Are there too many slackers at your church? What can congregations do about it?
“Pew-warming Slackers” is the title of a new book by Scott Thumma and Warren Bird.
No, not really. The actual title is “The Other 80 Percent: Turning Your Church’s Spectators into Active Participants.”
Thumma, a sociologist at Hartford Seminary featured in a 2008 Dialogue interview with The Christian Chronicle, says the book offers research and solutions on the problem of churches allowing “half or more of their membership to be completely disconnected and uninvolved in the life of the church.”
Thumma told me in an e-mail:
“I don’t want to sell books as much as I would like to challenge more congregations, conservative and liberal, to address this situation. It is amazing to me that nearly every pastor is OK with one-third to one-half of their membership never attending, and if they are lucky, 20 percent of members ever doing anything in service, leadership and commitment to the congregation’s life together — a far cry from the Good Shepherd leaving the 99 to find the one lost sheep.”
In the below video, Bird, director of research and intellectual capital for the Leadership Network, notes:
“Churches are often better at outreach than in-reach. And we’re all in favor of outreach, but there are an awful lot of people connected with your church who say that they’d like to reconnect. But for some reason, they haven’t or they don’t know how. But they’re willing for you to talk to them about it.”
Your turn: Do 20 percent of the members do 80 percent of the work at your church? What solutions would you recommend for turning that around? Is this an issue that needs addressing in Churches of Christ? Scroll down to leave a comment. Be sure to include your full name and home congregation in case we decide to quote you.
FeedbackFor the past 3 years I was part of the 80%, I’m tired of it and I’m trying again. It has been a real guilt trip watching the 20% do the work, knowing I should be in the middle of it.DonJuly, 22 2011Eric,
20% of the members do 80% of the work of the institutional church, but the institution is not really the church and the work of the institution is only a portion of the work of the church. I have written a short book on the subject: “Prostitutes, Tax Collectors and You. Church Leadership for Non-Leaders,” available from Amazon.David MayJuly, 22 2011Don, great comment. And good for you!MattJuly, 22 2011Back when I was a kid in the 1980s (and when I was still Catholic) we had a parish priest who frequently criticized “pew warmers” in his homilies. My mother said she got so sick of hearing that phrase. In ministry I observed much the same, with a minority in the congregation doing the majority of the work. A lot of patience and firm commitment are necessary to help people become active disciples.Adam GonnermanJuly, 22 2011We are a growing congregation with a regular attendance of 120-130. With regularity we mirror those numbers on Sunday and Wednesday evening. As the Shepherds of this congregation, “keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account” (Hebrews 13:17)is something that will keep you awake at night and something we take extremely serious. One of our yearly goals is to meet with every member/family at least once per year. We have an open door to meet anytime, but we want to make sure we have this meeting at least once per year. This is an opportunity to ask any questions about anything we are doing, give suggestions, advice, comments, etc. Also, we have the responsibility to ask how things are spiritually (bible reading, attendance, prayer, family time, etc.) and is there anything we can do to help. We end with “what would you like for us to pray about with you?” We end the meeting with that prayer. I’m not saying this is the exact way to do it since we as Elders are growing too, but it’s something we are doing and it is working for us and we have no plans of discontinuing this approach. Please pray for our congregation that we will continue to be a sound congregation of the Lord’s church and do only His things, His way!Scott Bond Sr.July, 22 2011A line in this ad piques my interest. “It is amazing to me that nearly every pastor is OK with one-third to one-half of their membership never attending, and if they are lucky, 20 percent of members ever doing anything in service, leadership and commitment to the congregation�s life together…” My 49 year experience as a member of Churches of Christ and over 20 accumulated years experience as a staff minister has consistently been that baptism and “regular” attendance are the only two things God has called us to do. He’s suggested a number of other things that we may or may not get around to doing based on our “gifts” or time constraints. To shift this cultural perspective, we must begin by raising our expectations.RonJuly, 22 2011One of the inherent problems with churches is the assumption that those not active in the group are somehow lost, lazy, fallen away or what ever else. The real church consists of the body of true believers. This body is not defined as a particular congregational group, but rather by those who have accepted Christ as their savior and hold the Lord God dear to themselves in reverence and love. The only thing that matters to me is that I am on the Lord’s “list”. This may sound terrible, but I really don’t care what some organization may think of me. After all, it has been said, “The Lord is with you. Go where you will.” The Lord has purpose for each of us and that likely does not involve some Pastor trying to tell us what to do. People who have accepted Christ will live as such and will continue to search for the truth, regardless of what the group may think. The Lord will guide his faithful followers.JeffJuly, 22 2011I agree with David’s point that the work done by the institutional church is only a portion of the work of the church, but from my experience as a minister the 80% are not the ones getting busy for Christ and doing good in their community like the 20% do. We should all agree that the work of the church should not be relegated to institutional programs, participation, and activities, but its a reality can the 80% exist and are content to let the 20% do most all the work of the institutional church and even beyond.GarrickJuly, 22 2011A great lack of participation is evident in most churches.
Scripture shows us two ways to engage all who are willing to connect.
Praying together has been reduced, but can be RESTORED. Jesus quoted
Isa.56:7, taught we ought always to pray, and that God’s ELECT cry to Him day and night,Lk.18:7. Describe me? In view of Acts 2:17-18, 1 Cor 11:5 should be understood and restored. We MUST pray with others.
Second, the dialogue of the early church should be RESTORED. Acts 20:7
reads that Paul DIALOGUED with them. Even with the disorder among the Corinthians, Paul desired for ALL of them to prophecy, 1 Cor.14:24-5.
The broad meaning of prophecy is simply to speak for God. Eph.4:15-16
shows that SPEAKING is HOW we grow, and every joint and each several part should supply. The priesthood of ALL believers is the strongest
answer to clergy – laity distinctions.
“but having the same spirit of faith, according to that which is written, I believed and therefore did I speak; we also believe, and THEREFORE ALSO WE SPEAK.” – 2 Cor. 4:13. The faith of Christ’ members has been kept silent too long. – [email protected]Wayne McDanielJuly, 22 2011These are good thoughts, and as I find myself struggling in a congregation where it seems the 20% are getting burned out from being expected to do so much of the work, I am searching for this kind of information. I feel that while Jeff is correct that we should not let the opinions of others dictate how we live our lives, we most certainly have an obligation from our Lord to “spur one another on to love and good works” and to use our example to encourage others to greater faithfulness. Frankly, if those who “hold the Lord God dear to themselves in reverence and love” truly lived that way this subject would need no further study because it would be self-correcting. God’s design for the church is that it work together to accomplish God’s will and so when a dedicated body of believers are doing that it should be noted when members of that body are not contributing in some way. Aren’t we all part of the body (1 Cor. 12) meaning we have a function in it? I do need to remember that there are a great many things done by individuals that truly have nothing to do with corporate organization- and keeping that in mind helps relieve some of the anxiety that “no one is working!” because I know there are things being done even though I cannot see them. But even the greatest of God’s men got discouraged when they felt they were the only ones doing anything- can’t we work together in an open way so that such discouragement can be lessened?Adam RichardsonJuly, 22 2011Tired of slackers slacking? Want to get rid of the lazies?
Send them to us!
We’ve got plenty for them to do, even if it is just
warming a chair. We’d be delighted to have a few more
Planting a new church 9/11/2011 in
central New Jersey:
http://gatewaynj.comEarle West (Jr.)July, 22 2011Getting to know the clerk at the local grocer or coffee shop, paying the difference for someone in the grocery line who discovers they don’t have enough to check out, or praying with someone we know or someone we have just met who needs encouragement are all parts of the work of the church. Just because a person is not working in one of the designated missions of the local church does not mean they are not doing the Lord’s work in the world. We should be careful about assuming we know what is going on in the lives of the other 80%.David MayJuly, 22 2011Another book topic should be 20% do the work while the other 80% complain and criticize the 20. Look at Moses and the other Jewish leaders. Look at our country. As King Solomon said. �There is nothing new under the sun�. Just think of what we could accomplish if the numbers were reversed. By the way I�m in the top 20% and am as frustrated as all of you who serve out of love and not duty.Dennis GrimJuly, 22 2011People who just come and plant themselves in a pew once a week are missing out. I feel more a part of the church when I’m there doing something or if I go visit the homebound. These pew warmers do not know how discouraging they can be. Their talents are needed, but they don’t want to share them.Christy HunterJuly, 22 2011I get frustrated with “pew warmers” too. Especially when we have trouble finding teachers and nursery attendents and stuff like that. But we need to be careful in “judging” them. This was really impressed upon me when a couple who had always been “pew warmers” finally started coming to the Sunday Bible class I was in and I got a chance to know them better. I realized that they have demanding jobs and family members who require their attention. And even though they don’t participate in “church activities,” they do read their Bibles and pray, and are living their Christianity in their everyday lives – reaching out to fellow employees, using their money and other resources to help those in need. They just don’t have time to help with VBS or attend the potlucks!Janice Milford EnlowJuly, 22 2011True, we have a few pew-warmers, but our biggest problem is the demographics of our congregation. Over half of our small congregation is age 60+, most over age 75+, and they have done their share of teaching, encouraging, ministering to the needy and the grieving…So many of our members are not physically able to handle teaching small children, who have an abundance of energy, but the few who are young enough either don’t come to Sunday School or mid-week Bible study, or they are so new in the faith as to not know enough to teach, or are weary from tending their own children all week plus working outside the home.Lynn Wright GarrisonJuly, 22 2011I’m one of the 20%ers that wants to encourage the 80%. I was an 80%er until I was ENCOURAGED and ASKED to participate. Because of my shyness I would not go to a class or activity by myself and if I had never been asked I would still be just sitting in the pews and only on Sunday morning. Now, as a fairly new congregation of about 200 members, we are planning our first ladies day to be held in 2012. We have already formed 27 committees and my goal is to call every female member in our congregation that has not signed up on a committee and encourage them to be involved. The men of the congregation are also to be involved as we have a prayer group (growing day by day) praying for everyone involved and registered for the ladies day. My point is, sometimes all it takes a 20%er to ask the 80%er one time to get them involved!!! I thank God that Linda asked me that one time to go to Ladies Bible class.TwilaJuly, 22 2011Certainly demographics is an issue; part of the solution will involve leadership in the body. Many “spectators” simply don’t know where to plug in and are not properly encouraged and guided in doing so. Other spectators simply are not motivated – having come from a generation that has had everything done for them.Terry ClydeJuly, 23 2011You did the book a great disservice by your first sentence. I almost read no further. The name calling is part of the reason for the 80%. I know, because I was one of them. Finally, even though I had preached to others, I myself became a “castaway”. Fortunately, a faithful and loving brother kept telling me, “The church needs you”. Then, when I repented, he helped me to be the servant I always could have been. Brother Robert Hogg was not a preacher, elder, or any of the other things that we normally believe make a great worker. Just a concerned brother who was good at “inreach”. I will always feel that his concern kept my wife and I from being lost. I know, he greatly benefited the church in Menlo,Georgia, because his brotherly love extended to the whole congregation.Wes DawsonJuly, 23 2011Terry,
My book, subtitled “Church Leadership for Non-Leaders” attacks this issue head on. Under $10, thirteen chapters with a discussion guide in the back makes it an excellent choice for a class. Kindle edition is only $5. Check it out here: http://tinyurl.com/3rdy6ng.David MayJuly, 23 2011I am perplexed by the 80/20 statistics we as Christians have been bouncing around for years. By what empirical evidence was this derived? What set of metrics determined who was the 80 and who was the 20? How many churches were involved in the study? Was there a clear definition of what “work of the church” was at the time of statistical information gathering? Was the 20% self-identified or did some leadership automatically determine this on the basis of attendance (three times a week), or those involved in the sanctioned “programs” of the church? I have attended “churches” were the deacons only went on Sunday morning for worship. Does that make them “slackers” or not faithful? My burning question is who determines these statistics and by what standard are they judged. The only real evidence we have of “work of the church” was the gathering of funds for those in need as they presented themselves, feeding the hungry, lifting up the depressed and down-trodden and daily encouraging each other as we offer our bodies a living sacrifice.Janice HJuly, 23 2011For many years in many congregations the emphasis on Heb 10:25 was interpreted as faithfulness equals attendance. It seems to me that this emphasis naturally has resulted in “pew warming.” We need to emphasis both Heb 10:24 and 25. We must find ways to “spur one another on toward love and good deeds.”Roland SundlingJuly, 23 2011Have just read the comment by Janice H., and am encouraged by her willingness to challenge words that are NOT a part of scripture.
Near the end she points to the NT regarding collecting money. Looking at 1 Cor.16:1-3 carefully, it becomes clear that Paul had not given them instruction earlier about collecting money, even though he had been at Corinth 18 months, Acts 18:11.
The earlier post noted that praying together has been neglected, and the DIALOGUE of the early church has vanished. “The worship hour” &
Bible classes are a distinction unknown in the NT.
Eph. 4:15-16 tells us how to have 100% participation as Paul saw it.
The priesthood of all believers has been eclipsed by clergy.Wayne McDanielJuly, 23 2011As I have read all these comments, I am again saddened by what I see. I say, be careful. I will be 60 soon. When I was younger I thought I knew a lot of pew warmers. Now that makes me ashamed of myself. I have learned so much. I have had multiple health problems. Many times making it to ANYWHERE is so hard or impossible at times. Do I deserve to be called a pew warmer? Does the Lord think that? I would never do that again,I hope. Who has been given authority to be a judge? Who is that good? I am not. If we are blessed enough to have good health, I think we need to see people are struggling. The Lord says He knows the motive of our hearts. I once thought like this toward a man, actually several men in our congregation. (Couldn’t see why they couldn’t do hardly anything- that I thought they should be doing)Late in his life I learned he had been a sharp shooter in the War, and it had been on his mind all that time. It was very hard on him near the end of his life. Then I knew . . . I knew nothing and should not have judged him, and I felt badly. He had been struggling. Just the words “Pew warmer” Does that sound loving toward a brother or sister in Christ? I don’t think so. Please let us all have compassion for one another, let us love eachother, and not call others names , but rather beg them to be a helper in their life so we may lighten their load, to help them thru life. God bless you all. I am thankful for anyone who manages to get them selves to a pew to be w/ the other Christians in their place of worship. It is a big job to take care of ourselves.I was raised in the Church, and I love the people.But, let us not be hurtful to others trying to prove how good we are.June TJuly, 23 2011I am being encouraged and enlightened by this discussion, as I try to keep up with different thoughts being shared. I would venture to say that this is one way of interaction Paul might have in mind when he speaks of the body “when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.” Ephesians 4:16
I am torn however, by the comments warning us not to judge (which are valid) and the need to remember that we will know a tree by its fruits. Euodia and Syntyche had a reputation as women who were workers, but had fallen into disagreement such that they were no longer being examples to others (Phil. 4:2). How many times did Paul speak of the work of faithful Christians being seen by the entire community (see 1 Thess. 1:7, 2 Cor. 9:2, 1 Tim. 4:12, Tit. 2:7 etc.)? I remember hearing a Bible professor tell our class that we should “comfort the afflicted and afflict the comforted”- there are the lost and hurting who we have to reach out to and succor, but at the same time there are those who should be moving on from milk to meat but haven’t had the right ‘motivation’ to get to it. We have to be willing to be straight forward (speaking the truth in love, obviously) with those who aren’t “living a life worthy of their calling” (Eph. 4:1). I can’t escape the feeling that there must be a distinction between condemning a fellow brother or sister based solely on data we perceive (which we should admit is extremely limited), and living with an expectation that those in the body are “working properly” for the benefit of that body (back to Eph. 411f).
Let me clarify my main concern. We have come to live in such a ‘me’ oriented culture that everything is judged based on what it provides the individual rather than what the individual contributes or sacrifices. It’s the whole “ask not what your country can do for you…” philosophy. This is manifested in the church by those who simply come to a worship service expecting only to ‘get something’ out of it, rather than look at it as a sacrifice offered to their Creator.
While I certainly agree with many here that there are people who, for various reasons only God knows and accepts, cannot contribute in a more visible way to the work of the church, I still feel that by and large today the church contains people who simply don’t feel obligated to do anything to improve the local congregation of which they are apart because they have come to believe that it is the duty of the congregation to fulfill their needs and that is the only interaction they seek. This runs completely contrary to the picture of the church described in so many places that I feel like we have to be willing to say something when we see any percentage (whatever figure we may attach to it) of the congregation behaving in this way.
On a final note, I again agree that there are many in the congregation who cannot participate as fully as we might initially expect- I know several of them in the congregation with whom I worship week in and week out. My answer to the problem of ‘judging’ these people as weak before getting the facts (which is sinful on our parts) would be to do what many of you have been suggesting but not tying in with a solution- getting to know these people on an intimate basis and thus learning the things going on in their lives that prevent them from serving thus. If we see someone in the church who we ‘think’ should be doing more than we ‘think’ they are currently doing, our first impulse should not be to judge them critically and ‘think’ ourselves better. Instead we should go spend time getting to know them and encouraging each other through developing relationships- this approach would accomplish 2 things- first, we could learn if there were extenuating circumstances preventing them from more open service, as well as discovering what types of service they perform away from public sight. Second, it would give us a better position as friend and brother/sister to encourage them to participate more if it were in their ability to do so but they had never been approached before or did not know how to get involved, as several have commented here as being an issue they faced. I have gotten several new Bible class teachers simply through the friendships already developed with young men in the church, then asking them as a friend if they would help me teach a class- then they feel more adept at teaching on their own later.
I just worry that as humans with a built-in propensity to selfishness we all risk turning the church into a fast-food drive-through where we expect to have things ‘our way, right away’ all the while feeling good about our so-called “service” to the King.Adam RichardsonJuly, 24 2011Both of Adam Richardson’s comments have encouraged me, and June T.’s comments appear to be the most selfless of all. How self-righteous have been so many of my words. Our self-centeredness leads us down into self-righteousness, and results in railing at others.
Paul twice calls the Corinthians to self examination, 2 Cor. 13:5, 1 Cor. 11:28. Each week we should be able to see how we have fallen short of the glory of God(Rom. 3:23). If we do not cry out to God (Lk.18:7), aware of our remaining sin, how do we know Him?
Emphasizing baptism can easily produce church members that were never convicted by the Spirit(John 16:7), and led to repentance toward God (Acts 20:21).
Chapter 12 of the rev. edition of BODY LIFE, pub. in 1977 by Regal Books, relates some of the DIALOGUE that occured each Sun. night for many years at the Peninsula Bible Church in Palo Alto, CA. Pastor Ray Stedman wrote the book and first led those meetings. Later, other teachers led them too. Between 700 and 1000 gathered for years, and order was maintained. Those meetings demonstrated what Paul wrote in Eph. 4:15-16 — every joint and each several part supplying WORDS to build up the body in love. [email protected]Wayne McDanielJuly, 24 2011TWO thoughts which comes to my mind:
1. Do we have STAFFinfection (too often we tend to hire it done) creating a mindset, they have staff to do it. Our congregation highly encourage the members to go on short term mission trips. Which gives the pew packer an unusal opportunity to do, form closer relations with other pew packers and fall in Love with the meaning of Christianity again. Also all new members are encouraged by the leadership to attend a 101 CLASS which introduces the in house MINISTRIES conducted with volunteer help. IF WE BUILD A PLACE FOR THEM TO BE USED WILL THEY COME? introduces our XX number of mission points; WHICH WILL YOU BECOME A PART “OF”(yes, I known)
2. DOES the leadership know its members. Work done by its members with other POINTS OF LIGHT:counted? or known? or considered WORKS for our Lord? we toot the HORN of congregational WORKS; if the church is indeed its members are we allowing THE CHURCH to TOOT THE LORD’S HORN, regarding member’s LABOR OF LOVE?
QUESTIONS TO THINK ABOUTDICK ROBEYJuly, 26 2011**** Robey, Good questionsDavid MayJuly, 26 2011Spectators seem to be everywhere, especially in the church. They seem to be skeptics that are not quite sure they want to commit to serving God, but seem satisfied with just watching. At least they should be able to pray for others, until such a time that they could know how they are to serve The Body of Christ and the many lost people out in the world. I find that the spectators often have a shallow prayer life, and also often neglect time reading The Word Of God. We need to pray for them, and also encourage them, showering the with God’s Love and the true hope that comes only through Jesus Christ.Adam WoegerJuly, 27 2011I think that the main problem is, lack of leadership. I witnessed many “put to sleep” by their leaders from lack of leadership. If leaders don’t lead then they can’t blame the followers for following or not following. When there is Clear direction from leadership as to where you are going you will have more people willing to serve. I saw a leadership that each seemed to lead in different directions and the result was that former passionate people just went to sleep in the pews. And of course that group is amoung the number of churches that is shrinking.
Fear keeps some leaders from leading and that should disqualify them from being leaders. I just think it’s way to easy to blame the 80%.Lynn StringfellowJuly, 27 2011With a slight variation on Roland’s message, we’ve also focused on the second half of Matthew 28:19–getting people wet–to the exclusion of *making disciples* (19a) and *teaching them to obey* .
The Boston Movement coopted discipleship, and we’ve aggressively abandoned it. We should no more abandon discipleship because they got it wrong than we should abandon baptism because some people sprinkle infants instead of immersing adult believers.
Baptism is easy to do: it takes minutes. Discipleship takes a lifetime of increasing submission of one’s own will to God’s.Jonathan ClemensJuly, 29 2011The real question is are there too many not teaching but holding on to
leadership roles. Like all family each member has different gifts and can use them at different stages in thier life. Some can work on one project a year. But the problem becomes when that project becomes thier for life. When no one meets your requirements for taking over a position maybe you should realize the common factor is you… holding on to the job. But worst because someone does not do it your way, that does not mean they are not ready for the job.
I see many congregations in the Northeast with young men and women about 30 and over still sitting because the congregation they grew up in still see’s them as children. They have families and problems like all young familes but are either given jobs with no real authority to do the job or discourage about how they do the job because it is not the same way the older members would have done it.
It is time to wake up before we lose the next generation through our
constant complaining about how they do the jobs.AndreaJuly, 29 2011I would love to be more active in church, but the problem is that members complain too much if they don’t like the way someone leads singing, teaches class, or serves publicly even if they have a loving, scriptural manner. I have actually had to stop teaching classes because people have complained to elders or cause enough disruption because they said I was over their head. However, they were not people that studied. I went to a singing last Saturday night that was 100 miles from where I live, but I do not volunteer to lead singing where I attend because people complain, even though I compiled a 27-page paper about what makes a scriptural song leader and try to live by it. I am single and had a preacher at a church try to force me out as teenage class teacher and have a woman teach the class. He claimed Christians under the age of 21 were not on the same level as those over the age of 21.
Especially in smaller churches, control is an issue. People are viewed as competition. Jealous surfaces. I have seen numerous instances of preachers show arrogance and try to humiliate or embarass me because I stepped forward to volunteer.
It is tough to sit in church and want to volunteer, but know my efforts will not be appreciated even though I do my best to live the Christian life.Johnny MullensAugust, 1 2011Johnny Mullins…I appreciate your comments. I’d love to read the paper you wrote re: what makes a scriptural song leader. Can you email me at [email protected]? Thank you!Scott Bond Sr.August, 1 2011Johnny, we have been in some churches like you describe. My wife and I, too, have been uninvited from teaching and from public leadership. BUT, we have also been in a number of very loving, supportive churches, like the one we are in now. Two bits of advice: 1) keep looking for the right church, and 2) in the mean time determine that your role is to demonstrate to the church the true love of Jesus by loving them all anyway.David MayAugust, 1 2011I’m all in favor of increasing involvement but share concerns i see reflected in several comments. i.e. I’m concerned that we think we can manage everyone’s involvement. I’m sure the 80/20 analysis correctly reflects some issues church leaders should address. But maybe something like the ice-berg principle does too. I.e. you only see the above-the-surface bit. I worry that over-reliance on sociology or business kinds of management tools might not be adequate for the mystery that is Christ in His people, and Christ working in their lives and ministries. You don’t really know everything that’s going on….and you don’t need to. I think shepherds need to make opportunities for engagement, and yes, seek the lost and the straying, but be very careful not to micro-manage. There are too many control freaks in the 20% already! I fear this might embolden them to be fruit inspectors in a negative or harmful way. The Lord did call for secret service too; “Preparing Gods people for works of service” needs to recognize and respect all kinds of gifts, callings and a wide range of temperaments. When we’re counting “pew warmers”, we need to be humble about what we think we know about them. I hope nobody ever feels “I have no need of thee” of someone who seems insufficiently “active”.GuyAugust, 4 2011Amen, GuyDavid MayAugust, 4 2011