The follow is a list of 22 eponymous laws, principles, theories, effects – succinct social observations. “Eponymous” simply means that it was named after a person, and the fact that it is on this list simply means I found it noteworthy. Some are serious. Some are humorous. But all are 100 percent real and can help each of us in some way, shape or form. Please enjoy!
- Dollo’s law is about the inability of an organism to return to a previous stage of development. It basically says evolution is not reversible. So trying to remake a congregation into the 1950s-version of itself simply will not work. So next time someone asks you, “Why can’t we just do things the way we used to do them?” – you need to introduce them to the French-born Belgian paleontologist, Louis Dollo.
- Murphy’s law says that anything that can go wrong will go wrong. I think Murphy spent some time doing youth ministry.
- Postel’s law just comes out and says it: “Be conservative in what you do, be liberal in what you accept from others.” Postel is the hero of every endowment chair ever.
- Reilly’s law has to do with retail gravitation and explains why people generally patronize the largest mall in the area. This is also the real reason the megachurch has more visitors than you do every Sunday.
- Pareto principle states that 80 percent of results stem from 20 percent of the causes, which essentially means that one-fifth of what you do will make up four-fifths of your total effectiveness. This has really made me stop and think about what the most-productive and least-productive aspects of my ministry are and has shifted many of my routines and priorities. I would encourage you to spend some time with this concept.
- Parkinson’s law shows that our work expands to fill the time available for its completion. This is why it takes associate pastors a month and solo pastors a week to write a sermon, but any and all of us could throw a memorial meditation together overnight. Combining Parkinson’s law with the before-mentioned Pareto principle is the whole idea behind Tim Ferriss’ “4-hour workweek.” Both have made me more efficient and more effective. Really, you should spend some time with these two!
- Dunning–Kruger effect is a cognitive bias in which unskilled individuals suffer from illusory superiority, mistakenly rating their ability much higher than average. This is how I know that all of my sermons are AWESOME!
- Wiio’s law tells us “communication usually fails, except by accident” – which is the real reason that some of my sermons are decent. Lord, in your mercy!
- Lewis’ law proposes that the comments on any article about feminism justify feminism. Whether the comments are good or bad, the comments tend to further the point that feminism is needed. So as a father of two daughters, I simply wanted to make sure that I did indeed get this one in there – and I’ll leave it at that.
- Cunningham’s law shows us the best way to get the right answer on the internet is not to ask a question, but rather to post the wrong answer. Sometimes as pastors we need to name the vision, problem or current status as we see it – then let others correct us as needed. Sending out repetitive surveys or doing another missions study will only get you so far.
- Goodhart’s law tells us that when a measure becomes a target, it ceases to be a good measure. Are churches really only after numerical growth in terms of membership or budgets? Or are those merely some of the potential indicators of a spiritually growing congregation? When numbers become our goal, we have already lost the point.
- Littlewood’s law tells us that individuals can expect miracles to happen to them at the rate of about one per month. I have nothing else I add here. This is just good to know.
- Humphrey’s law warms that conscious attention to a task normally performed automatically can impair its performance. This is why session meetings with little to nothing on the agenda can be dangerous – because we start picking and scratching at things that normally go through automatically.
- Neuhaus’s law is a fascinating to me as a religious leader; it states that where orthodoxy is optional, orthodoxy will sooner or later be proscribed. I think this says something about our apparent need to be right and our innate desire to make everyone else agree that we are right.
- Occam’s razor explains that explanations should never multiply causes without necessity. When two or more explanations are offered for a phenomenon, the simplest full explanation is preferable. That guy on the third pew did not fall asleep during the sermon because you failed to use enough relatable illustrations that appealed to his masculinity in a post-modern kind of a way; he fell asleep because he was up late last night watching ESPN’s College GameDay.
- Miller’s law tells us the psychology behind why the average person can only hold about seven separate ideas in their working memory at any given time. This is why I can never remember everything people tell me in the narthex after church and why only 14 percent of Americans can name the 10 Commandments.
- Poe’s law is all about fundamentalism, and specifically religious fundamentalism. Poe writes: “Without a winking smiley or other blatant display of humour, it is impossible to create a parody of fundamentalism that someone won’t mistake for the real thing.” This explains why someone will misinterpret something on this list and send me an irrationally angry email [*wink* *wink* J].
- Rothbard’s law tells us that everyone specializes in and focuses on his or her own area of weakness. Kind of makes you re-think why you really picked your most recent sermon series or teaching topics, doesn’t it?!
- Shirky principle says “Institutions will try to preserve the problem to which they are the solution.” Was Shirky a Presbyterian?
- Stein’s law lets us know that if something cannot go on forever, it will stop. If a trend cannot go on forever, there is no need for action or a program to make it stop, much less to make it stop immediately – it will stop of its own accord. Stan Ott tells us that sometimes we need to “bless a program or two in our own context” and let it fade away. Canceling some church programs would create an uproar, even if everyone already knew they needed to be cancelled. So rather, Stein and Ott encourage us to let them fade away naturally.
- Thomas theorem is all about perceptions becoming reality. If we define a situation as real, it then becomes real in its consequences. So it really does not matter if you actually like the carpet color in the new sanctuary, it only matters if people think you like it.
- Segal’s law states: “A man with a watch knows what time it is. A man with two watches is never sure.” If you take into account how many watches are in your congregation at any given moment, you know now why weekly worship will always start early-and-late as well as go too-short-and-too-long.
Thanks for reading. I’m still working on my own eponymous “the Coulter concept” and will keep you posted. Any others that you’ve come up with?
BRIAN CHRISTOPHER COULTER is a husband, father, pastor, author, blogger and pingpong champion who is pretty good at sidewalk chalk and currently resides in Aiken, South Carolina.