In 1906, the Italian economist Vilfredo Pareto (1848-1923) introduced the so-called 80/20 principle. He noted that eighty percent of all possessions in Italy were owned by twenty percent of the population. Comments from various quarters affirmed that the 80-20 ratio can be applied to many aspects of life. Even today, Pareto’s formula is very popular. For example, entrepreneurs appear to spend about eighty percent of their time on the problems of twenty percent of their customers. Most people (myself definitely included) are among the eighty percent who only utilize twenty percent of the software they have on our computers. In the chemical industry, I read somewhere, twenty percent of the processes cause eighty percent of the harmful emissions. Of course, the 80/20 principle does not apply in all cases, but surely most of my fellow pastors would agree with the observation that eighty percent of the problems in their congregation(s) are caused by no more than twenty percent of the members.
I have known the Pareto’s 80/20 principle for a long time, but recently I ran into another interesting combination of numbers, namely 90/9/1 formula. One of the students I supervise in their MA leadership studies wrote about it in one of his papers. Danish IT specialist Jakob Nielsen is an expert on the usability of software and websites. In 2006 he published a book on the use of social media, and in it he launched the 90/9/1 principle. Based on extensive research, he discovered that on interactive websites only about one percent of readers post with great regularity and nine percent do so occasionally. Ninety percent of readers he defines as “lurkers.” They visit a site, read and consider what they find on it, but never respond by posting a comment or by contributing in some way to a discussion. He indicated afterwards that the ratio for blogs is even more unfavorable and is about 95/4.5/0.5 That is pretty much in line with what I observe with regard to my own weekly blog. My blogs are read by several thousand people, and the Nielsen formula seems to be a fairly accurate reflection of the number of people who occasionally, or reasonably often, respond.
At first glance, this seems rather disappointing: so many “lurkers” and so few people actively participating. But before I feel too disappointed by this, I have to realize that even in my own (fairly active) use of social media, I am mostly a “lurker.” However, this does not alter the fact that through my use of the social media I gather a lot of information and gain a lot of knowledge. And so, I may assume that a lot of “lurkers” who read my blogs and FaceBook posts are definitely interested in what I write, and are intentional in visiting my blog. The paper of the MA student I referred to above was about innovation in church work, and focused specifically on the use of social media by the church during the Corona pandemic. Many church services were streamed, or offered through other virtual channels. Often the number of direct responses was only relatively small. But here the Nielsen formula certainly applies as well, and we can assume that many “lurkers” benefited spiritually from these virtual services. That should certainly be reason enough to continue with providing virtual services in addition to the physical ones, which are now again available. After all, there is reason to hope that some “lurkers,” who were largely estranged from the Church before the Corona crisis, may decide to renew their physical ties with the church in the future.