Infantry tactics, the church, and body bags
If you've been a member of a local church for more than a few days, then you've probably heard the maxim, "Twenty percent of the church's members do 90% of the church's work" (or something along these lines). And if you've been in church leadership for more than a few days, then you've been encouraged by teachers, mentors, and peers to take that 20% and equip them, encourage them, and use them as a springboard to increase the percentage of active members to 30%, 40%, or, if you're extremely fortunate, 50%. And you're further told that if you can get 30%, 40%, or, praise the Lord, 50% of your people doing consistent ministry, then you are "knocking it out of the park."
Like most pastors, I bought into this ministry philosophy for years. I took the 20% and did my level best--through the power of the Spirit, of course--to multiply them. Sometimes it happened; sometimes it didn't. Yet, regardless of whether my "final" percentage was 20%, 30%, 40%, or even 50%, I felt frustrated, burned out, and unfulfilled. In one small church I pastored, we probably had 60% of our people doing active ministry, but my dissatisfaction was the same. Why? For the longest time I couldn't figure it out. I should have been ecstatic, but I wasn't. Something just didn't "sit right" with me.
Then, just a few days ago, I was experiencing a rare moment of nostalgia for my days as an infantry officer in the Army. I have no idea why, but I was recalling some old rules of thumb we lived by as infantry tacticians, when I suddenly remembered the rule on combat ineffectiveness. In combat, matters such as manpower strength, casualty rates, and operational-readiness (OR) percentages (i.e., the percentage of equipment on hand and ready for use in combat operations) determine a unit's potential "effectiveness" on the battlefield. High strength, low casualty rates, and high OR percentages indicate a combat effective unit that is "battle ready," whereas low strength, high casualty rates, and low OR percentages mean a unit has become or is trending toward combat ineffectiveness. Through several centuries of wartime experience, American military leaders have learned that a unit (regardless of size) struggles to be combat effective after it loses 30% of its manpower. That is to say, at 70% strength, a military unit becomes combat ineffective, meaning it cannot do its wartime mission effectively because of personnel shortage. It cannot with precision, competence, and success "close with and destroy the enemy" (the stated mission of the infantry). Indeed, at 70% strength, a unit runs a real risk of being destroyed in combat by a non-attrited enemy.
Furthermore, when a unit drops to 50% strength, it becomes combat incapable, meaning there is absolutely no way the unit can complete its wartime mission. It will be annihilated in the face of a full-strength enemy. If you don't believe this to be the case, then simply take a little jaunt through history at some places like Little Big Horn, The Alamo, Landing Zone X-Ray, Dien Bien Phu, and Mogadishu.
Now, let's review our numbers for the church again. We're told that at 30%, 40%, and 50% strength, we are "knocking it out of the park," and this in the face of the strongest enemy known to mankind, namely, Satan and his principalities and powers of darkness. We're told to gleefully accept the 20% who are willing to work and then labor--for years in most cases--to grow that number to 30%, then 40%, and, if we work extraordinarily hard and God truly blesses us, maybe by the time we've honed our discipleship processes, leadership paradigms, and organizational structures, we can get that number to 50%. That is to say, if we work really, really, REALLY hard, we might...just might...get one in two people to step up to the plate and do what God has called them to do.
What a load of hogwash! I hope I'm not the only one who considers all of this a bit ludicrous. Only the church can get away with peddling such tripe to its people. If any business in America operated its human resources department like this, it would go bankrupt in a week. If any military unit operated like this, it would put bodies in boxes!
Admittedly, this formula might seem to work in the case of a large church. For instance, if your church has an attendance of 1,000 people on Sunday morning, then 30-40% of that number is 300-400 people, which, from a practical standpoint, may result in a considerable amount of fruit. But if you're church is only 50 attending members (which is in the ballpark of average local church attendance in America today), then that's only 15-20 people. Sure, 20 people can do a lot of good, but imagine what 50 people could do! And in the case of our hypothetical large church, imagine what 1,000 people could do!
Plus, there is a Pauline doctrinal concept we must consider in this discussion, namely, the doctrine of the Body of Christ. When the local church operates at or below its level of ineffectiveness (i.e., 70% strength), the result is a broken Body. Think about it...would you consider your physical body healthy if you were at 60% strength? What about 50% strength? What about 30% strength??!! Of course, you wouldn't. You'd consider yourself to be sick at any of these levels! Well, folks, this is the contemporary church! Even some of the best churches in the world today are sick...operating at "combat" ineffective levels. They are facing the world's most ardent enemy, and they are trying to do it on shoestring manpower. And then we wonder why our active members get burned out, why we aren't reaching our communities for Christ, and why we've become irrelevant to so many. Would you want to be part of an organization or group that is combat ineffective? No! People want to be part of vibrant, winning organizations. They want healthy bodies, not broken down, dilapidated ones. They want the full Body of Christ with all of its arms, toes, fingers, ears, ribs, and brain cells, not some mangled, zombie-esque creature hobbling from Sunday to Sunday hoping someone graces its doors who is content with "life" in the land of the walking dead.
So, what's the answer? I've no doubt painted a rather bleak picture! What next? Well, the answer is simple. If you call yourself a Christian today, then you need to get active in your church. You need to start doing ministry. You need to find out what your area of spiritual giftedness is,* then find the ministry in your church where that gift can best be utilized, and finally go use your gift in that ministry. It's truly not rocket science or any other form of science. It's common sense. We've got to increase the manpower in our ranks. It's time for the church to get combat effective again...or maybe for the first time!
*If you're interested in what your spiritual gift might be, then try this spiritual gifts inventory: https://gifts.churchgrowth.org/spiritual-gifts-survey/