2019-05-23 The 80/20 Principle

My old boss often referred to the 80/20 Principle. This is an explanation of commonly-observed occurrences in business and other areas of life. For example, one might observe that 20% of a business’ customers produce 80% of the company’s profits. It’s uncanny how often one finds this principle to be true when one starts looking for it. This information is useful so that one might improve profitability. Using this view, my old boss observed that 10% of employees are working for you, 10% are working against you, and 80% are simply there to earn a paycheck. Right or wrong, that is his observation over many, many decades of covering payroll.

Might this principle be used in church? Absolutely. Take tithing, for example. I’ve found statistics that say 15-25% of any congregation regularly tithes to their church. Roughly 80% don’t. When you consider that churches break even, at best, it’s clear that most of the money coming in to pay the bills is coming in from a handful of people. The rest use up just as much overhead. It’s not rocket-science; in fact, it’s common sense.

It’s also no surprise that it is almost impossible to get these under-payers to cough up any more than they already give. What is the implication to this? Could there be a business decision to be made? You know, weed out those who don’t pay their fair share so that we can better utilize our resources? Before we jump to negative conclusions to this, let’s take a look at some math.

$56,604      Median Household Income, Kandiyohi County MN
2.53            people Average Household Size, Kandiyohi County MN

Now, let’s say that we have a church with 200 families or 506 people. Statistically, we find a 200-person church has two full-time ministerial staff. A 500-person church has four. Giving all other overhead (building, etc.) remaining constant, we find the following:

                                   Tithers                   Non-Tithers   Total
% of Families                20%                  80%                  100%
# Families                      40                     160                    200
Giving of Income         10%                  0.6%                 2.5%
Total Income                $226,416          $ 56,604           $283,020
Resources Used           $ 56,604           $226,416          $283,020

# Persons                      101                    404                   506
# Staff                            1                        3                        4

I don’t have statistics to break it down further than that; but giving my background as a banker, I would say these numbers are reasonable. The conclusion? The math is clear. The few pick up the tab for the vast majority.

The question is whether or not this is a good thing. After all, the message of God is being delivered to more people, and it makes sense that the few should want to spend their money on this type of “mission” field. Right? Well, there is such a thing as being wise with our money. The Parable of the Talents should make this clear to us (Matthew 25:14-30). Is the minority spending God’s money wisely on the majority that attend church?

Keep in mind that income disparities of members have been eliminated by the use of median income. So, we’re talking apples to apples here. The big question is whether the gospel is making any difference in the lives of the congregation. There are several ways we can examine this, but I don’t see how we can exclude tithing as one of them. Besides, it’s the one that is easily measurable. Is the congregation open to God’s instruction on tithing? Are they willing to obey God so that they open up their wallets? Are we even teaching them this principle?

Matthew 6:31-33 Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.

Malachi 3:8-12 Will man rob God? Yet you are robbing me. But you say, ‘How have we robbed you?’ In your tithes and contributions. You are cursed with a curse, for you are robbing me, the whole nation of you. Bring the full tithe into my house. And thereby put me to the test, says the Lord of hosts, if I will not open the windows of heaven for you and pour down for you a blessing until there is no more need. I will rebuke the devourer for you, so that it will not destroy the fruits of your soil, and your vine in the field shall not fail to bear, says the Lord of hosts. Then all the nations will call you blessed, for you will be a land of delight, says the Lord of hosts.

This isn’t a soft lesson that Jesus has given to us. It is a very serious lesson with hard, hard consequences for disobeying God with our money. Can you see this? And we wonder why the USA is now called Post-Christian!

Could it be that we really haven’t drilled this lesson home? I think the problem would take care of itself if we did that, if we followed Jesus’ own example right after he fed the five thousand and his proclamation that he is the bread of life.

John 6:26 Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you are seeking me not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves.

v. 60-61 When many of his disciples heard it, they said, “This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?” But Jesus, knowing in himself that his disciples were grumbling about this, said to them, “Do you take offense at this?”

v. 66-67 After this many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him. So Jesus said to the Twelve, “Do you want to go away as well?”

Do we have enough faith in Jesus to deliver this type of message with the intent, like Jesus had, to purposely drive the crowds away so that only the faithful few remain? Or was this lesson never meant to be repeated by us? Is it Jesus’ intention for us to gather crowds – numbers for numbers sake – so that we might preach Sunday after Sunday, year after year to ears that won’t hear and eyes that won’t see?

One last thing. With regards to the children. Yes, we get a crack at teaching kids with Sunday school. Still, we have to ask ourselves if we are spending our money as wisely as we could by using this distribution channel? For our example above, the faithful few could easily scale way back on overhead and have gobs and gobs of money to reach ALL the kids in a marketplace, not for just the few that take their kids to church. Youth For Christ and YoungLife are two outstanding ways God is working to reach every kid in a geographic area. Might we spend our money more wisely this way?

Food for thought.

Copyright © 2019 Scott Powers


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  1. Pingback: 2019-05-29 He’s Coming. Mark My Words. | His Light Shines

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