Bob Bly, a writing coach, has made an observation that I think is right on.

He says that a writer’s readers fall in a 10%-80%-10% division. That is, as he describes, 10% of one’s readers will love anything you write. 80% judge your writing on its merits and its application to their lives. The final 10% neither like you nor anything you write.

I suspect that this observation is applicable to the ordained ministry. If so, it might go something like this: 10% of your congregation are in love with you and think you are just wonderful. Your sermons are all magnificent. They hang on everything you say, laughing at all your jokes and praising you to anyone who will listen.

80% of your congregation think you are all right, but they engage their minds when evaluating your work. They have a rather clear view of your strengths and weaknesses, and will as likely say no to your requests to serve on parish committees as yes.

The final 10% don’t care for you, and nothing you can do or say will change their minds. Maybe you weren’t their choice for the position, and they are still resentful that their favorite candidate didn’t make the cut. Maybe they took offense at an offhand comment that to you was a minor oversight. Maybe your personality rubs them the wrong way.

So here’s the question for us clergy: Why do we pay so much attention to the last 10%? Wouldn’t our efforts be better directed to pleasing the 80% whose perspective we should value?

Like you, I have stood at the door after church, hearing comments on my preaching. One critical comment stays with me all day, while the many favorable comments are soon forgotten.

I like Mr. Bly’s analysis of how the readership of his writing tend to be. I suspect that such is true for the work of us parish clergy as well.




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