Sociological strangulation the 80% ruleI’ve been doing more consultations lately, and I’ve realized that something I thought everyone knew from the old church growth days just doesn’t seem to be known anymore. I call it the 80% rule. If your parking is 80% full, or if your worship seats are more than 80% full, or your children’s ministry is more than 80% full, you stop growing.

Think about it: If people can’t find a place to park, they’ll just go out to breakfast. I’ve seen it: people circling and looking for spot and then they just drive off. If your parking lot is more than 80% full, that service will not grow more. When I was a pastor, I used to park down the street and walk to the church. I then asked able-bodied leaders not to park in the lot – creating more room for newcomers.

I shared this perspective with a group of elders recently. One of them had a small group that was meeting on Sunday mornings at the church building. Afterwards he said, “I never realized that my coming and having my small group meet here was counterproductive and could keep someone from coming to know Jesus because my car is filling up a space. I need to repent and I will move my group.”

Likewise, if seating is 80% full, people won’t stay. Our cultural rules in North America dictate that you’re not supposed to sit directly next to someone that you don’t know well. It makes people very uncomfortable to violate this social norm. And if you have children in your service for the first part, kids count toward the 80% seating capacity. People want comfortable capacity, not crammed capacity. Try encourage the people in your more populated services to move to a more sparsely attended one as part of their service to the church. Frame it like this: “By you giving up your seat, you can make it possible for someone who doesn’t attend to come. The sacrifice you’re making is an investment in reaching newcomers.”

The third part of the 80% rule is that when your children’s ministry reaches 80%, that service will start growing. If there’s no room for the kids, the parents aren’t coming. Consider: for every car that parks, there’s X number of adults and Y number of kids. There needs to be space available for all three to grow in concert. You need all three: parking, seats, and kids. As you grow, think about the balance.

Perhaps some of you are facing these kinds of space issues. I’d be happy to help you. I’ve lived with those problems for years and I know how to squeeze every ounce of ministry that can come out of a building.