Guest / Limited Access /

The reporter's question was one of the best I had ever been asked. "Why do you evangelicals love to make up and say such bad things about yourselves?"

Great question, I thought. But I'm here to talk about social science research, not abnormal psychology.

I was facing a room full of reporters in a Religion Newswriters Association session at the Washington Post building in D.C. They had invited me to explain the difference between good religious research and bad. It's a real problem. News reports are always batting around some new bit of bad research. And sometimes a snippet from good research gets pulled out of context, then mangled, garbled, and spewed all over.

Research Gone Wild

Once a choice morsel of misinformation gets out, it multiplies faster than dandelions in the spring. We have all heard these soul-seizing yet false factoids. Some of us have even repeated them:

"Christianity will die out in this generation unless we do something now."

"Only 4 percent of this generation is Christian."

"Ninety-four percent of teenagers drop out of church, never to return again."

And perhaps my favorite: "With its 195 million unchurched people, America has become the new mission field. America has more unchurched people than the entire populations of all but 11 of the world's 194 nations." The "195 million unchurched people" statistic is all over the place—from books to blogs to church bulletins. And those who quote it often attribute it to researcher George Barna.

The problem is, it isn't true. That's not what the research showed, and Barna wasn't the one who conducted the study.

The original stat came out of a project I was a part of while working with the Southern Baptist Convention's North American Mission Board (NAMB). We researched ...

Subscriber access only You have reached the end of this Article Preview

To continue reading, subscribe now. Subscribers have full digital access.

From Issue:
Read These NextSee Our Latest
RecommendedA Decision in Ferguson: How Should Evangelicals Respond?
A Decision in Ferguson: How Should Evangelicals Respond?
The grand jury has made a decision in Ferguson, now we have to make ours. How will we respond?
TrendingChristianity Today's 2015 Book Awards
Christianity Today's 2015 Book Awards
Our picks for the books most likely to shape evangelical life, thought, and culture.
Editor's PickWhat Forgotten Christmas Tradition Should Churches Revive?
What Forgotten Christmas Tradition Should Churches Revive?
Rooting our celebration of Christ’s birth more deeply in our lives.
Comments
Christianity Today
Curing Christians' Stats Abuse
hide thisJanuary January

In the Magazine

January 2010

To continue reading, subscribe now for full print and digital access.