Culture At Large

Escaping the 20/80 rule of church life

Andy Rau

Have you heard of the "20/80 rule"—the idea that 20% of people in a typical church do 80% of the work? Obviously the exact ratio will vary from church to church, but it sounds about right to me as I think about the churches I've attended. In most churches there seems to be a core group of really dedicated volunteers without whom it's hard to imagine the church even functioning. And there's the other 80%, who for whatever reason aren't very involved beyond attending Sunday worship services.

(I think there's also a middle category, in which I might place myself, of people who go through periods of active church involvement punctuated by sometimes-lengthy periods of relative non-involvement. But the 20/80 ratio sounds about right to me.)

Skye Jethani is talking about this ratio in a post about church, mission, and the financial recession over at the Out of Ur blog. He describes the effects that economic downturns have on people's leisure time—and how that negatively impacts the time they spend on church and mission-related activities. But instead of chewing out that 80% for being lazy, lukewarm Christians, he suggests that our whole approach to "church work" needs adjusting:
...most people [have] about 32 hours each week of “leisure time.” Most churches are trying to motivate people to turn off the TV for three or four of these leisure hours to spend on mission. The most valuable and celebrated members are those who give eight, ten, or even twenty hours of leisure time to the church.

But by predicating the mission on leisure time of members, most churches are making two mistakes. First, if leisure time ever shrinks the church will find its mission severely affected. We may be facing that situation as the recession deepens. [...]

The second, and more critical, mistake is the way basing our mission on leisure-time devalues members without expendable hours. I’m thinking of mothers with the 24/7 job of caring for young children, single-parent households, laborers working multiple jobs to stay afloat, or those in the “sandwich generation” using their leisure hours to care for aging parents.

Jethani's solution is to look anew at the different aspects of church community—worship, leadership, volunteering, discipleship, etc.—and incorporate them more closely into people's everyday lives, avoiding the sharp distinction that often builds up in our minds between "church time" and "work/family/personal time." I won't try to summarize it beyond that, but read through his post and share your thoughts. I like where he's headed, although I think his suggestions definitely fall into the "easier said than done" category.

But well worth considering. What about you? Does your church embody the 20/80 rule, and if so, are you in the "20s" or the "80s"? Can we escape from that rule, or is it an ironclad law of human community that a small number of people are always going to be doing the vast majority of the work? What's your church doing to address this... and is it working?

Topics: Culture At Large, Theology & The Church, The Church, News & Politics, Media