May 30, 2009 at 7:24 PM 13 comments


Vilfredo Pareto (1848-1923), an Italian economist, noticed a reliable pattern: a consistent majority of wealth belonged to a small number of people in a number of countries.  The idea was picked up again by the Total Quality Movement, namely by Joseph Moses Juran, who renamed it the “Rule of the Vital Few.”  Juran posited that problems could be decreased if workers focused on the “vital few” instead of the “trivial many.”  The idea became popular in Japanese and American business cultures.  In the United States, the principle is known as the “80/20 principle.”

The percentage isn’t meant to be exact, but the principle has been verified in economics, business, and other disciplines. The basic principle is that 80% of the success comes from 20% of the work that people do. Said another way, some inputs (activities/efforts/resources) have different effects on outputs (benefits/results/value), and do not always follow a linear pattern.

Reading about and experimenting with the principle led me to consider whether applying this principle to being a Christian might be a good idea, and, if it was, what that might look like.  My thinking was that by focusing on those areas of discipleship and ministry that were the vital few, the 20%, I would be more effective as a Christian.

I read an excerpt from a book by Patrick Morley called The Rest of Your Life (Zondervan) that cautioned people about being 80/20 Christians. Morley’s rationale follows the story of a man who was 80% committed to being a Christian. He went to church 80% of the time, read 20% of the Bible, and basically wasn’t willing to invest enough of himself in Christianity to really be transformed. One day he finally gave everything he had to God and that made all the difference. Morley’s position is that people should become 100% Christian, they should give their all to God. I think Morley’s argument is well intended, but misses the point. People who are 80/20, still add up to being 100% Christian, they just use the resources that they have been given in different ways to create more leverage in their ability to serve God and follow Christ.

I think of this a bit like time management. There is broad consensus that one day includes 24 hours. Therefore, no matter what you are doing or not doing, you’re still “spending” 24 hours of time each day. You’re still using 100% of each day. However, if we agree that how you use that time matters, you can focus on different things to achieve different results, or you can leverage the time that you have to “get more done” than expected in 24 hours.

For example, you might have more time available to spend with a loved one if you checked e-mail less frequently. You make decisions about your priorities based on how you allocate time. This doesn’t mean that you always have 100% control of your time, but you get the idea.

Let’s apply this to being a Christian. If you are a Christian, then you are a Christian 100% of the time. However, your attitudes, behaviors, choices, etc. may make you a more effective Christian or less effective Christian (however that should be defined). There are differences in perspectives about what being a faithful or effective Christian means. Some people equate it with ethics and church activity. Then there is diversity regarding what Christian ethics should be. Still other people link Christianity with service, and adherence to certain beliefs about Jesus and the Scriptures. This is not the place to debate what is right, so feel free to adapt the idea to your best understanding of who God is calling you to be.

If you’re still interested in seeing what this 80/20 Christian thing is all about, here are three simple steps to help you get started:


Consider answering the following questions and also having a couple of people who know you well answer the questions about you (family member, friend, colleague, church member):

  1. What are you passionate about? What excites/energizes you?
  2. What gifts/talents abilities do you have?
  3. What makes you unique? What is the most idiosyncratic thing about you?
  4. What ministry do you currently provide? If you were going to do a different type of ministry, what would you choose to do? Why?
  5. What habits/behaviors/attitudes do you have that support your discipleship and the discipleship of others? What habits/behaviors/attitudes do you have that do not support discipleship?
  6. What are the most important things that you do to build your relationship with God? With others?
  7. What has made the biggest difference in your relationship with God?
  8. Where do you see God most active in and around your life?

To stimulate your answers, keep in mind that you are looking for habits/activities/efforts and other types of inputs that create the most value.  You are also looking for things that are tied to your uniqueness, meaning it should be something that is distinctive, or that someone else is not doing in the same way.

Look for things that you enjoy doing — because these usually “cost” less and give a better return on your investment, such as the joy you get from doing the work. However,  something that is not fun to do still may be part of your 20%.

Keep in mind that your 20% may change, so make intentional time for listening to God to keep track of when and how your 20% is called to change.


Now that you have an idea about what aspects of ministry and discipleship are best suited to help you be who you are called to be, the next step is to find ways to reduce effort on the other 80% so that you have more resources to devote to the 20%.  This doesn’t mean that you focus exclusively on the 20%. For those of you who don’t like dealing with money, there will still be bills to pay.  However, get creative about how you can work more efficiently in those areas.  Look for small time and money savers as well as larger ones.

Here are some examples to help your thinking:

  1. Plan and group your errands, so that you’re spending less time and money driving.
  2. Barter tasks with a neighbor or friend. Maybe she likes to clean and you like to cook. So, she could clean your house once a week in exchange for meals. You could just make double the portion of your meals and send them for your swap.
  3. You could get a haircut every 8 weeks, instead of every 6 weeks. Assuming 15 minutes of travel and 30 minutes for a haircut, this would save you 90 minutes and anywhere from $20 to $100 over the course of the year. That might not seem like a lot of time, but little things can add up. You could use the savings to hire a neighborhood kid to mow your grass, thereby saving you more time and starting a relationship with someone, which might lead to more opportunities for ministry.
  4. If there is someone who you are really called to be with or work with, consider relocating or restructuring your schedule so that you can spend more time with each other more easily.
  5. For less important tasks, find ways to do them at a distance where feasible. Online bill pay, a teleconference instead of traveling to a business meeting, telecommuting one-day a week, etc.

STEP 3: Leverage the 20%

This could be through a big change (like entering into a partnership, collaboration, synergy, or reorganization) and in small ways like by changing when you focus on these tasks.  For example, if you are a morning person, you might want to spend more morning time on the 20% and do the other stuff at a time in the day when you don’t need to be quite so focused.  This would increase the quality of resources you give to the 20% without changing the quantity of resources that you invest.

Try answering these questions and then acting on these answers:

  1. What are the experiences you need to have to be a better Christian?
  2. What opportunities are available to have these experiences?
  3. What ways can you best use your resources to serve God?
  4. Who is best suited to collaborate with you on any or all of these things?

As you can see, this isn’t a one-size fits all description of what everyone should do.  Being an 80/20 Christian means that you do your best to use all your resources to best serve as Christ calls.  What makes being an 80/20 Christian different from being an 80/20 individual or worker is that this seems to be about what you can do to be more effective, but it is really about God.

Don’t mistake productivity for the fruits of the Spirit, or get so caught up in checking off your Christian to-do list that you forget to listen to the Spirit.  Hopefully, by applying the 80/20 principle, you will be more free to faithfully follow the Spirit.


Entry filed under: Christian living, Christianity, economics, management science, mathematics, psychology, Science and Theology.


13 Comments Add your own

  • 1. MH  |  June 2, 2009 at 1:18 AM

    Interesting perspective!

  • 2. TH  |  June 3, 2009 at 1:28 PM


    Thanks for reading the post and for your comment. If you have an opportunity to experiment with this a bit, I’d be interested in hearing about your experiences.

  • 3. Madam Curie  |  September 27, 2009 at 12:28 AM

    This is a very cool concept. It actually sort of reminds me of the fact that adult humans use <10% of our brain matter. If we could use even 20%, what would the consequences be?

    Part of the problem with applying this to a CoJCoLDS worldview is that your 20% is already defined for you – and it typically isn't the 20% that would maximize your service to God.

    • 4. FireTag  |  September 27, 2009 at 1:15 AM

      TH is running a women’s retreat this weekend. I’ll be interested to see her response when she next looks at the blog.

  • 5. TH  |  September 28, 2009 at 8:14 PM

    Madam Curie,

    Thank you for reading my guest post on Fire Tag’s blog and for your comments. I had the opportunity to direct a women’s retreat this weekend in Williamsburg, VA. The theme is “Arise, Beloved Daughters of God.” The emphasis of the retreat was really about encouraging the women to remember that God has this amazing love for them and wants them to be whole, to know that love, and to let the light of that love shine in their lives. The emphasis was on celebrating the unique gifts, talents, experiences, along with the challenges and concerns and woundedness, while recognizing that in that diversity we are connected as children of God.

    I am mentioning this here because I think it relates to what you have shared.

    I had the opportunity to look through your blog— Third Wave Mormon—from the Blog Roll on this site. I believe that this is your blog, right?

    The question you raised on my post suggests a tension between how you individually feel called and how the institution tells you you are called. That is a struggle shared by many, and is not unique to your institution. I think this tension is spoken of nicely in the post on your blog “How to Make a Feminist.”

    People deal with the tension in different ways. Some people leave the institution so that they can respond more fully to how they do sense the Spirit. Some people defer to the institution’s guidelines. Some people try to deal with both, like an amphibian who operates in water and on the ground. And others, like the prophets in the Scriptures, try to keep one foot on the earth and one foot in heaven (one foot in what is, and one food in what could be) and try to bring their feet together. This is a difficult task. What I am certain of is that you (anyone) have to be who you are.

    Let me add this: I really love the picture you have selected for the blog. I realize that art can have different interpretations and what I’m about to say may have nothing to do with what you intended for the picture. What came to mind when I looked at the picture of the woman standing in the forest was that she is sort of at a cross roads. On her right, light streams in through the trees. In front of her, she journeys through more of the forest on an already defined (presumably by others) path, and on her left there are shadows. What will be her path? According to Fire Tag, she will choose the sunlight, the path into the forest, and to stay hidden in the shadows because everything that can happens does happen. Yet each version of her/component of her will have a different experience. I don’t know which way she will go, or could I presume to tell her which way to go at this point. What I am certain of is that God will be with her no matter which way she goes

  • 6. FireTag  |  September 29, 2009 at 1:51 PM

    I’ve added links for Third Wave Mormon and for the post How to Grow a Feminist cited by TH.

  • 7. Madam Curie  |  October 9, 2009 at 1:35 AM

    TH – Thanks for taking the time to respond to my comment! I really appreciate it. Sorry that it took me a few days to get back to you, we have GC and all and so things were beyond busy here. I really did enjoy your guest post, and I hope that you get to blog more frequently here, or can direct me to your personal blog site (if you have one). I really enjoyed how your post gave a very working definition of how a Christian can include God more in her everyday life.

    Your retreat really sounds like it was an amazing experience! Was this through the CoC? Yes, Third Wave Mormon is my blog, although the post you referenced was actually a guest post by my friend Melly.

    People deal with the tension in different ways. Some people leave the institution so that they can respond more fully to how they do sense the Spirit. Some people defer to the institution’s guidelines. Some people try to deal with both, like an amphibian who operates in water and on the ground. And others, like the prophets in the Scriptures, try to keep one foot on the earth and one foot in heaven (one foot in what is, and one food in what could be) and try to bring their feet together. This is a difficult task. What I am certain of is that you (anyone) have to be who you are.

    You raise several very interesting possibilities here, which perhaps come to the heart of some of my issues with my religious institution. Ultimately, they all speak to the same thing – what is one’s response when her spiritual needs are not being met by her religious institution (since spirituality and religion are separate entities)? Do you leave the religion, supplement the religion, try to enact change, or live dual lives, one of spirituality and one of religiosity? Looking at it in that manner really helps to break down what is at stake and what the question is really all about. I think that was the end goal I had in mind when I started the journey, and I have lost site of that along the way. Thanks for helping me to clarify.

    Your interpretation of the picture I chose for my blog is an intriguing one. I chose that picture for a variety of reasons – for me, nature and the woods are a place where I go to meet and converse with my God. The forest in the picture gave an illusion of a cathedral. The girl is standing outside the cathedral, deciding whether or not she wants to enter. Regardless of whether she enters, though, God is in that grove of trees.

    I think perhaps that is what she needs to focus on.

  • 8. TH  |  October 9, 2009 at 7:38 AM

    Madam Curie,

    Thank you for sharing what you have here. I am traveling this weekend and have limited access to e-mail, but will respond more in depth when able.


  • 9. FireTag  |  October 9, 2009 at 12:57 PM

    …So if anyone sees a vanpool of women lost in Philadelphia this weekend, be merciful!

  • 10. Madam Curie  |  October 9, 2009 at 3:10 PM

    Is TH in Philly this weekend???? That’s where I am!!!!

    • 11. FireTag  |  October 9, 2009 at 5:52 PM

      Saturday, anyway. No prudent Redskins fan should be in Philly on a Sunday, and no Capitals fan after dark any day! 😀

  • 12. The 80/20 Christian « In Our Maker's Image  |  October 9, 2009 at 8:40 PM

    […] The 80/20 Christian By TH This is a guest blog on To read the edited version with the responses that followed it, click here. […]

  • 13. TH  |  October 11, 2009 at 11:47 AM

    Madam Curie,

    Yes, my friends and I had a lovely trip to Philly.

    I’ve started to put up some posts in a blog entitled In Our Maker’s Image.

    I’ll ask Fire Tag to put it up in the blog roll.


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