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In 1927 twenty-nine physicists convened in Brussels. Einstein, Marie Curie, Heisenberg were among the crew. Seventeen of the people in this photo received the Nobel prize after this gathering. Seventeen! Seth Godin says this, “They didn’t get invited because they had won the Nobel prize. They won the Nobel prize because they got invited.” Collective Genius is powerful.

You’ve heard the adage; Want to go fast, go alone. Want to go far, go together.This idea is playing out en masse today. Lone wolf leaders are isolating and burning out faster than ever. Grounded team leaders are cultivating amazing networks that reproduce more grounded networks.

We live in the age of impact. Impact has become the idol we bow to. Everyone seems to be promising you more attenders, time, money, followers, freedom and fulfillment. More. More. More. Ironically, this age of impact is becoming an age of burnout. The amount of leaders burning out is alarming, and kingdom leaders seem to be on pace with everyone else.

While everyone seems to be telling you to do more and accomplish more I want to challenge you with this; do less. Less. Less. Less. Give your energy to a few people and a few  things. Focusing on our teams is more crucial than it has ever been.

Every church leader bemoans the fact they can only get 20% of their people doing 80% of the work. Perhaps you’ve heard of the Pareto Principle. It states 80% of your results come from 20% of your effort. This is a lot of what I do as I coach leaders to identify their creative genius and protect that time. We all need to find our 20% that will produce 80% of our impact. The more talk I heard of the 20/80 in churches I wondered if there was something bigger than our failed leadership development here. I think we can find the keys to this right in front of our faces.

Three examples from master strategists

In all the things we admire Jesus for we forget this; he was a master team builder. He left seeds of greatness in a few men that sparked a movement that changed the world and continues to change it every day. Jesus taught crowds, he sent 120, he equipped 72, he developed 12, he invested in 3 and he deeply befriended 1. We focus a lot on the disciples, but Peter, James, and John were his inner ring of leaders. He invested more into them than the rest. He took them on field trips, peeking behind the curtain (The transfiguration, healing Jairus’ daughter and the moments of weakness in the Garden of Gethsemane). This was Jesus’ leadership development plan: in order to multiply Jesus subtracted from 72 to 12 to 3 to 1. Jesus’ inner ring moved him from 12 to 3. That’s 25%.

The Apostle Paul had a similar web of relationships. He had supporters, friends, and co-laborers around Asia Minor. Acts and Epistles mention around 100 people. He refers to 36 of them as a brother, apostle, fellow worker and servant; they were closer than the rest. Of those Paul mentioned 9 he was closely associated with. He deeply invested life, mentorship, and spiritual-fatherhood into one, Timothy. Paul’s leadership development plan subtracted from 100, 36, 9 and 1. Paul’s inner ring moved him from 36 to 9. That’s 25%.

Ying Kai and his wife are perhaps the most fruitful disciple-makers in the world today and have been part of the Chinese church explosion. Millions of disciples can be traced back to their discipleship process. They are training people with the hope that everyone becomes an exponential multiplier, but about 1 in every 5 they equip becomes an exponential multiplier. That’s 20%.

As I studied these brilliant disciple-makers and leadership strategists I found the difference between their leadership team and the inner ring was between 20-25%!!! Perhaps our church leadership phenomenon makes perfect sense. Everyone despises this 20/80 church leadership ratio, but I say embrace it!

Malcolm Gladwell made the idea of The Tipping Point famous. It states If you want to change a culture you need 16% of the culture to change. The seeds of change are already in your 20%. You’re well over that mark.

When I coach and consult leaders too many leaders think they’ve lost a change process before they’ve started. They are looking for 100%, total saturation, instead of 16%, a tipping point, in their church.

What’s wrong with our leadership development?

Many leaders are trying to multiply through impacting the crowds instead of through an inner ring of multipliers.Your 20% is not a just a what, it’s a who. Your team is your 20% that is going to produce 80% of the impact. Are you investing in them? Want to multiply your impact? Do less and invest in a few. It’s counterintuitive. In an age of impact we are tempted to pull our eyes off the few to chase many. Don’t do it!

As I’ve coached church leaders toward multiplication I’ve heard all the excuses; I don’t have time. They want me in the pulpit every week. I can do it better on my own. I can do it faster on my own. I already take a few leaders to a conference once a year. These fears are real, but we simply can’t afford not to narrow our focus and invest in a few. Here are some ridiculously practical next steps. 

Eliminate to multiply. Most church leaders need to preach less and equip more. Many leaders have “no time” to give to their leaders because they are preaching, leading and teaching so much. If you want to develop your inner ring you’ll have to say no to some other things. How can you preach 1/3 less one year from today? 

Give your best energy to your inner ring. Determine a small pack of leaders who are hungry and invest more in them. Don’t gamble on them, invest in them. Investment is about delayed gratification, so it will take time. How can you redirect three hours a week of your best energy to your inner ring?

Invite others to experience ministry with you. Jesus immersed these men into his life and ministry… and sent them out while they were dangerous. He led the best field trips!  He taught through the apprentice model; formal, experiential and relational. He brought them along for the ride. How can you bring your inner ring along on ministry field trips? You’ve got an important choice that will determine the future of your leadership, and perhaps even your level of leadership fulfillment; Want to go fast, go alone. Want to go far, go together.