80-20 Rule is Killing Us

A recent survey shows that the 80/20 principle is a fact of church life in most congregations — only 20 percent are heavily involved, while 80 percent are minimally involved and attend infrequently at best. They act more like spectators than members.

Think of that for a moment. Four out of five members of our churches are acting like spectators! A National Congregation Survey shows the Southern Baptist Convention had a membership of 16,160,088 people in 2008, but a yearly attendance rate of 38 percent. The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America had a membership of 4,542,868 in 2009, but the yearly attendance rated rested at 28 percent. According to The Christian Post, researcher Scott Thumma said, “So many pastors that I’ve talked to recognize the problem, don’t know what to do about it and then instead of trying to tackle it, they kind of put it aside.”

Scott Thumma traveled to 12 different churches, interviewing congregants to learn why some are involved in church ministry and others are not. They found that “almost all congregations were operating below their potential because they (the churches) weren’t finding ways to invigorate and keep their own membership interested, involved and committed.”

In the book The Other 80 Percent, the researchers use their findings to help church leaders find the root of the problem. Pastors, Thumma says, put too much of their ministries’ focus on bringing new people in to the church.

According to a 2010 Barna survey, 46 percent of 600 senior pastors reported that outreach/evangelism is the area their church or ministry would like to develop in 2011. Those churches that focus primarily on the new people walking through the front door may be leaving the back door wide open, Thumma cautions. He states:

If you’re not thinking about hospitality at the front door as well as at the back door, they (members) will all just flow through, and that’s not what God is calling the church to do.

The parable of the good shepherd is a great example of caring. The good shepherd is troubled by one stray sheep and pursues that sheep until he is able to bring it back to the 99 members in his fold. However, the book portrays most pastors as shepherds who dismiss the lost sheep because they think “Not to worry … I still have ninety-nine.” As the number of sheep decreases, the pastors of today try to entice sheep from their neighbor’s flock or search after wild rams to enter into their folds rather pursuing their lost lambs.

What should we do with this issue? Let me share a few ideas.

  1. We must change our focus. Should we continue to focus on new people? Absolutely! But we should aim at doing both well…in-reach and outreach. We must pay more attention to the 80 percent of the congregation who are disconnected for some reason. Part of the answer is to offer a discipleship process in order to lead people to grow in their faith.
  2. Raise the bar. What do you require of members? Do they know your expectations? Are people really supposed to be involved or just members in name only? Do more to make membership expectations clear. (Note: Chuck Lawless’ book, Membership Matters)
  3. Ask uninvolved members why they are not involved. This could be one on one settings, a mailed survey of some type, phone or e-mail. I would recommend face to face to really discern why these folks are not connected. When authors Thumma and Bird employed this approach to research and write The Other 80 Percent, inactive congregants shared that issues such as no close friendship and a lack of adult classes led to their decreased role in the church.
  4. Offer new discipleship and Sunday School classes that will help those not involved to get involved on the ground level of a new exciting class. This will help your members connect with each other in authentic fellowship.
  5. Don’t give up!  Keep trying new and fresh ways to involve all your members.

What are you doing to connect with all 100 sheep?

Keep the Son, in your Eyes,

Mike James

One Comment

  1. Amen, Mike. It’s a lot more work to keep people involved once they’ve joined a church but the results of seeing people grow strong in their faith makes the effort worth it.

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