In the late 1800s an Italian philosopher/mathematician by the name of Vilfredo Frederico Pareto postulated: In cause and effect, the majority of the effects can be attributed to the minority of the causes. This principle for which he is best known is popularly known as the rule of 80/20.
Pareto showed that on the average of 80 percent of the results in a situation can be attributed to 20 percent of the possible cause. For example: 20 percent of the drivers cause 80 percent of the accidents. 20 percent of the customers produce 80 percent of the revenue. 20 percent of the population produces 80 percent of the trouble. 20 percent of the supermarket’s inventory produces 80 percent of the profits.
Can the Pareto principle be applied to the church, and other volunteer organizations as well? Anecdotal evidence seems to point strongly in this direction. Most church leaders would agree that 20 percent of their members produce 80 percent of the mission, ministry, and support of the parish. And that can be traced right back to the first mission of the church.
The ninth and tenth chapters of Luke’s gospel deal with the commissioning of the disciples. Early in the ninth chapter, Jesus sends out the twelve to preach and heal. Their activities made a real impact. Shortly after that Jesus feeds the five thousand. By the end of the chapter, it becomes clear that Jesus had attracted a substantial number of followers.
Many of these new followers seemed to be interested and enthused in what Jesus had to offer. But Jesus cautions them to count the cost of discipleship. In the end he commissions seventy and sends them out two by two to every town and place where he was about to go. The minority of 70 volunteered for the mission, while the bulk of the crowd that was attracted to Jesus hung back and did not participate.
Those who went out took nothing with them, “no purse, no bag, no sandals.” They got no pay, no travel expenses; it was strictly voluntary. And it was a success. Although there was some rejection, the 70 volunteers met a heartening response: the Gospel was preached, and many were healed. And so it is that 20 percent or less keep saving the world.