A Thought on Statistics

A conversation with my Dad this weekend opened up a can of worms that has been sitting in my brain for a while now.

We’ve seen reports about the growth (or lack thereof) in Churches of Christ in the last decade or so.  Every three years 21st Century Christian puts out what is as close to a comprehensive list of congregations as anybody can get.  In addition to contact information, that directory includes data on church size and any distinctive characteristics one might look for.

Upon closer examination, however, one quickly discovers that a significant portion of the numerical data is inaccurate.  For instance, my parents’ home congregation is listed with attendance of 300, when in reality they run closer to 425, a 25% under-reporting.  Pleasant Grove is under-reported by 15%.  Other churches I’ve worked with have been mislabeled by up to 50% over or under.

Preliminary analysis indicates that they typical number listed in the directory is off by 4%, plus or minus.  What that means is, when you see those articles in the Christian Chronicle or elsewhere celebrating a 1.7% increase over three years, or bewailing a 1.2% decrease, take a deep breath. The changes in brotherhood totals in the 3 three-year intervals since 1997 have all been under 2%.  Basically, Churches of Christ in America are stable.  We’re not growing, but we’re not shrinking either.

And it’ll take at least a 4% change in the totals to comvince me otherwise.

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