Monday, October 09, 2006

Statistical Misery Loves Company

With all the talk among my Southern Baptist friends about shoddy SBC record keeping, inflated rolls, and "false conversions," it's easy to think that we lowly baptists are the only ones with this problem. Pentecostal BlogRodent posts on the same problem in the Assemblies of God. He even has a chart:

Seems bad evangelistic practice and conversion nose-counting is contagious... with similar bad effects.


Shawn Abigail said...

People tend to concern themselves with numbers in the areas that are easy to count. Genuine conversions are difficult to count, so lets count baptisms. Spirituality is difficult to count, so let's count attendance. Biblical knowledge is difficult to count, so let's count the budget. Of course, we modify our behavior to achieve what we are measuring. I'm not saying baptisms, attendance and budgets are irrelevant, but they are less relevant than a whole lot of other factors the church doesn't (and can't) measure.

Rich Tatum said...

Thanks for the link, Thabiti.

Shawn, you're right. The unmeasurables are infinitely more important. How can we measure devotion, transformed minds, or Christ-likeness?

But that doesn't diminish the importance of some metrics. A church of 1,000 attenders with only one true disciple may be statistically indistinguishable from a church of 999 true disciples and one hanger-on, but I do think the true disciples will tend to reproduce, while the hangers-on will tend to diminish through attrition.

The point of my particular article is, like you note, we tend to deceive ourselves with the numbers and look at the one that is growing while ignoring other more important metrics. Church growth proponents tend to look at a single church's metrics and say, Ah, this church is growing, let's reproduce their methods! When, in fact, that single church may be growing due to transfer growth from other congregations. So, in that local area, other churches are diminishing while the mega-church is growing. And, of course, this happens not only between churches but between denominations. Further, people attend church for a season, drop out for a few seasons, and come back some time later. The church hasn't really grown in either case.

So, I compared conversion stats versus. retention stats and found that much of our church growth (in the A/G, at least) is not due to conversion and new believers. It's due to something else, apparently. Perhaps transfer growth and biological growth.

Yes, the numbers are just that, numbers. But they do represent real people. And in that real people are reporting coming to Christ and not staying in the Body (or at least staying in the A/G--not the same, admittedly), I think we are either going about evangelism wrong, or going about discipleship wrong. Or both.

And that's an intangible revealed by the tangible.