From the Lead Pastor’s Desk — July, 2017 – Reveille United Methodist Church
In 1896, the Italian economist Vilfredo Pareto noted in 1896 the principle that bears his name: that roughly eighty percent of effects come from twenty percent of causes. Pareto noticed that eighty percent of the peas in his garden came from twenty percent of the pods. He also noticed that eighty percent of the land in Italy was owned by twenty percent of the population. This 80/20 rule has been noted in other disciplines, including business (eighty percent of your sales come from twenty percent of twenty percent of your clients) and mathematics (a power law or Pareto distribution).
And the same is probably true in most congregations, and that is not a mere principle. It is a theological problem that twenty-first century Christians must have the courage, dedication, and devotion to confront if our churches are going to accomplish our most basic directive: to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.
Confronting this principle will be challenging, mainly because the challenge is so elusive. For centuries, congregations like ours were able to survive, even thrive with the standard Pareto 80/20 division of leadership and effort. In fact, one can argue that prior to the Reformation, this kind of division was preferable to some in the Western church, as it made more power and influence available to the clergy and less available to the laity.
Fast-forward a few centuries, and things were able to continue to work in Western churches, still following the 80/20 rule. Protestantism, with its emphasis upon and greater valuing of the leadership and contribution of the laity offered more people in churches more opportunities to do more things, so the twenty-percent was comprised of both clergy and lay leadership. And this worked well for awhile. Consider how many congregations in existence in the United States today were founded in the nineteenth century. There was a veritable boom of churches and congregational life. Many hands made light work, and there was much work that was done. It was something of a gilded age for American Christianity.
But then two important things changed that dramatically altered the landscape.