Leverage the 80/20 Rule in the Boardroom

Invest 80% of your board work on future ministry opportunities—not rehashing the past.


by Dan Busby and John Pearson


Effective executives, in my observation, do not start with their tasks.
They start with their time. And they do not start out with planning.
They start by finding out where their time actually goes.[1]

Peter F. Drucker


POP QUIZ! Which board meeting agenda will inspire and engage board members to bring their best into your boardroom?

Dead Sea Church
Monthly Board Meeting Agenda

Mega Impact Church
Quarterly Board Meeting Agenda

  • Call to Order
  • Prayer
  • Minutes
  • Committee Reports
  • More Committee Reports
  • Old Business
  • Really Old Business
  • New Business (if there’s time!)
  • Prayer
  • Adjournment
  • Welcome & Refreshments!
  • Prayer in Small Groups
  • 10 Minutes for Governance[2]
  • Heavy Lifting Topic: “Drucker Question #3: What Does Our Customer Value?”
    (60 min.)[3]
  • Recommendations from Committees
  • Consent Agenda (including minutes)
  • 80/20 Rule Recommendations:
    (80% focused on our future!)
  • Next Steps and Accountability
  • Five-Finger Feedback[4]
  • Doxology



A board governance colleague, Gordon Flinn, introduced us to the brilliant concept of the “80/20 Rule in the Boardroom.” Here’s the big idea:

If your [senior pastor] and board chair do not proactively create a forward-looking board meeting agenda, you’ll squander the board’s time. And worse—you’ll squander those ministry opportunities that have eternal consequences. Focus on the future. Inspire your board members to be discerning where God wants you to minister—because as Henry Blackaby notes, “God reveals His will and invites you to join Him where He is already at work.”[5]

We know. We know. It’s so tempting for some board members to obsess ad nauseam over last quarter’s numbers. Others will micromanage down in the weeds and interject irrelevant topics unrelated to Kingdom advancement. Still others will inappropriately wear their volunteer hats in the boardroom—and voice opinions to the senior pastor that should be directed to volunteer coordinators. But for the sake of the ministry, you must inspire board members to resist these temptations. (Encourage them to read “Big Rocks, Pebbles, and Sand.”)

We’ve seen dozens and dozens of boards major on the minors, and minor on the majors. But good news—there is a solution. If your board recently squandered an hour rehashing mistakes of the past—rather than creating best practice policies to give you guardrails for the future—talk about this ministry-changing “80/20 Rule.” (You may be familiar with Vilfredo Pareto’s 80/20 rule, but this is a new application of that rule).[6]

The best boards, we believe, have a very strategic 80/20 rule:

  • Great boards invest 80% of board work on the future.
  • And great boards allocate only 20% of board work on the past.

That sounds easy—but just review the minutes of your last four board meetings. It’s quite possible your board has reversed the ratio:

  • Investing just 20% of board time on the future.
  • Allocating 80% of board time on rehashing the past.

You must avoid Rearview Mirror Syndrome! For a tool to help you focus on the future, consider using a strategy map process—a graphic representation of the “resources, processes, and product/service offerings necessary to achieve your goals.”[7]

According to George Babbes and Michael Zigarelli, one benefit of the strategy map is that this process will move “your church past the traditional focus on lagging indicators, such as [attendance] and [donor giving] (indicators that essentially tell you about your past performance), and on to leading indicators, such as innovative programs in the pipeline, member satisfaction, and available staff and volunteer talent (indicators that tell you where you’re headed in the future).

Stated differently, an exclusive focus on outcomes such as membership or financial health is like looking in a rearview mirror: they only tell you where you’ve been. In contrast, a focus on things such as the number of new discipleship initiatives ready for introduction or the spiritual maturity of your members foreshadow what’s likely to occur spiritually and financially for months or even years to come. In this way, a strategy map is an indispensable tool for any ministry to ‘excel still more’ (1 Thessalonians 4:1 NASB).[8]

And yes, we have anticipated your next question. “But…I’m not sure our board would know what to do if we allocated 80 percent of our board meeting time on the future!”  

There are many ways to inspire your board to be future-focused. Here are six ideas:

  • Great boards allocate a two-hour or three-hour block, quarterly, for “heavy lifting” or “big rocks.” This might include pre-reading assignments and a task force’s major analysis of a critical topic, such as “Turning the Flywheel” and this question: “What are the four to six components that our unique to our church’s flywheel?” (Read the 40-page booklet by Jim Collins.)[9]
  • Great boards have a robust strategic planning process. Some use a Rolling 3-Year Strategic Plan approach with a one-page document summarizing three to five initiatives—with annual benchmarks over three years.[10] The one-pager is updated annually like clockwork—similar to the budgeting process.
  • Great boards engage the board and senior team members in trend-spotting year-round but especially at the board’s annual planning retreat. Some boards use a trend-spotting exercise that invites every board member to research and report on relevant trends.[11]
  • Great boards “own the strategy” to ensure new programs, products, and services are in alignment with a staff-prepared and board-approved two-page summary of the ministry’s strategy (a critical component of the strategic planning process).[12]
  • Great boards appoint a “Readers Are Leaders”[13] champion—a book zealot who inspires the board to read and discuss at least one future-focused book each year.[14]
  • Great boards invest time on their knees to discern direction. They are mindful of Ruth Haley Barton’s wisdom, “Just because something is strategic does not necessarily mean it is God’s will for us right now.”[15] Prolonged periods of prayer should translate into more time to discern God’s plans for the future—instead of more time devoted to confession for the church’s sins of the past!

Gordon Flinn, our trend-spotter on the “80/20 Rule,” noted that Peter Drucker, the father of modern management, said that systematic innovation (always looking ahead) includes leveraging seven sources for innovative opportunity. Drucker said to watch for three changes outside of your church, including 1) demographics, 2) changes in perception, mood, and meaning, and 3) new knowledge.[16] That’s a meaty future-focused topic for your next “heavy lifting” session!

The Apostle Paul wrote, “Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is” (Ephesians 5:15-17, NIV).

This is challenging work for any board—and to land on God-honoring priorities and direction takes time. But if you squander 80 percent of your board time analyzing the past, the remaining 20 percent will be sorely inadequate for fully discussing and discerning God’s plan for your church in this needy world.




Redeem the time in every board meeting.
Establish priorities and policies that will give guidance
to the allocation of resources and the fulfillment
of God’s mission for your church.
Invest 80% of your board work looking forward, not back.

  Board Action Steps:

  1. Search: Review recent board minutes to assess if your board is investing
    80 percent of your valuable time on looking forward.

  2. Stop: If an inappropriate amount of time is spent looking back—stop!
    Refresh your agenda so you focus on “heavy lifting” and board-level policies and priorities.



Lord, as Psalm 90:12 reminds us, “Teach us to number our days,
that we may gain a heart of wisdom.” Amen.



[1] Peter F. Drucker with Joseph A. Maciariello, The Daily Drucker: 366 Days of Insight and Motivation for Getting the Right Things Done (New York: Harper Business, 2004), 269.

[2] Dan Busby and John Pearson, Lessons From the Nonprofit Boardroom: 40 Insights for Better Board Meetings, Second Edition (Winchester, VA: ECFAPress, 2018), 202. (See Lesson 39: “Invest ‘10 Minutes for Governance’ in Every Board Meeting.”)

[3] Peter F. Drucker, Frances Hesselbein, Joan Snyder Kuhl, Peter Drucker’s Five Most Important Questions: Enduring Wisdom for Today’s Leaders (Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 2015), 35-45.

[4] See Tool #1, “Five-Finger Feedback,” featured in ECFA Tools and Templates for Effective Board Governance: Time-Saving Solutions for Your Board by Dan Busby and John Pearson (Winchester, VA: ECFAPress, ?2019).

[5] Henry T. Blackaby and Claude V. King, Experiencing God: Knowing and Doing the Will of God (Nashville: LifeWay Press, 1990), 8.

[6] Richard Koch, The 80/20 Principle: The Secret to Achieving More with Less (New York: Doubleday, 2008)

[7] George S. Babbes and Michael Zigarelli, The Minister’s MBA: Essential Business Tools for Maximum Ministry Success (Nashville: B&H Publishing Group, 2006), 119. (See pages 119-131, “The Strategy Map: Creating a Blueprint for Success.”)

[8] Ibid., 127.

[9] Jim Collins, Turning the Flywheel: Why Some Companies Build Momentum…and Others Don’t (New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 2019).

[10] See Tool #16, “The Rolling 3-Year Strategic Plan,” featured in ECFA Tools and Templates for Effective Board Governance: Time-Saving Solutions for Your Board by Dan Busby and John Pearson (Winchester, VA: ECFAPress, 2019).

[11] Ibid. (See Tool #12, “Board Retreat Trend-Spotting Exercise.”)

[12] Ram Charan, Owning Up: The 14 Questions Every Board Member Needs to Ask (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2009), 57-71. (See Question 5 on owning the strategy.)

[13] Dan Busby and John Pearson, Lessons From the Nonprofit Boardroom: 40 Insights for Better Board Meetings, Second Edition ((Winchester, VA: ECFAPress, 2018), 198. (See Lesson 38: “Great Boards Delegate Their Reading.)

[14] Visit “The Strategy Bucket” webpage (http://managementbuckets.com/strategy-bucket) for a short list of future-focused books recommended by John Pearson, including The Attacker's Advantage: Turning Uncertainty into Breakthrough Opportunities, by Ram Charan.

[15] Ruth Haley Barton, Pursuing God’s Will Together: A Discernment Practice for Leadership Groups (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2012), 99.

[16] Gordon Flinn, “Week 42: Halftime Is An Entrepreneurial Enterprise,” Drucker Mondays (blog), Oct. 20, 2015, https://urgentink.typepad.com/drucker_mondays/2015/10/week-42-halftime-is-an-entrepreneurial-enterprise.html. Note: Flinn’s blog was one of 52 color commentaries by 52 ministry leaders on the book, A Year With Peter Drucker: 52 Weeks of Coaching for Leadership Effectiveness, by Joseph A. Maciariello (New York: HarperBusiness, 2014), 330.


From Lessons From the Church Boardroom: 40 Insights for Exceptional Governance, ECFAPress, 2018, www.ECFA.Church/KnowledgeCenter.

This text is provided with the understanding that ECFA is not rendering legal, accounting, or other professional advice or service. Professional advice on specific issues should be sought from an accountant, lawyer, or other professional.