Church Growth
6 Takeaways From “The Church Growth Gap” LifeWay Research Survey
We seldom see the value of smaller congregations, even when the facts show them to us.

5. Confirmation Bias Is Real

There are several biases that need to be taken into account in all of this.

First, we have a bias toward bigness in the American culture and the American church. And, like most biases, it seldom changes even when confronted with contradictory facts.

We have a bias toward bigness in the American culture and the American church. And, like most biases, it seldom changes even when confronted with contradictory facts.

This is why we seldom see the value of smaller congregations, even when the stats show them to us.

Second, I may have a confirmation bias toward smaller congregations, so what I’m writing needs to be read with that in mind.

Third, there’s a possible confirmation bias in the numbers themselves. This survey was conducted by phone to over 1,000 Protestant pastors. That’s a large enough sample size for LifeWay to be confident that “the sampling error does not exceed plus or minus 3.2 percent”, which is expected from a reputable group like LifeWay. But it is based on conversations with pastors, not on objective third-party observation and analysis. And we pastors have been known on occasion to (let’s say…) “misremember” the exact number of conversions.

These biases need to be taken into account as we assess these stats and others like them.

Facts are our friends, but only when we’re willing to acknowledge our bias and let the data speak for itself.

6. Every Church Contributes Differently

Because of their visibility, it’s easy to see the contributions of larger churches. It’s harder to see the contributions of smaller ones.

So when we have good surveys like this, we need to pay attention to what they’re telling us.

Every healthy church is bringing something different to the body of Christ.

As Earls notes in his conclusion, “Strategies, programs and rules-of-thumb work differently depending on the trajectory of a church.”

In other words, what works in one church won’t work in another church.

Let’s help each church accomplish the mission God has given all of us in the way that works best for how God has called each of us.

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March 11, 2019 at 10:41 AM

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