth 5 or 10 times more than the other 16 items put together (80%).  That’s why it is critical to prioritize the tasks that will reap the greatest results.  Maybe it’s sermon preparation.  Perhaps it’s calling the church member who won’t talk with you after an open disagreement at a church meeting.  Or it could be sitting at the bedside of a member who is in Hospice.

The goal of time management is not efficiency but effectiveness, and effective people discipline themselves to start on the most important and often most daunting task first.  In Brian Tracy’s book, Eat That Frog; 21 Great Ways to Stop Procrastinating and Get More Done in Less Time, he writes, “Mark Twain once said that if the first thing you do each morning is to eat a live frog, you can go through the day with the satisfaction of knowing that that is probably the worst thing that is going to happen to you all day long.”

20% of time spent in mission opens 80 new doors, whereas 80% of time spent in maintenance only leaves 20 doors open and closes the rest.

Unfortunately, United Methodists have been really good at surviving rather than thriving.  Rather than boldly open new doors to outreach, evangelism, and disciple-making, as the vital few would have us do, we too often bow to the trivial many by performing the same things over and over in the vain hope that new results will emerge.

Another way to put it is that for a church to grow, we need 80% evangelism and 20% maintenance.  Entrepreneurialism plus leadership equals evangelism.  That, of course, will mean reallocation of resources, cooperation rather than competition, innovation, creativity, bold risk-taking initiatives, adaptability, change, and nimbleness.  The “same old, same old” no longer works.

I observe the Pare to Principle at all levels of our connection, from local churches, to districts, conferences, and general church agencies.  Too often we are satisfied with the status quo and are afraid or simply unwilling to unleash an entrepreneurial (Holy) spirit in our denomination.  When 80% are satisfied with the status quo, the 20% become discouraged and leave.  This is perhaps THE most critical challenge facing our church.

There is great value in understanding the 80 20 Rule.  Perhaps 20% of the people will always produce 80% of the results.  But I am also convinced that our calling as disciples of Jesus Christ is to transform the trivial many to the useful many so that all of God’s children can fulfill their potential and do their part to bring in God’s kingdom on this earth.  Let’s just call it the “Jesus Rule.” 

Blessings, Laurie

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