Thuma and Bird, The Other 80 Percent


Scott Thumma and Warren Bird, The Other 80 Percent: Turning Your Church’s Spectators into Active Participants (Jossey-Bass Leadership Network Series). Jossey-Bass, 2011.

Referenced in: Gift-Based Ministry, Involvement Summary

Some readers may be familiar with the Pareto Principle, an idea attributed to the early-20th century Italian economist, Vilfredo Pareto. It was based on his research on the uneven distribution of wealth in Italy at the time. 80 percent of the land was owned by 20 percent of the population. This came to be known as the 80/20 rule or the “law of the vital few,” that holds true across many sectors of society. For example, in business, 20 percent of one’s clients generate 80 percent of sales. Or in health care, 20 percent of patients use 80 percent of health care resources. In churches, 80 percent of the work and resources come from 20 percent of the people, or 20 percent are active and 80 percent are marginal. This moves many leaders to focus their energies on the 20 percent. This book is designed to reverse the pattern and encourage a more intentional relationship with the 80 percent.

The base is a series of visits and interviews among 12 carefully selected churches. The authors wondered why people chose their church, how they got involved, and how they grew spiritually. One of the most consistent findings was that the staff might tell them one thing about the formal process for getting involved, but this may differ from the actual path members took to get connected into ministry. The result of their research is not intended to set forth the normative path for member integration, but more importantly, how congregations may form a listening and learning team in their own church to discover how people actually do or do not get plugged in.

As described in the Preface, the book is divided into three parts. Part One, “Listening,” discusses how the authors listened and how readers may start their own listening team. They describe what they learned by listening to the committed 20 percent (chapter 1) and also the roughly 80 percent who were less committed (chapter 2). Then they show how to create a listening team to make the same discoveries in one’s congregation (chapter 3).

Part Two, “Learning,” discusses aspects of the larger culture that contribute to the 80/20 problem (chapter 4). Chapter 5 compares the patterns in churches based on factors such as theology, size and patterns of volunteer development. Chapter 6 looks at the typical mistakes and faulty and limiting perspectives leaders have about how to build participation. Chapter 7 shows how to set up a learning team in one’s own church.

Part Three, “Leading,” suggests the next steps for the church’s leadership team. They discuss how a church should start with what they do well (chapter 8), and how to create more ways for people to participate (chapter 9). Chapter 10 reinforces the idea “that spiritual growth and development are directly related to participation and involvement, and that the spiritual development of the entire congregation should be the motivation for this effort.” (xvi)

The appendices give an overview of other resources on the subjects, the research methods, sample survey questions, and an annotated bibliography, etc.

**For a summary, click here for the Kindle Version, go to right column, and download the free sample. If you don’t have a free Kindle Reader on your computer, there’s a link for that too.

From the Publisher

A research-based approach to developing more active and involved congregations

The Other Eighty Percent is a practical guide for church leaders written by respected researcher Scott Thumma and noted author Warren Bird. The authors draw upon new research across a broad range of Protestant attenders and churches of all sizes.

Thumma and Bird listened to thousands of church members’ voices to discern what motivates less connected, inactive members to move toward a life of discipleship and of living out the faith in community.

The authors explore societal norms influencing involvement and identify distinctive qualities of churches that shape patterns of better volunteer participation. They also examine the sometimes faulty and limiting perspectives leaders have about ways to increase involvement. The book proposes practical steps to develop listening and learning teams to assist church leaders in uncovering membership patterns, cultural norms and leadership blind spots common to Evangelical and Mainline congregations alike.

The Other Eighty Percent includes a wealth of creative ideas that can expand what it means for people to engage more fully with their church. The authors reinforce the idea that spiritual growth is directly related to participation and involvement and that spiritual nurturance of the entire congregation should be at the heart of this effort.

About the Authors

Scott Thumma, Ph.D., is professor of sociology of religion at Hartford Seminary and researcher at Hartford Institute for Religion Research. Scott is recognized as a leading researcher and writer on congregational studies. He is also editor of the Lilly Endowment funded website Insights into Religion.

Warren Bird, Ph.D., is director of research and intellectual capital development for Leadership Network. An ordained minister, he serves as an adjunct faculty member at Alliance Theological Seminary. Warren has co-authored 22 books including Culture Shift and Viral Churches, both from Jossey-Bass.

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