Beliefs Jana Riess: Flunking Sainthood Opinion

The Lazy Mormon’s Pareto Principle

The 80/20 RuleTomorrow it’s our ward’s turn to clean the church building, and I won’t be there.

I had intended to go. It’s on my calendar to go. But last night, as my husband and I were figuring out plans for the weekend, I realized that he has a music rehearsal in the morning, so I’m the driver on tap for carpooling to skating practice.

I won’t be cleaning the church tomorrow, but I can probably tell you exactly who will be — which ward members have thoughtfully prearranged their schedules so they’re not caught unaware like I was.

I can tell you this because it’s usually the exact same people, faithful stalwarts all. They are among the best people I know. They’re the first to arrive at any ward potluck to set up the chairs, and the last to leave after they put those chairs away.

They’re the ones who drive the youth on temple trips to Louisville, who complete their home and visiting teaching with gold stars, and who always hold Family Home Evening.

[tweetable]This is Mormonism’s Pareto Principle: 20 percent of the people do 80 percent of the work.[/tweetable]


Originally, the Pareto Principle was about economics. If you’ve ever heard the statistic that 80 percent of the world’s wealth is held by 20 percent of the world’s population, well, the germ of that idea originated with Pareto.

Over the years people have applied it in all sorts of ways – 80 percent of your business and profits come from 20 percent of your customers; 80 percent of the customer complaints about Microsoft Word come from 20 percent of the bugs (so why don’t they fix them already?).

But I am claiming a Mormon corollary for Pareto’s Principle because of my observation that in every ward I’ve ever been in, a predictable fraction of the members does the bulk of the heavy lifting.

The Pareto Mormons helped us clean out my mother’s house after her death and brought my part-member family dinner every night when my husband was in the hospital.

And on the rare occasions when they’re not in sacrament meeting, you know it right away, because they sit in the same pew week after week, as stalwarts do.

[tweetable]Today I’d like to raise my non-alcoholic drink to Mormonism’s Pareto People, who are the salt of the earth.[/tweetable]


Without their love and commitment the rest of us would be:

  • Worshiping in Cheerio-encrusted chapels
  • Bereft of casseroles and greeting cards when we are sick
  • Eating hastily purchased KFC and store-bought cupcakes at ward potlucks, since no one took the time to cook
  • Hauling our own freakin’ furniture every time we move to a new house
  • Listening to a teacher just read the boring manual out loud, since no one prepared an actual lesson
  • Walking to the temple a hundred miles away

So here’s my message to the stalwart 20 percent: I’m 100 percent grateful for you.

About the author

Jana Riess

Senior columnist Jana Riess is the author of many books, including "The Prayer Wheel" (Random House/Convergent, 2018) and "The Next Mormons: How Millennials Are Changing the LDS Church" (Oxford University Press, 2019). She has a PhD in American religious history from Columbia University.


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  • From what I’ve seen Mormons generally seem to have good work ethics, and are generally good team workers.

  • Very interesting observations, Jana. But I must tell you, it’s that way in most churches. Only in churches other than the industrious LDS, it’s more like 10 percent. At least you didn’t attend because your dance card was too full — so to speak. A lot of times when people don’t show up for communal chores like that, they’re just sitting at home in front of the TV.

  • Yep, I know it will sound arrogant and prideful, but it’s always the same us. It’s been that way for 30 years of my adult life. And we always hold out faith that there might always be “more of us.” Lately, I have to carry through many conversations with my adolescent daughters about why there seems to be so many “lame” members, and that our family is always spinning and pack-horsing in leadership roles. The answer is easy: “when you are in the service of your fellow beings, ye are only in the service of your God.” Mosiah 2:17

  • I would amend that, at sometime in your life, years at a time, you will find yourself in the 20% doing the heavy lifting. It really isn’t the same people. It rotates around to most all of us. It just hasn’t been your time yet.

  • HI Jana – Sometimes we may assume too much about others, and to our loss. To wit: my family and I always, always clean the chapel when it’s our turn.

    On the other hand, we’re terrible about Family Home Evening. On weekends, we never seem to pray as a family…too many other distractions. We only sometimes read the scriptures together, and my wife and I can’t seem to bring ourselves to pray as a couple. Too embarrassing, even after 20 years of being married. It’s been 6 months since we’ve gone to the temple – even though it’s only 1/2 hour away.

    But, we always clean the chapel when asked to.

  • Well, I was definitely in that 20% when I was in the RS Presidency (three different times). You’re right that there is a cyclical aspect to this . . .

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  • Jana, in other ways, YOU are in the 20 percent, such as making a point of expressing the gratitude many of us feel for those who are more willing, or more able, to carry a larger than average share of the labor needed to maintain a congregation. As my wife and I get older and more subject to physical limitations, we are glad to be able to make the limited contributions we do, and that there are healthier members who can help with the rest.

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