Christians Lie with Data

February 2, 2007 by

“You can make up statistics for anything. 14% of all people know that.”

Those are some of my favorite words from the philosopher Homer J. Simpson, and they’re painfully true. Christianity Today posted the story “Evangelicals Behaving Badly with Statistics” that explores the shock-enducing stat that only 4% of today’s youth will be evangelicals as adults. Compared to 34% of evangelical adults today this number would mean the American church virtually collapsing in a generation.

But it’s just bad analysis. The number comes from an informal study of 211 people taken over 10 years ago. There’s not enough statistical accuracy for that number to be anything more than a footnote.

The church needs to be honest when it throws around numbers. This especially difficult for us marketers who love to see good numbers. But the numbers aren’t always important. And lying or manipulating or just misrepresenting the numbers doesn’t get you anywhere. Even when the cause seems justified (“Won’t someone please think of the children!”). That’s the kind of thing that justifiably earns us the ‘hypocrite’ label.

It’s something we’ve seen before and sadly we’ll probably see it again.

Post By:

Kevin D. Hendricks

When Kevin isn't busy as the editor of Church Marketing Sucks, he runs his own writing and editing company, Monkey Outta Nowhere. Kevin has been blogging since 1998, runs the hyperlocal site West St. Paul Reader, and has published several books, including 137 Books in One Year: How to Fall in Love With Reading, The Stephanies and all of our church communication books.
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4 Responses to “Christians Lie with Data”

  • The Aesthetic Elevator
    February 2, 2007

    I’ve heard a quote attributed to Mark Twain which addresses the flimsy nature of statistics:
    “There are lies, there are d*** lies, and then there are statistics.”
    I learned in high school how easy it is to manipulate statistics and, while they are useful in some respects, approach such numbers very skeptically since.

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  • Jim McGee
    February 2, 2007

    Thanks to CMS and CT for addressing this. I’ve heard my church’s youth pastor cite that statistic multiple times, and my wife and I have mused about what the source of it might be, but we never took the time to ask about it or look it up. In the end, that makes us culpable as well for failing to hold one another accountable for how we use statistics.
    I think churches should deal with this issue in the same way as most now do with the music copyright issue. We should be responsible — ethically, if not legally — to list the source of statistics that we cite in church, even if it’s just a fine-print footnote on our PowerPoint slides. Most of the audience won’t care where the info comes from, but most will appreciate the effort to document sources responsibly.

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  • Dan
    February 2, 2007

    I find that Christians in general are pretty lazy about checking out facts. Hence all the urban legends that continue to circulate in Christian e-mail regarding Proctor and Gamble and Madelyn Murray O’Hair, etc. So I don’t think it’s even a matter of manipulating statistics. It’s just using unverified statistics to make a point. What happened to being wise as serpents.

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  • Typhanee
    February 3, 2007

    Our youth pastor used that stat in his sermon just last Sunday! I sent him the article.

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