Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Lies, doggone lies, and SBC statistics

 Update: Ed Stetzer, whom I mention below, now has a blog on the statistical report.

SBC 2011 Statistical Realities-- Facts are our friends but these are not very friendly facts

Baptist Press give this headline to the releasing of the SBC 2011 Statistical Summary:

SBC baptisms & churches up in 2011, membership declines

The figures showed insignificant change in every category, less than one percent save for "Church type missions operating" which was down slightly over one percent.

Oh, Great Commission Giving, the new financial category that is supposed to either (a) cause the end of the SBC as we know it, or (b) merely reflect the reality on the ground (I take this view) totaled $695,694,322.

Since this is the first year for GCG, there is nothing with which to compare it. The figures for Total Mission Giving, which would include all of GCG plus non-SBC missions giving that churches chose to report, was up only slightly from $1.30 billion to $1.33 billion so GCG couldn't possibly have been the cause of any changes in mission giving over the past year.

And did you notice the parenthetical remark that said, " four state conventions not reporting" on GCG? The SBC proposes but autonomous state conventions and churches dispose.

It seems to me that it will be difficult to blame GCG for much of anything in the future with more and more churches failing to report their data at all. The Annual Church Profile has always been a chore and the reality is that churches can classify expenses in whatever manner they choose. The SBC doesn't have statistical police.

Here are some things I am expecting down the road:

  • The percentage of churches who ignore the ACP will continue to rise. There are no positive incentives for reporting and some churches see negative incentives for doing so.

  • Church membership totals will decline. I get the sense that more churches are trying to be more realistic with their membership totals. It is widely held that our figure of "Total Membership" is meaningless. Not quite, year-to-year comparisons likely reflect the general trend. By the way, we are under 16 million in this for the first time in quite a few years.

  • Numbers of churches and church missions may be reduced in the short run. The North American Mission Board has done and is doing to things to cause this: (1) Requiring state conventions to document the figures they report, and (2) incentivizing state conventions to report lower numbers of churches by creating three tiers of support based on church/population ratios.

  • The real heavy lifting in statistical analysis of SBC trends will have to be done by LifeWay Research. I hope they are fearless in doing so. "Facts are our friends" is what I hear our LifeWay Research statistical guru say.
Lies, doggone lies, and statistics...and doggone SBC statistics. Here they are.

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