Monday, February 4, 2008

Can churches' self-testimony be trusted?

Brian comments in an earlier post that in a study of megachurches, "18% of the 406 churches claiming that 40% or more were converts, there should be about 70 churches where people are being converted in large numbers."

I don't think so.

In the research work referenced earlier, we also often meet with staffers when studying other churches. We routinely ask them what percentage of people they think are converts. Some pastors admit the percentage is low—as low as 18% in one case, but usually 25 to 40%. Yet the survey in those same churches show that only 3 to 7% are actually converts reached at that church. So far, no pastor has come closer to the truth than five times the actual number.

We don’t suggest the pastors are lying. They appear to actually believe that they are doing five to fifteen times better than they actually are. On the other hand, it’s interesting to notice that the same staffs that can break their statistics down in a dozen different ways from memory are unable to give a statistic for the convert vs. transfer composition of their people. They have so far all admitted that they don’t study that question. Perhaps some leaders don’t want to know the answer to this question?

This is Chadwick claim (See William Chadwick, Stealing Sheep: The Church's Hidden Problems with Transfer Growth, Chadwick thinks church leaders purposely conceal the truth about transfer growth, and that they also purposely seek transfer growth by launching strategies only l
ikely to win transfers.

I can't judge that question, but I do think the blank area in our knowledge here begs for some kind of answer. One thing for sure: You can't go by what churches say about their own composition! Their statements about their attendance are often correct (not always) but their statements on composition have never even come close.


AdamK said...

Well, it's obvious there is a general lack of knowledge and/or data here. The question is what is to be done about it. Should churches hire outside firms to look for these kinds of data? Should churches form some kind of church-level accountability groups to hold each other accountable? Should we let churches do their own thing without comment as long as they are not doing anything blatantly unbilblical?

ryan said...

I don't think you can impose a church-level accountability to this area of body life. This has to be a core issue that is developped in people from the time they are young Christians. People who come to Christ and are genuinely concerned about wanting to see their friends find Jesus will be concerned about their effectiveness and the effectiveness of the church. A small movement of people from the ground up could change the ethos of the church, but if you start a church with this attitude from the beginning (and maintain an emphasis) this is one less battle to fight later.