Church Participation and the Priesthood of all Believers

Ok, so we’ve all heard the statistic that in any group/church 20% of the people do 80% of the work… So, here’s what I’ve been thinking about… WHY??? Why is it that only 20% of the people do 80% of the work? I think most churches I’ve been a part of people have thrown around that statistic as an unarguable truth or maybe they have sometimes challenged people by saying it shouldn’t be that way and asking people to participate more but I don’t think that I’ve ever really heard people wrestle with why people don’t participate. What makes people participate in a group? What keeps them from participating? These are the questions that have been bouncing around in my head for a while now and lately even more so…

So, I started thinking about my own life… my own involvement or lack of involvement. What has kept me from participating at various times? When I have participated why did I? What made it easier for me to participate? What made it harder? Here are some things I’ve realized…

When people ask me to participate but I don’t feel like they need me to participate I won’t. I’ve been in churches and groups where I’ve had the leader ask me to participate – to “bring my gifts/talents to the group” to be involved and share myself with the group. Generally when this happens I don’t... in fact it has sometimes been sort of a turn off for me making me want to participate even less. Why? Well, because in most of those situations it felt like I wasn’t needed. Sometimes I've even felt like they are just saying that because they feel like it's what they should say not because they really feel like I personally have something to bring to the table as a unique individual. Or maybe they truly did want me to participate/be involved but they already had a structure of leaders set up they didn’t need my gifts they had interns and paid pastors and staff members to lead and come up with ideas and bring their gifts and talents which often didn’t seem that different from mine so why did they need me? They didn’t. Or at least I didn’t feel like they did. So, here’s the question… how do we make people feel not only wanted but NEEDED. I do believe that each person has unique ideas and talents that they can bring to the body of Christ. I do believe that each person is unique themselves and when they come as they are to the body and share who they are with the body beautiful things can happen. But, when people feel like they don’t need to share who they are, that they don’t need to share their ideas or dreams or thoughts, when they feel like there are others who are paid to come up with ideas and participate so why should they then they won’t. So, how do we communicate to people that they are needed? That they do have a unique part to play in the body of Christ?

The second thing I’ve realized sort of piggy backs on the first… I find it difficult to participate when there are set structures in place already – when there are already programs and activities and people already set up to lead them and participate in them then it seems like there is nothing for me to contribute and no need for me to contribute. Maybe this is why I’ve always been drawn to church start ups more so then established churches. I guess I just think that we talk about wanting people to participate, we talk about the priesthood of all believers but when it really comes down to it we don’t act like we believe it. We still have set paid staff and interns and pastors and it’s their job to come up with ideas and programs and to lead and it’s everyone else’s job to just show up and be there. Well, maybe that’s all good and fine in some situations and groups but it doesn’t really seem to lend itself to genuine organic community and it doesn’t seem to encourage active participation – it instead encourages passive participation from most of its congregation. So we lament and complain about the fact that 20% of the people do 80% of the work but isn’t that exactly the system that we have set up? So, here’s the question how could we change the structure of our churches and the systems of our churches to make it so that people feel free to create and lead and bring themselves and their dreams to the church community even if they aren’t on staff, even if they aren’t paid participants – how could we free people up to actively participate in the church instead of passively participating?

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this stuff… J

Rejoicing in the journey - Beth Stedman