This has been a bit of a journey.

An incredibly frustrating one!  I would think that a load of people who have been in the Church for most of their lives (50 years and counting) might have heard the odd story / illustration more than once from different people – you know, the kind of story that is told in the first person (“this happened to me” . . . I’m trying to share, be authentic etc) . . .

I don’t know, maybe the people in question have told the story so often it has become second nature to tell it – they even believe it actually happened to them!

It’s a bit suspect, but its a story, their purpose in sharing is maybe to attempt self depreciation (with a story that makes them look silly but not a complete lunatic), maybe it is an attempt to appear human (hey, I’m just like you – look at my ordinary life, it’s just like your ordinary life) . . . OK, they are trying to make a connection.

It also stands to reason that at least one of the people telling the story might actually have had this thing happen to them!

My advice would be go get your own story and live a little.

However, there are things often lobbed into talks by way of illustration (to highlight the thing being discussed etc) that are not stories . . . no, they are put across as truth, as facts.

These things are statistics.

Some statistics have been – and are – used to do more than support the thrust of an argument in a talk – they have helped establish the basis on which some organisations exist.  Now that would not be a problem, and would probably be a good thing – if, these statistics were well researched, had significant evidence (empirical) had data that was both quantitative and qualitative – especially when some statistics make HUGE claims and offer incredibly stark numbers that, on the face of it appear to be irrefutable.

Here is the rub.  I am a children’s, youth and families person in terms of ministry.  I have been doing this for 32 years (10 as a volunteer, 22 full time in various places) and I have, for over a decade had some questions about the following statistic:

When a child is the first to attend Church, 3% of the families follow.  When a wife / mum is the first to attend church, 17% of the families follow.  When a dad / husband is the first to attend church, 93% of the families follow.”

Quoted, just like that on page 111 of “The Promise Keeper At Work” (from the Promise Builders Study Series).

The thing is, that is it.  There is NO reference anywhere in the book as to the source of this statistic – there is a little bubble above it that just says, “consider this” – then BAM you are smacked with this statistic . . .

WELL, my gut tells me this is a BAD statistic.

Something about it is way, way off.  I finally got hold of the book for myself, and could not quite believe that something like this could be quoted with not a single mention of the source research or associated context at ALL.

Apart from the occasional proverb at the top of every other page, everything else in the book like this IS attributed.  Quotes by people, quotes from books.  So, begs the question – why not this stat?

What frustrates me (at this point) is that OTHERS in their preaching and their writing have mentioned this statistic.  It sits there on organisational websites,  personal blogs – without a critique – its quoted, therefore it must be OK.

It backs up what we are doing in terms of the vision of our organisation – so lets lob it in.  This isn’t good enough.  WHERE DOES IT ACTUALLY COME FROM?  IF evangelistic resources are going to be increasingly targeting MEN – can we at least make sure our research and our evidence and the data backs up this approach?

Also, two other things.

1.   This is OLD (by that I mean probably dates before 1996).  I can’t be definitive, but the first issue of the book it is quoted in came out in 1996, then again I think in 1999.  So, has more recent research been done exploring this area?

2.  This is American.  Transferring what amounts to social data from one place to another has some inherent problems.  Is the nature of the family the same in the UK as it is in the US?  Is general church going / attendance the same in the UK and the US, with the same factors for why people go to church?

I have trawled through a load of places to try and find out more information, get a handle on where the stats actually come from . . . just a few examples of the comments / places that refer to them below:

“The Gathering, Austin” [When I first wrote this six years ago, there was a dedicated site, it’s gone but please read on] – I don’t want to knock what this ministry was doing.  However, at the bottom of their website for the event they said, “one final point from a Barna study . . . ” and then they quote the quote above.  Well, I emailed Barna and asked them if they produced the research and the stats – this was their reply – which if I could I’d send out to every “Mens Ministry” Globally!

Thank you for your interest in Barna Group and the information we provide. This is not information that Barna Group has published. I also am aware of the book that you mention but it is not our research. I do not know who released this quote. We do not have any information on this topic ourselves.”

Received from Barna on Monday 15th April 2013.

And, just to add to the mystery, here is a completely different stat, but obviously related in some way to the oft quoted one I am focusing on (found here :: :

“When the mother of the family is the first person to accept Christ, the rest of the family will convert 17% of the time.  When a child is first, the family follows 31% of the time.  However, when the father turns to Christ first, the family will follow him 93% of the time.”

Attributed, hooray!  To: “Stand Firm“, July 2000 page 3

This looks too close to the original to me for it not to (in some way) be related . . . but – look at the difference in that stat!  Children jump from 3% to 31% . . . a mistake?  What if, someone said it at a conference and got it wrong – they meant to say 3% they said 31% . . . and off we go! – a big article here, from 2003, again siting the 3% 17% 93% stat . . . then referencing at the bottom of the article the book we started with from Promise Keepers which does not attribute the statistics at all.

More recently, an article here from 2011: – there are two research pieces mentioned, or rather one piece of research from Switzerland (what is clearly stated here is actual research, so worth exploring) , which I will look at in another blog AND, no, not research regarding the 3% 17% 93% simply a reference to the baptist article above which just quotes the unattributed statistics.  What is more annoying perhaps is the way the article here talks about the stat, “look at the numbers from the survey released from the Baptist press.” They are talking about a survey (if there was one) that is at least seven years old at the time this article was written, AND suggest it was “released” by Baptist Press as if they did it . . . I’ve found no evidence of that.

Oh man!  Yet another slightly different statistic was on Scott Hagan’s website [not there six years after I first wrote this as, like many in America, this former pastor has now become a leadership guru] – not there anymore, but this is what he said at the time ::

Research shows that if you reach a child first, there’s a 34% chance that the rest of the family will follow.  If you reach the woman first, there’s a 42% chance that the rest of the family will follow. But if you reach the man first, there’s a 93% chance that the rest of the family will follow.

Thanks for that, “research shows . . .” what research!!  

What is bonkers with this one, is the two stats related to children and women are totally different, like – hugely different, statistically – whilst the one for men remains the same.  I don’t get it.  It’s as if people are literally making stuff up . . . but they can’t be, can they?

UPDATE :: So, At the time (six years ago) I did send an email to “Word Publishing” – who published that “Promise Keepers” book, but got no reply.  Also, I had a chat with CVM because the stat in question was (six years ago) front and centre on their website.  It then got shunted to a back page, but it now appears to have vanished completely.  I didn’t say, “take it down!” I just suggested that if they were going to use it they needed to site a source that had the actual data, not just pass it on because it was useful to their mission.

Oh – possibly my biggest frustration about this stat is that it is often spouted by men in senior leadership positions and – given their power and authority – they are just “believed”.  We need to keep believing, keep on “keeping on” and investing in children’s, youth and families ministry.

Since I first wrote this article, there has been a huge growth in valuing the family as a place of faith formation and parents – not either / or (but both). One of the key challenges for the church moving forward is to enable partnership and collaboration – to celebrate and champion it!  

Not just in the home, but in the church.  Our default remains “compartmentalisation” to the determent of the body of Christ and the Kingdom of God.