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The Other 80 Percent: Turning Your Church's Spectators into Active Participants

ISBN: 978-0-470-89129-2
256 pages
May 2011, Jossey-Bass
The Other 80 Percent: Turning Your Church


A research-based approach to developing more active and involved congregations

In this practical resource, well-known and respected researcher Scott Thumma and professional co-writer Warren Bird draw upon new and heretofore unpublished research across a broad range of Protestant churches of all sizes and show how to create more active members. Offers solid information of what church leaders need to know about the factors and practices that create church members who are more actively and passionately involved in their congregations.

  • Offers a first of its kind resource for developing engaged congregations
  • Lead author Scott Thumma is a noted researcher and writer on congregational studies
  • Warren Bird is coauthor of Culture Shift and Viral Churches

This book offers advice for moving church members from being spectators to living a life of discipleship and faith.

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Table of Contents

About the Jossey-Bass Leadership Network Series.


Introduction: Wandering Sheep.

Part One: Listening.

1: What Do You Hear from the Committed 20%?

2: What Do You Hear from the Less-Committed 80%?

3: How to Create a Listening Team.

Part Two: Learning.

4: Cultural Causes of the 80/20 Problem.

5: Comparative Patterns in Churches.

6: Misinformed Efforts to Build Participation.

7: How to Create a Learning Team.

Part Three: Leading.

8: Start with What You Do Well.

9: Create More Ways for People to Participate.

10: Reach Toward Spiritual Growth and Development.

Afterword: The Sheep Who Came Back into the Fold.


A. Resources.

B. Methods and Description of the Datasets.

C. Sample Survey Questions.

Annotated Bibliography.


The Authors.


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Author Information

Scott Thumma, Ph.D., is professor of sociology of religion at Hartford Seminary and researcher at Hartford Institute for Religion Research. Scott is recognized as a leading researcher and writer on congregational studies. He is also editor of the Lilly Endowment funded website Insights into Religion.

Warren Bird, Ph.D., is director of research and intellectual capital development for Leadership Network. An ordained minister, he serves as an adjunct faculty member at Alliance Theological Seminary. Warren has coauthored 22 books including Culture Shift and Viral Churches, both from Jossey-Bass.

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Press Release

May 19, 2011
The Other 80 Percent: Turning Your Church's Spectators into Active Participants

The Other 80 Percent: Turning Your Church's Spectators into Active Participants

San Francisco, CA - The new book, "The Other 80 Percent: Turning Your Church's Spectators into Active Participants," by Scott Thumma and Warren Bird addresses the question of why there are so few active attenders and so many nominal Christians in the country. In essence, churches are just trading and recycling their disconnected members. Church leaders don't adequately reach out to disillusioned members or find ways that work to reconnect them in meaningful spiritual service. This steady flow out the backdoor, through dissatisfaction or death, is keeping most congregations stagnant or in decline.

This book uses a mix of original analysis of national research on attenders, field studies, interviews and reflection on the cultural shifts related to volunteering to deal directly with the 20/80 problem (20% of the people do 80% of the work while most of the rest do nothing). It suggests various strategies by which a church's leadership can address member mobilization and discipleship.

The premise of the book is that very few church leaders engage a large percentage of their membership in a life of faith that includes regular involvement in the congregation. This book confronts the too-often taken for granted reality that it is acceptable for a church to function with only half its members in attendance and a quarter significantly involving giving, serving, fellowshipping, attending, or inviting others.

To change this pattern leadership needs to listen to what their people say about why they are and aren't engaged. They must learn about larger contributing factors, including cultural and structural reasons, staff perceptions and church programs that keep members from being more involved.

The authors offer possible ways to lead a congregation past the 20/80 malaise. They suggest that leadership teams need to evaluate what they are currently doing as a church to facilitate involvement. They implore clergy, in desperate times like these for the future of the church, to think creatively and outside the usual approaches to reach the less-involved. There is no single solution, no one-size-fits-all answer, to this problem. However, the book does offer possible approaches to addressing this issue from which church leadership can pick and choose the most fitting approach for their context.

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