For a while I’ve been pondering the difficulties that we seem to have getting people involved in service activities at our church. Now, before I get too far down in this posting, I’d like to make these two provisos:

  1. I understand that the local body is not the only place people can serve
  2. I understand that it is possible to serve in the local body and still not be advancing the kingdom

Occasionally (or often), I read non-religious books and blog postings. As I was reading Predictably Irrational: The Hidden Forces That Shape Our Decisions, I was reminded, again, of the 80/20 principle. I have been aware of the 80/20 principle for some time, which generally applies to a “society” or “community” of interrelated variables (people, products, etc). In the context of people, it would state that:

  • 20% of the people have 80% of the wealth.
  • 20% of the people do 80% of the work.
  • 80% of the people do the remaining 20% of the work.
  • 20% of the people create 80% of the problems.

That got me thinking. First, I wonder if we sometimes expect that each person in our “community” will give the same amount – the kind of “work leveling” that we would see in a job. Second, I see that, across the board, no matter how we break it down, 100% of the people do 100% of the work.

As I continued to meditate on these principles, I was reminded that Jesus said that whoever wants to be first must be last and the servant of all (Mark 9:35). In other words, if I want to follow Christ more closely, I must serve more people (do more of the work, etc) – which means I must, by definition, be more involved in my community.

As I was reading Five Rules of Thumb for Web Workers, I discovered something that breaks this down even further. Enter the 90/9/1 principle. This particular principle, like the 80/20 principle, generally applies within an interrelated context. This principle, based on web research and popularized by Jakob Nielson, states that:

  1. 90% of users are lurkers who never contribute.
  2. 9% of users contribute a little.
  3. 1% of users account for almost all the action

As I look at the attendance at the church I attend, with about 500 people weekly, that would mean that about 5 people do almost all of the work, about 45 people do some of the work, and about 450 people simply attend the church. But that is not what I see! Instead, I see a much higher percentage of people actively involved in our church community. And even more involved in the community large. What a blessing!

Are we hitting it on every cylinder? No. Every week, people in our congregation miss opportunities to be part of God’s work on earth. Some weeks it’s me missing out. Some weeks it’s not.

But we need to do better. And Mr. Nielson has some ideas.

  • Make it easier to contribute.
  • Make participation a side effect.
  • Edit, don’t create.
  • Reward — but don’t over-reward — participants.
  • Promote quality contributors.

Read Participation Inequality: Encouraging More Users to Contribute for more of Jakob Nielson’s research.

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