My understanding of statistics is fairly limited—the one class I had in college did not go well.  If you ever need to calculate the statistical probability of pulling a blue marble from a bucket full of red marbles, then I am your man.  For everything else, you should really talk with Bradley Wright.   Dr. Wright is associate professor at the University of Connecticut where he studies the sociology of Christianity.

Brad has put together an excellent 13 part series about the book unChristian: What a New Generation Really Thinks about Christianity… and Why It Matters. The book is written by David Kinnaman who is the president of the George Barna Institute and Gabe Lyons of the Fermi Project. The book relies on research from the Barna Group and basically says the church has an image problem with young people. In the words of the publishers:

Do you want to reach the next generation for Christ? Ministry in America may never have been more confusing and complex – or have more opportunites. Yet, to connect young people to Jesus, you have to understand what they think and why. Based upon groundbreaking research among 16- to 29-year-olds, unChristian helps you understand their mindset, their skepticism and their experiences – as well as their points of spiritual openness.Readers will learn why negative perceptions exist among young people, how to reverse them in Christlike ways, and read about practical examples of how Christians can positively contribute to culture.

You stand to be more effective in your ministry to the next generation by checking out unChristian.

This book fits into the trend established in a long series of books from Baran Group, like Revolution and Pagan Christianity, that use targeted statistics to paint a bleak picture of the church in America.  What I am beginning to wonder is, “how accurate are these statistics?

In the case of unChristian, it is clear the authors had an opinion about what they would find before they did and research. This, for me, begs the question, “which came first, the conclusion or the statistics?” Brad puts it this way…

Frankly, I’m a little suspicious of someone “knowing” the answer to their research question before they even collect data, and then finding data the confirm their expectations. That almost never happens to me, for I am constantly surprised by what I find. Suppose that’s why I’m in the business.

As such, the emphasis of UnChristian is using data to illustrate ideas already held by the authors, and using these data to bring about useful change. Emphasis is on useful.

Thanks to Ray Fowler, here is a list of all 13 parts in the series.  This is a good read for everyone who has read unChristian or just wants a better understanding of how statistics can be used, or abused.

Part 1:Review of UnChristian
Part 2:Summary of Findings
Part 3:Reactions to unChristian
Part 4:What Works Well
Part 5:Critiquing Research about Christianity
Part 6:Do Christians have an image problem? Compared to whom?
Part 7:Comparing the image of Christianity to other groups (I)
Part 8:Comparing the image of Christianity to other groups (II)
Part 9:Comparing the image of Christianity to other groups (III)
Part 10:Have attitudes toward Christianity changed over time? 
Part 11:Age vs. cohort effects 
Part 12:Evangelicals embrace of negative stereotypes
Part 13:Should research on Christianity be primarily useful or accurate?

Have you read unChristian?

Do you think these statistics are an accurate reflection of how society sees the church? 

Dr. J.R. Miller is a Professor of Applied Theology and Leadership & Dean of Online Learning at Southern California Seminary. Outside work, he is a church planter. Dr. Miller has a diverse educational background and authored multiple books on church history, biblical theology, and Leadership. Joe and his wife Suzanne enjoy the sun and surf with their 3 sons in San Diego, CA.

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