christian smith comments on the 4% fear in youth ministry
Tuesday January 30th 2007, 1:54 pm
Filed under: youth ministry, youth work, news

well said, christian smith. smith, the author of soul searching, and a professor at unc, has written a must-read piece in books and culture about evangelicals misusing statistics. but the center piece of the ariticle is his straight-on dismantling of the 4% that’s been polarizing the youth ministry world for the past several months, thanks to a national campaign that’s horribly using it. this is a good ariticle for all ministry leaders to read. but, given the timeliness of smith’s case study, youth workers just gotta read this.

here’s the opening ‘graph:

American evangelicals, who profess to be committed to Truth, are among the worst abusers of simple descriptive statistics, which claim to represent the truth about reality, of any group I have ever seen. At stake in this misuse are evangelicals’ own integrity, credibility with outsiders, and effectiveness in the world. It is an issue worth making a fuss over. And so I write.

and a key ‘graph from late in the article:

It’s not that hard. People simply need to ask themselves things like: Is it really plausible that Christianity will be dead one decade from now because today’s young people appear to be less religious? Of course not. Anyone who could think that is clearly so gullible, so ill-informed about what reality is and how it works that they have no business offering, for example, “high level briefings” involving “top voices” about “what must be done to reverse the 4% trend” that doesn’t exist. It’s an embarrassment, a disgrace. It reflects the lowest of standards of operation and the feeblest of thinking. Non-evangelicals paying any attention to this have every right to ridicule and dismiss such ill-informed nonsense. And evangelical programs that miscalculate reality in such ways—however well meaning and enthusiastic they are—surely undermine their own long-term credibility and effectiveness.

(ht to tony jones)

5 Comments so far
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From a quote that I’ve often seen attributed to Mark Twain: “There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics.”

Comment by ScottB 01.30.07 @ 6:49 pm

If the 4% doomsday stat tells us anything, it tells us that the facade of being at the helm of spiritual formation has eroded to the point that we now have the opportunity to trust God once again to build his kingdom in this new context.

Comment by John 01.30.07 @ 8:21 pm

i think you know me to know i am not a doomsday person, but i have a question. have you ever done a specific survey of san diego and youth ministries and teenage population vs. youth ministry in churches population etc. to try and get some approx. data?

we did that here in our county and did a massive phone survey of every single church and with high school it actually was around 5% even now, and up at campus it is hard to determine, but the leader of intervarsity just said his best guess on campus is 2%. now there may be a lot of christians not attending churches that don’t equate in this, and when we surveyed we asked for total numbers not just one weekend average.

but playing out 2% and 5% longer term doesn’t look to promising.

i haven’t done historical studies on this, but i am curious if we really did actual local studies of teenage population and campare them to the best we know are in local churches, would it turn out to be more like 5%? and if the 95% grow up and most don’t put faith in Jesus, could all those doomsday stats be true? i guess from doing an extensive local survey, it seemed like it could actually be reality.

Comment by Dan Kimball 01.31.07 @ 12:22 am

Predictive stastics alwasy scare me because they are so easily manipulated. I could survey a first grade class and ask how many of them expect to have sex in the future, and report only 4% respond positively, and use this statistic to say my “Just Say No” program is a success and the wave of the future. Please send money. What I never report, however, is that 67% of the students don’t know what sex is, and 87% still believe in cooties. We have much work to do, and we are definately working a generation at risk. But last time I checked, God is still in control of things, and we only need panic when we quit being faithful to God’s Word and God’s call.

Comment by Carl 01.31.07 @ 8:17 am

4% or 40% I think its still worth getting excited about. Any class in statistics will tell you on the first day of class is that a problem with statistics is you can make them say anything you want.

If they didn’t give a percentage or if they used 40% as the percentage would you still be opposed to their methods and their message? Nobody seems to be arguing with the current statistics of how many people in this country are Christians and I think that number is low enough to get excited about and should push people to action.

Comment by Tim 02.01.07 @ 5:37 pm

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