I don’t specifically remember the first time I heard about the “80/20 principle,” but I do recall finding it fascinating. Simply put, the principle states that, for many events, roughly 80% of the effects come from 20% of the causes, or that 80% of sales come from 20% of clients, or that 80% of the wealth is owned by 20% of the population, and so on.
When management consultant Joseph Juran began popularizing the 80/20 principle in 1941, he more formally named it the Pareto principle, after Italian economist Vilfredo Pareto, who published his own 80/20 observations in a paper at the University of Lausanne in 1896. Pareto showed that approximately 80% of the land in Italy was owned by 20% of the population, a principle that he first observed while noting that about 20% of the peapods in his garden contained 80% of the peas.
The 80/20 principle often resonates with pastors and church leaders, too. Not always, but many times, 80% of the work in a church seems to come from 20% of the volunteers, or 80% of the giving comes from 20% of the givers, or 20% of the congregation seems to require 80% of the pastor’s time.
Likewise in associational life, 80% of an association’s support can come from 20% of its churches. In fact, here in Illinois, 20% of IBSA churches currently provide about 80% of Cooperative Program giving. I suspect that further study would reveal many more 80/20 dynamics, both within and among churches.
The reality that the 80/20 principle underscores is that many, many things—from responsibility to productivity to generosity—are not evenly distributed within a group. Many groups have what Joseph Juran began referring to as “the vital few,” who carry the heaviest load in the group.
It’s the urgent need for more of those “vital few” churches here in Illinois that has led us to challenge IBSA churches to four “Pioneering Spirit” commitments during our state’s bicentennial next year. Between now and next November, we are praying for at least 200 churches who will register fresh commitments to church planting, evangelism, missions giving, and leadership development.
We call this going new places, engaging new people, making new sacrifices, and developing new leaders. Details, as well as registration information, can be found at the new IBSA.org/pioneering website. Two hundred churches would not only match our state’s bicentennial, it would represent just over 20% of our churches.
These Pioneering Spirit challenges are simple, but they’re not easy. They challenge us to pray for, or partner with, or plant one of the 200 new churches that are needed in Illinois today. They challenge at least 200 churches to set a baptism goal that exceeds their previous 3-year average, and then focus intently on sharing the gospel. They challenge at least 200 churches to percentage missions giving through the Cooperative Program that increases each year toward 10%. And they challenge 200 churches to intentional processes that develop tomorrow’s pastors, church planters, and missionaries.
Apparently, at times, Joseph Juran referred to the 80/20- or Pareto-principle as “the vital few and the trivial many.” But later in life, he was said to prefer “the vital few and the useful many,” indicating a newfound appreciation for the necessity of the whole and not just the few.
I really appreciate that distinction, because I see value and uniqueness in every IBSA church, and understand there are many factors that influence what a church chooses or is able to do in a given area. Still, I think we have yet to see the impact we could have on our 200-year-old mission field, if at least 200 churches would step up and join the vital few.
Nate Adams is executive director of the Illinois Baptist State Association. Respond at IllinoisBaptist@IBSA.org.