SIDEBAR: What Is the Pareto Principle?

This rule of thumb is derived from observations made by Vilfredo Pareto, an Italian economist at the turn of the 20th century. He realized by researching the distribution of wealth in Italy that the pattern of distribution showed an uneven relationship. The vast majority of wealth was concentrated in relatively few holdings. Specifically, in 1906, 20 percent of the population owned 80 percent of the land in Italy. We can see this distributive principle, also commonly known today as the 80–20 rule or the law of the vital few, to hold true across many sectors of society. In other words, the majority of results come from a minority of the efforts. For example:

  • In business, 20 percent of your clients typically generate 80 percent of your sales.
  • The richest 20 percent of the world’s population controls roughly 80 percent of the world’s income.
  • In computer science, by fixing the top 20 percent of the most reported bugs, we can eliminate 80 percent of the errors and crashes.
  • In U.S. health care, 20 percent of patients use 80 percent of health-care resources.
  • Several criminology studies have found that 20 percent of the criminals commit 80 percent of the crimes.

In the church world, a handful of members typically account for most of the effort in the congregation. Additionally, a few of the parishioners cause most of the headaches.1


1. Scott Thumma and Warren Bird, The Other Eighty Percent: Turning Your Church’s Spectators Into Active Disciples (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2011), xxi.