Saturday, February 13, 2010

Passive or Active for Christ

Earlier this month I was at a meeting in Atlanta with a group of mission leaders from around the nation. We had gathered to strategize how to join God in what He was doing to start a church planting movement in North America. As a part of our discussion we brainstormed how to get everyone in the church involved in church planting. One of the people present suggested that we might be trying the impossible. He said "In church life, 20% do a lot, 30% do a little and 50% do nothing. We tend to appeal to the bottom 50% but they are the least likely to respond. We need to focus on the 30% who do a little in order to get them to do more." I have been reflecting a lot on that statement over the past month.
While I am not sure about the accuracy of the exact numbers, I think the concept is valid. I think that a significant portion of people in the church have become takers. By that I mean that they are content to sit back and let others do the hard work while they reap the benefits. This is definitely true in church life, but I think it is also true in other areas of life too. Too many people are content to live on welfare instead of work. Too many people are willing to let others volunteer in community organizations and schools. Too many people are willing to let others make the decisions politically. Far too many people in our culture are willing to enjoy the benefits but are unwilling to put forth the energy to produce those benefits. This is not good for our culture as a whole, nor for the church, which remains a key part of that culture.
When a church becomes passive, that church will begin to decline. A church can only decline so far before it dies. Hundreds of churches across America close every year. Those churches were once vibrant lights in their community, but somewhere along the way too many people sat back and let too few do the work. Eventually the few just couldn't do it anymore and the church died. If we think our church or denomination is immune to such demise, we are ignoring reality.
What can we do about it? I suppose if we are in that bottom 50% that simply does nothing; we will just shrug our shoulders and do nothing. But if we are in the top 50% who are already engaged, we should ask if we are doing enough to make our church healthy. We may never get "everyone" involved. There will always be takers who want the benefits without the responsibilities. Therefore, we must focus on our raising our own activity levels. We must also encourage others who are already engaged to become more active. Though we hope that the "do-nothing" crowd will one day become active, we cannot wait for them to wake up. We must be deeply involved ourselves and work with others who are similarly engaged. We must create a coalition of the willing, roll up our sleeves and get the job done. Is this fair? No, but it is the reality of the world we live in. Let's stop wasting time brow beating the "do-nothing" crowd and start working with the ones who are doing something and together become all that God wants us to be.


  1. Allen Burns, South AfricaFebruary 14, 2010 at 3:13 PM

    I can’t help but wonder if the 50% on the bottom half have genuine saving faith. Christianity is never described as passive. If the Apostle Paul was at the conference, what would he say? Seems that, as a pastor, you would have to be preaching the Gospel to this group and help them see that passive faith is not faith at all. Your thoughts?

  2. Allen,
    We did indeed have the discussion and many at the meeting agreed that the bottom half may not be genuine believers.

    I was discussing this same concept with a group of pastors in my own fellowship in Vermont, where most of the churches are small. I found it interesting that the majority of small church pastors in Vermont said that they did not have a 50% “passive” group because their churches were too small to exist if most people did not do something. Most agreed that 20% were doing a lot, but they said that 50% or more were doing a little and only a very small segment of the church was doing nothing.

    I think these 20-30-50 ratios are probably more accurate for larger churches where people can hide in the crowd. But if we are not intentional about teaching people to be on mission for Christ, apathy can creep into any church.

  3. I agree 100% - But we must not get discouraged when it takes time for others to respond. Rarely do things happen as quickly as we would like!

  4. This post is so true, it actually invites a new question. Are our expectations as leaders wrong? Are we asking our people to be active in ministries to which they are not gifted or called? Should we be training them for something else to which they are called?

    We always think of church work, but maybe church work should be marketplace work or some other work outside the institutional church. I have questions and thoughts on this but no convictions. Interestingly, the church plants I birthed had a higher percentage of active members than the established churches I pastored.

    Terry, I think you have the right diagnosis but somehow I think our solutions might be wrong.

  5. Larry Weeks, Montgomery Center, VermontFebruary 14, 2010 at 3:44 PM

    We have no choice but to be active. Today there are many in tahe church who take the passive route. The question is Why?
    I think it is because they are afraid of risk. To be active in ministry is to take a risk that you might fail!! But if one more person comes to Christ, it is never a failure.

  6. The Baptist association that I serve "discussed" this issue via email over the past two weeks. I have posted below the noteworthy responses from the pastors.

  7. A full time pastor of an established church said:

    That is a slightly different--and more accurate--version of the old 80/20 paradigm that is true nearly universally in churches. And, sadly, we do find ourselves (I find myself) consumed by the 50% and at times neglecting the others. Thinking about that makes me realize it's time for a "paradigm shift."

  8. A church planter said:

    I suppose by that standard that our church is an anomaly. I would say that for us the breakdown is 40% do a lot and 60% do more than a little – yes even the young children are doing something that I believe is valuable in the kingdom – helping God’s people to smile.

  9. Vermont Pastor ThreeFebruary 14, 2010 at 7:52 PM

    A bivocational pastor said:

    I do not try to appeal to anyone. I focus on those who are learning and growing and provide others the opportunity to join in as they desire. No appealing here just moving ahead with those who are willing to make the effort. Here the tail does not wag the dog. The worst thing that can happen is that people can leave. That does not phase us as much because we do not minister to maintain a full time job at the church. Where there are full time pastors they fall to the temptation to appeal, to maintain their job security. It is refreshing to have so little that those who try to be important or weld their influence either do not exist or fail to succeed. This is one of the many benefits of serving in a difficult place. Thanks for listening.

  10. Vermont Pastor FourFebruary 14, 2010 at 7:53 PM

    A bivocational pastor said:

    I was once told I was a "C" preacher. The person who said it explained that 20% pf the church were "A's" who were listening and trying to do the Lord's work but were silent. 60% of the church were "B's" who were on the fence and following the loudest voice. The last 20% were the "C's." They complained, bickered, fought everything and were the loudest. He told me to stop preaching to the C’s. Instead he said to preach to the “A’s” and help them find their voice. The “B’s” will follow. Don’t worry about the “C’s,” they will eventually come along because they have nowhere else to go.

  11. Vermont Pastor FiveFebruary 14, 2010 at 7:54 PM

    A bivocational pastor of an established church said:

    I agree. With the additional thought that in our preaching we should continue to preach for life change, including servanthood after salvation. As for one on one engagement to improve service, I stick with the ones doing some rather than spend too much time with the ones doing nothing.

  12. A full time pastor of an established church said:

    I think the man is right on target. Twenty percent are excited about the work, thirty percent need encouragement to get involved, and the rest are just happy attending church whenever they can.

  13. Vermont Youth Director OneFebruary 14, 2010 at 7:57 PM

    The youth minister in a church with a full time pastor said:

    Does the fact that I am totally identifying with this statement say anything to you?

  14. Vermont Youth Director TwoFebruary 14, 2010 at 7:58 PM

    A youth leader in a smaller church said:

    However in some small, very small, Vermont Churches the 80/20 rule is actually flipped, Instead of 20% doing 80%, it's 80% doing it all. So there are exceptions to the rule.

  15. Very well said terry.

    If that "30%" can become like the "20%" then it would be much easier to reach the "50%" and get them up to speed with the rest of the church.

  16. I believe the percentages are pretty accurate. They vary based on size and age of the church. Church plants often have very large active percentages. I believe this may be the result of church leadership moving forward, at first for survival, then to reach people and plant other churches. When the forward momentum slows is when the "do-nothing" group starts to grow. We, as leaders" often slow down forward momentum to adapt to the church (we used to call this the shift from pioneers to settlers) and not the needs of reaching people for Jesus... hence the first sign of becoming in-grown.

    The 20%, 30% and 50% need revival!