Seven Most Interesting Lies from Bad Church Statistics
By Warren Bird
I recently took a survey that made this amazing claim: “Given that over 95% of people in the U.S. under the age of 33 don’t attend church, to what degree do you think churches should….?”
Really? That statistic is certainly not true, but how did it get out there? The most common path starts when a respected speaker makes a specific-instance statement like “last year was our worst ever, as only 6% of churches in our denomination grew at a pace faster than their community’s population growth rate.” Someone generalizes it as “only 6% of churches are growing,” tweets it, blogs it or puts it in their book as a “fact.” Then others repeat it in their preaching or writing, and off we go with another urban legend.
Turns out I’m not alone in my “myth busting” efforts. I’ve found allies in several people, including Lifeway’s Ed Stetzer who writes articles like “Curing Christian Stat Abuse” and “Everything Is Terrible.”
I recently read an entire book by sociologist Bradley Wright that identifies and shatters popular myths that tend to bash Christians or churches. The book’s title says it all: Christians Are Hate-Filled Hypocrites: And Other Lies You’ve Been Told. His previous book, Upside: Surprising Good News about the State of Our World, does much of the same. Below are seven of his more popular myths. If any interest you, you’ll find much more detail (including documentation) in his humorous and fascinating books. He writes mostly about evangelical Christians, because that is also his vantage point as one himself.
Myth #1. The divorce rate among Christians is as high as that of nonbelievers.
Reality: Christians have significantly lower divorce rates than the religiously unaffiliated. Further, the more regularly a Christian attends church, the less likely that person is to divorce. (For documentation, see the opening pages and chapter 6 in Christian … Lies.)
Myth #2. Christian young people are leaving the Christian faith in record numbers.
Reality: It’s true that younger people are less affiliated with church than older people, but that’s the case in every generation since scholars began tracking it. We always need to help the next generation connect with church, but the overall percentage of Americans who affiliate with evangelical churches has remained rather stable for the last 30 years. (For documentation, see chapters 3 and 5 in Christian … Lies.)
Myth #3. The majority of American evangelicals are poor and uneducated.
Reality: This quote from the Washington Post has some truth to it. The problematic term is “the majority of” which should be replaced with “many.” On average, evangelical Christians are less well educated than mainline Protestants, Catholics and the religiously unaffiliated. But evangelicals cover a wide spectrum from poorly educated to highly educated. The majority, however, are not poor and uneducated. (For documentation, see chapter 4 in Christian … Lies.)
Myth #4. The prayer life of American evangelicals is diminishing.
Reality: It turns out that evangelical prayer is on the increase. For example, 75% of evangelicals today pray on a daily basis, compared to 64% of those in the 1980s. (For documentation, see this monograph by Brad Wright.)
Myth #5. Evangelicals are less active in sharing their faith with others.
Reality: About half of all evangelicals report sharing their faith with non-believers, and rates of evangelism have held rather steady over the past several decades. This evangelism rate is more than double the rate of mainline Protestants and Catholics, and is higher than most other religions. We all have family and friends who seek a closer relationship with God, plus we know of entire people groups that have little exposure to the Gospel, so let’s keep ramping up our efforts. (For documentation, see this monograph by Brad Wright.)
Myth #6. Evangelicals preach one thing about sex outside marriage, but practice another.
Reality: Actually, evangelicals have relatively low rates of adultery, premarital sex and pornography usage, and these decrease with more frequent church attendance. (For documentation, see chapter 6 in Christian … Lies.)
Myth #7. The more educated you become, the more likely you are to give up your faith.
Reality: Belief and practice grow stronger with increased education, evangelicals included. (For documentation, see see chapter 4 in Christian … Lies.)
Bad news always sells more than good news It preaches better too. Certainly there’s a lot of need out there, both spiritual and physical, where Christians could make a far greater difference. But as we gauge our progress (or lack thereof), let’s be accurate about it. Well-used statistics can help us do so.
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Think this is too rosy a picture? We welcome you thoughts below. Also take a look at the less rosy “The Rise and Fall of Religiosity in the United States.” Or “The Real Reason Young Adults Drop Out of Church.”
What do you think? Please post YOUR thoughts below. And again, if you want the details on any of these claims (including documentation) you’ll find it in Brad’s humorous and fascinating books.