A couple of weeks ago I wrote a little piece on Barna statistics. In this piece I provocatively stated “A new study shows that 100% of Barna statistics are skewed to lend credibility to his anti-church bias.” I defended this by citing a few places that have noted “bad numbers” from Barna, and I noted that I believe sometimes these “bad numbers” are driven by “bad theology”.
Since that time I have gotten several comments and a few emails on the article. While I am going to maintain the heart of my post I do believe there is a need for some clarity. There is one particular flaw in my post that was pointed out in the comments that needs to be addressed. Namely, the difference between The Barna Group and George Barna.
Three years ago David Kinnaman purchased The Barna Group from it’s founder George Barna. Because of this fact it is erroneous to throw the present Barna Group “under the bus” for my disagreement with George Barna’s vision for the church found in Revolution. And honestly, as I was making that statement to my friend about Barna statistics being “skewed to lend credibility” I was mostly referring to past statistics that are still being thrown about.
So, I apologize to The Barna Group for inadvertently casting a negative light on their present research when my main points of disagreement lie with their founder, George Barna. That is my first point of clarification.
My second point of clarification has to do with the way that I worded the provocative statement. The way it sounds could be read as my saying that George Barna is a man that hates God, the church, and intentionally alters statistics to get people away from the church. That is not my intention.
In fact I believe, as stated in the previous article, that much can be learned from Barna and their statistics. I do not doubt that these statistics are for the most part true--at least in the way that the questions were asked and the surveys were crafted. In other words I do not doubt that there are people all across America that claim to be born-again Christians that live and believe no different than those that do not claim to be born-again.
The problem, for me, is the way in which the statistics are formed and the categories created. What happens is that people are able to claim to be followers of Christ, then stuck with the label of Born-Again, and then their lives are analyzed according to this profession. From this we have articles that say “Born-Again Christians Just as Likely To Divorce as Non-Christians”.
The effectiveness of the church is then often called into question. “We aren’t discipling people. We aren’t doing church the right way. Here is my vision for how to change these statistics…” The problem, though, is that if you start from the other end—with people that have a vital commitment to the church and other things more solid than a profession of faith—the statistics are different.
And so that is what I mean by skewed. I don’t think George Barna gathered stats that disagreed with his conclusions and then tweeked them to make them fit. But what I do believe is that George Barna asked the questions and framed the discussion in such a way that supported his conclusions and agenda.
It has also been pointed out that George Barna loves the “church” but does not have the same view of church that I do. Fair enough. I’ll concede that point. What would have been better for my to have written is “anti-local church bias” instead of simply “anti-church” bias.
I am still leery of statistics coming from George Barna (that means everything from before the last three years). I am not suggesting that you stop listening to Barna, that you even stop quoting Barna, but what I am suggesting is that you do so with great caution. I still would encourage you to read Bradley Wright’s book Christians Are Hate-Filled Hypocrites…and Other Lies You’ve Been Told.