This has been (and still is) a bit of a journey. An incredibly frustrating one! I would think that a load of people who have been in the Church for most of their lives (44 years and counting) might have heard the odd story / illustration more than once from different people – you know, the kind of story that is told in the first person (this happened to me . . . I’m trying to share, be authentic etc) . . . I don’t know, maybe the people in question have told the story so often it has become second nature to tell it – they even believe it actually happened to them! It’s a bit suspect, but its a story, their purpose in sharing is maybe to attempt self depreciation (with a story that makes them look silly but not a complete lunatic), maybe it is an attempt to appear human (hey, I’m just like you – look at my ordinary life, it’s just like your ordinary life) . . . OK, they are trying to make a connection. It also stands to reason that at least one of the people telling the story actually had this thing happen to them!
Well, fine – it’s a story (go get your own and live a little, but still – its just a story). However, there are things often lobbed into talks by way of illustration (to highlight the thing being discussed etc) that are not stories . . . no, they are put across as truth, as facts. These things are statistics. Some statistics have been – and are – used to do more than support the thrust of an argument in a talk – they have helped establish the basis on which some organisations exist. Now that would not be a problem, and would probably be a good thing – if, these statistics were well researched, had significant evidence (empirical) had data that was both quantitative and qualitative – especially when some statistics make HUGE claims and offer incredibly stark numbers that, on the face of it appear to be irrefutable.
Here is the rub. I am a children’s, youth and families person in terms of ministry. I have been doing this for 26 years (10 as a volunteer, 16 full time in various places) and I have, for the last 7 or 8 years had some questions about the following statistic:
“When a child is the first to attend Church, 3% of the families follow. When a wife / mum is the first to attend church, 17% of the families follow. When a dad / husband is the first to attend church, 93% of the families follow.”
Quoted, just like that on page 111 of “”The Promise Keeper At Work” (from the Promise Builders Study Series).
The thing is, that is it. There is NO reference anywhere in the book as to the source of this statistic – there is a little bubble above it that just says, “consider this” – then BAM you are smacked with this statistic . . .
WELL, my gut tells me this is a BAD statistic. Something about it is way, way off. I finally got hold of the book for myself, and could not quite believe that something like this could be quoted with not a single mention of the source research, documentation at ALL. Apart from the occasional proverb at the top of every other page, everything else that can be attributed IS. Quotes by people, quotes from books . . . except for this stat.
What frustrates me (at this point) is that OTHERS in their preaching and their writing have mentioned this statistic. It sits there on organisational websites, personal blogs – without a critique – its quoted, therefore it must be OK. It backs up what we are doing in terms of the vision of our organisation – so lets lob it in. This isn’t good enough. WHERE DOES IT ACTUALLY COME FROM? IF evangelistic resources are going to be increasingly targeting MEN – can we at least make sure our research and our evidence and the data backs up this approach?
Also, two other things.
1. This is OLD (by that I mean probably dates before 1996). I can’t be definitive, but the first issue of the book it is quoted in came out in 1996, then again I think in 1999. So, has more recent research been done exploring this area?
2. This is American. Transferring what amounts to social data from one place to another has some inherent problems. Is the nature of the family the same in the UK as it is in the US? Is general church going / attendance the same in the UK and the US, with the same factors for why people go to church?
I have trawled through a load of places to try and find out more information, get a handle on where the stats actually come from . . . just a few examples of the comments / places that refer to them below:
http://www.thegatheringaustin.org/about_tga – I don’t want to knock what this ministry is doing. However, at the bottom of this page they say, “one final point from a Barna study . . . ” and then they quote the quote above. Well, I emailed Barna and asked them if they produced the research and the stats – this was their reply,
“Thank you for your interest in Barna Group and the information we provide. This is not information that Barna Group has published. I also am aware of the book that you mention but it is not our research. I do not know who released this quote. We do not have any information on this topic ourselves.”
Received from Barna on Monday 15th April 2013.
http://www.trinitybaptistpoway.com/men.htm – again, attributed to Barna (but as I have noted above, Barna say “not us”)
https://www.baptistsonmission.org/Church-Programs/Mens-Ministries – here it says, “A classic Promise Keepers survey”
And, startling – here is a completely different stat, but obviously related in some way to the oft quoted one I am focusing on (found here:http://www.danielakin.com/wp-content/uploads/old/Resource_414/15%20Qualities%20Every%20Family%20Needs%20to%20See%20in%20a%20Dad%20-%20Sermon.pdf) :
“When the mother of the family is the first person to accept Christ, the rest of the family will convert 17% of the time. When a child is first, the family follows 31% of the time. However, when the father turns to Christ first, the family will follow him 93% of the time.”
Attributed, hooray! To: “Stand Firm”, July 2000 page 3
This looks too close to the original to me for it not to (in some way) be related . . . but – look at the difference in that stat! Children jump from 3% to 31% . . . a mistake? What gives!
http://www.bpnews.net/bpnews.asp?ID=15630 – a big article here, from 2003, again siting the 3% 17% 93% stat . . . then referencing at the bottom of the article the book we started with from Promise Keepers which does not attribute the statistics at all.
More recently, an article here from 2011: http://www.whale.to/b/importance_of_fathers.html – there are two research pieces mentioned, or rather one piece of research from Switzerland (what is clearly stated here is actual research, so worth exploring) , which I will look at in another blog AND, no, not research regarding the 3% 17% 93% simply a reference to the baptist article above which just quotes the unattributed statistics!!
http://forum.ship-of-fools.com/cgi-bin/ultimatebb.cgi?ubb=print_topic;f=70;t=021927 – this discussion on “Ship of Fools” of all places, suggests I am not totally bonkers for exploring this and trying to find out the score regarding whether these statistics can be valid . . .
Oh man! Yet another slightly different statistic from Scott Hagan’s (http://www.scotthagan.net) website:
“Research shows that if you reach a child first, there’s a 34% chance that the rest of the family will follow. If you reach the woman first, there’s a 42% chance that the rest of the family will follow. But if you reach the man first, there’s a 93% chance that the rest of the family will follow.”
Thanks for that, “research shows . . .” what research!!
And finally, here: http://hardcore-christian.com/author/hardcoreguest/ – the quote I started with, but this time attributed to “Focus on the Family” . .
Anyway, as I said – this is part 1, I am going to keep going until I actually get hold of some research. So, my next step is this – the book “Promise Keeper At Work” was published by Word Publishing. It is normal practice for publishers to check the stats / content of their books . . . SO, if anyone knows the origin of this statistic it should be them.
Watch this space for “Bad Stats for Evangelism – Part #2”.
Oh, and keep believing and investing in children’s and youth ministry!