The Fallacy in Pareto’s Principle…Proving the 80/20 rule wrong

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The Pareto Principle is an organizational principle that goes back a number of years that states in an organization 80% of the work typically gets done by 20% of the people. I have heard this principle applied to congregational life and ministry ad nauseum and I do not believe it is correct from one particular angle. If only 20% of the people are working to implement the goals, values and vision of an organization then only 20% of the work that could be getting done is getting done. 20% do 20%. 20% only do 80% if you narrow down the focus of what needs to get done to the bare minimum. If you expand that to the potential and possibility of what could and should get done the numbers no longer work out.

Full disclosure here…I realize that I am misapplying Pareto’s principle in order to say it has a fallacy. What I am doing in the process is shifting the paradigm on ministry and our potential. Why settle for what is getting done by the few? Why not mobilize the many to get an exponential amount more done for God and the kingdom? I think part of the reason this happens is that we have inadvertently redefined “church” to an hour on Sunday rather than to be more inclusive of the life of the congregation. When our involvement forms for new members only involve things done at the building on Sunday and Wednesday we accidentally communicate our priority and limit the scope of involvement to an institutional model. In doing so, we fail to harness or leverage the full potential of the congregation to minister the other 99% of the week. In doing so, we continue to focus more on ourselves than on those who do not know Jesus. In doing so, we miss countless opportunities to live out our calling.

What might happen if 100% did 100%?

PS – Thanks to my friend Barry Jones for pointing me to the name of this principle.

6 Responses

  1. It is a good point being made but I would be interested in knowing how you would involve more people. As a church leader I am surprised at the number of churches that evangelize but don’t disciple. ‘Get them in’ but fail to ‘move them on.’ Pastor them but fail to challenge them. A great many assumptions seem to be being made, primarily that if you have been around for a while you know what you are supposed to be part of, how things are done, and to what end. A good church needs to be built from the ground up, takes patience, and nothing taken for granted.

    How would a typical church member, even one of long standing, unpack 1 Peter 1:1-2? How would they understand election, sanctification for the purpose of obedience? I run discipleship courses and follow-up discussions and most people find the material eye opening and challenging and are quite sobered by the call to that depth of commitment. Yet so many welcome and rise to the challenge when presented to them. I wonder if leaders are holding back in case of driving people away by asking too much of them? It would be a great mistake.

    1. Great thoughts and questions Mike! I appreciate the fact that you are working on this in a local setting. That can certainly be challenging. I am reminded of something Edwin Friedman said in “Failure of Nerve”,

      “The illusion that is the subject of this chapter is the fallacy that orients leaders toward ‘know-how’ rathr than the nature of their being. The great myth of our data-gathering era that affects leaders, parents and healers alikde has two sides: ‘If only we knew enough, we could do (or fix) anything, ‘ and its obverse, ‘If we failed, it is because we did not use the right method.'” p.98

      I believe this points us to the fundamental nature of the problem that is before us. The tools we are used to using are pretty institutional and organizational. We like to make a plan and carry it out. That is not to minimize the importance of planning…we must make some plans and have a direction but what often gets missed that we measure how well the plan was carried out rather than how well were people formed.

      I think people are willing to be challenged. I think people come to Jesus thinking there should be high expectations and it is confusing when the bar is set so low. Now, once you take a direction and set an expectation there will be people who fight you on it. Expect it. But don’t let it deter you from doing it anyway.

    2. Hello, thanks to James Montgomery Boice and John MacArthur’s comments on the book of Acts, I came to the same conclusion that discipleship has to be the priority of priorities to reach the whole world, like Jesus did and Paul was led to do too. And Cru’s Pray2020 initiative goes in that direction too. Superficial evangelism is pretty much pointless, except for God’s grace, I guess. It seems to me that God teaches us strategy without saying strategy saves, only grace does, but still, we had better do what He shows us just like the Son of God did. God bless!!

    3. Thank you so much for that comment, John MacArthur wrote pretty much the same in his comment on Acts. GBU!!!

    4. Let people volunteer in the area that they like. Offer opportunities. I saw churches where no one was asked and sign-up lists were secret. I felt like my effort was not wanted. Not everyone is going to volunteer for everything.

  2. I have found it to be true that when you are looking at the great swath of people we only see a portion of the people either step up or be called on (and it is usually those people who have stepped up in the past). Many are called but few are chosen. And if you narrow down from those who are there all of the time on Sunday and Wednesday as opposed to those who are there on only Sunday morning you are reducing the people that are usually picked.
    But as noted this is only within the church building doing assignments.
    90% of what a saint needs to do or should be doing is arguably outside of the church building due to the fact they spend more than 90% of their time outside of the church building.
    And then we don’t largely challenge people to do more than they are already doing. We preach this from the pulpit, but don’t bother to see whether it is applied or not. There is a big disconnect between people hearing and people doing.

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