30 August 2011

Open Letter to George Barna

by Frank Turk

Dear George Barna;

I admit that I am finding it hard to start my letter to you in an amicable way.  For at least 5 years now, I have been someone who has turned from admiring your candor in dealing with people you would call your fellow Christians to finding myself somewhat appalled by you, your alleged findings, and your agenda for the faith & ecclesiology of the English-speaking church.

For me, the light bulb went on when, after reading your findings on the rates of divorce in Christianity vs. among non-believers, I discovered a secular study which did the work you somehow missed that demonstrated that people with actual Christian faith and not merely a silver fish on their vehicle have a significantly-lower rate of divorce than the unbelieving world.  One would think that someone doing research "focused on the intersection of faith and culture," and providing "leadership and unique, strategic information and resources that help facilitate transformation in organizations, communities and individuals" would be interested that committed Christian faith actually turns out to transform individuals and communities and so on.

How, after that, you have been on a path to really eliminate the local church as we know it -- cross-pollinating your half-baked results with half-baked theology and history to try to paint a new churchless Christianity which, it seems, is the next step after seeker-sensitive, commitophobic churches.  The detractors of this blog will want evidence of such so I point them to these reviews of your execrable books Revolution and Pagan Christianity.

Now, so what?  Frankly, Ed Stetzer and LifeWay Research has outmanned your group for relevant data about the trends and habits of real Christians, and Ed's a guy much closer to the center mark of Christian orthodoxy and orthopraxy than you are.  Your group's relevance and influence has, thank God, waned -- in large part I think because you're simply not credible.

But last week the Wall Street Journal -- one of the last nearly-objectives MSM outlets in America, at least when it comes to religion -- published this piece exposing the gross flaws of your last report on the trend of the attendance of women in American churches by Rodney Stark and Byron Johnson of Baylor University.  I commend it to the readers of this blog, especially as they go here:
As for the supposed decline in female church attendance, the best data come from the NORC, which has conducted annual surveys since 1972. Across 38 years, there have been only small variations in church attendance, and Barna's reported 11 percentage-point decline in women's church attendance (to 44% from 55%) simply didn't happen. Nor has the gender gap narrowed. In 1991, according to NORC data, 38% of women and 28% of men said they attended weekly. In 2002, 36% of women and 24% of men attended weekly. In 2008, 36% of women and 25% of men attended weekly, and in 2010 it was 34% of women and 25% of men.
Here's all I have to say about that: reputable people check their work.  In church we call that "accountability" (of course, you need a church and elders and fellow believers who are committed to you for that to work), but in the secular world we call that "vetting".  Before you make a statement that ought to cause people to take some kind of decisive action, you have to vet your data, and vet your conclusions.  In my day job, I do this all the time as I report on global trends and customer demand to make sure we are making commitments which align with customer commitments -- both so we don't miss any major projects and also so we don't build things that never sell.

In my case, my job is to avoid costing the company profit by making sure neither finished goods nor missed sales opportunities swallow up our EBITDA.  It's a way to keep people employed.

In your case, however, there's something more significant at stake.  Your calls to action cause people to make radical decisions about the cause of Christ -- and by definition they have eternal consequences.  And to that end, one would think that a warning such as, "For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths," would have special weight for you.

Yet somehow, you wind up being a purveyor of sociological myths which play into both secular stereotypes (playing to unbelievers' skepticism) and the worst fears of honest people of good faith.  Why is that, I wonder?  How is it that you are not in fact someone helping the church but harming it both by making unbelievers more jaded toward it and making believers afraid to do what the Bible tells them to do about the matter of taking the Gospel itself to lost people so that God's word will do what it is meant to do?

I refrain from offering an opinion in that matter, but I call on you to consider it -- you are the one who can peer into your own spiritual life and find out why you put yourself in the same place as the men Paul says made a shipwreck of their faith.

Whatever you think your motives are, your professional friends at Baylor have made it clear that the results are bad results -- unreliable and harmful.  And for that, you should repent.

For the sake of Christ, see to it.  There is no better time to turn away from this sort of thing than right now.


thomas4881 said...

Colossians 3:9Do not lie to one another, since you laid aside the old self with its evil practices

Thomas Louw said...

If the numbers are shocking and it sounds unbelievable, you get press.

philness said...

The Barna Group- the sub-prime false data pollster to the apostate churches. The equivalence of Lehman Brothers and their subsidiaries producing liar loans.

Steve Berven said...

I does seem a fortuitous coincidence that someone who makes his living writing books about the perils of the institutional church should "sound the alarm" about people leaving...the institutional church. Perhaps this reflects a general disatisfaction with traditional churches? Perhaps there is a better alternative?

Why, funny you should say that...Here, have you read my book?

Anonymous said...
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JackW said...

I think it's because of non qualified followership ... the head of the church is qualified.

Anonymous said...

I read a book called "Christians are hate filled hypocrites and other lies you've been told" by Bradley Wright, a sociologist at UConn. The point of the book is that Christians actually do a pretty good job of living our their faith. A sub-theme of the book is that Barna should never be trusted. e goes into several Barna studies and explains the shoddy and sloppy work and interpretation done. Since reading that book, if I read 'Barna' on a study, I assume it is probably wrong.


Arthur Sido said...


What makes a meeting of Christian in a house not "real Church"?

FX Turk said...

Oh Jack ... go back and re-read Titus and Timothy. KthxBye.

FX Turk said...

Oh Arthur -- go back and re-read the book of Titus and compare it to the average house church. WHen house churches look more like the "set in order" version of things Paul presents rather than the "before" picture of Crete Paul paints, you can start that conversation up.


FX Turk said...

Hey Ann Arbor:

Nice find. I'll have to get me one of those.

FX Turk said...

I popped over to Amazon to read the blurb on this book. Stellar quote:

Though he often blames the media for gleefully reporting bad news about devout Christians, he doesn't spare evangelical polemicists such as Josh McDowell and Lee Strobel for their false exaggerations of evangelical shortcomings. His biggest target may be the pollster George Barna, whose surveys on Christianity have generated intense controversy.

Get some.

Doug Hibbard said...

So what you seem to be saying is...

I should base my decisions as a church leader on something other than correcting for the latest poll numbers? Like an objective, authoritative Word?

Great. Now I'll never get that book publishing deal.

I remember taking "Philosophy and Methods of Political Science" in college, which was the intro class for the PoliSci department. The professor had worked on the Clinton campaigns for governor and the first presidential campaign. You know what we learned in that class?

You can make a research study or survey say almost anything you want it to say. And you can do it without "lying:" it's in the question framing, the things left unasked, or the questions left unreported. Lots of leeway in these things.

DJP said...

Did it have something to do with what the definition of "is" or "should be" is?

Robert said...

Thanks, Frank. I already was leery of Barna, but reading this post and the linked articles just showns this guy is another wolf trying to tear the church apart. All of this talk about stifling the Spirit by having orderliness in the church is quite disturbing. I thought Paul was clear on that issue when he wrote the Corinthians (1 Cor. 14:23-33).

And if we wonder how God feels about orderliness in worship, just look into the OT at how everything was set up for worship in the Temple. Then look at what happened to people when they didn't follow the rules (anybody hear about Uzzah?). Yes, there is more than that (just read Isaiah 1:10-17 and Amos 5:21-27), but it does include order, government (or stewardship by the elders), and reverence as well.

It is sad to hear people be reminded by Frank to turn to the pastoral epistles to learn about how Paul directed Timothy and Titus to lead their churches (yes, with Jesus as the head).

Arthur Sido said...


Nicely done, you shut down any real conversation other than bashing Barna after only ten comments. Of course your comment also does nothing to address the question, but hey what does that matter? These issues are settled because...well because they just are. Everyone knows that the church meetings in the time that Paul was writing his letters to Timothy and Titus consisted of Christians sitting in neat little rows in their pews listening attentively to sermons on Sunday morning and taking notes in their bulletins.

I know, I know. Your blog, your rules.

James Scott Bell said...

Thank you for linking to reliable findings on Christian marriage/divorce. I never believed the equivalency stat, but it's been out there, quoted even in pulpits, but mostly joyously by the critics and enemies of the church. Barna's "findings" on this did damage. They were counterintuitive, and now we know they're false.

Barna made a name for himself by being the first to seriously study the trends in the evangelical church, but the whiff of agenda has been hovering around him for quite some time.

lee n. field said...

"Open letter to George Barna:

"Repent, and return to your first love"

That was my first thought on seeing the title.

Noah said...

Please do read Titus to see Frank's point. Coming to gather with the local body shouldn't be a case of "what do you want/feel like doing today?" Or "What is the Spirit leading/saying we should do tonight?" In my experience of house churches, that's where it starts. And then it inevitably ends in "Spirit-led" conversation on what this part of the Bible means to me. That isn't having the saints equipped for the work of the ministry at all and may be what some intend when they call these meetings not 'real'.

Tom Chantry said...

Ever noticed how some conversations always, always, always go the same way?

Biblechuckster: There's a problem with Home Churches.

Art Sido: What's the problem with home churches?

Frank Turk: (with reference to Scripture) It has something to do with the matter of having an ordered church.

My Mind: (because I've actually studied the Scripture Frank mentioned) Well of course...organization, authority, discipline, all that stuff in the Pastorals?

Art Sido: Yeah, right! Like they had pews and pulpits and bulletins in Paul's day!

My Mind: *sigh*

Art Sido: And by the way, you're a bully.

Honestly, Art, can you find a single person anywhere who actually equates "order" with "pews & bulletins"? Just one, for point of reference, so we can know what a real-life straw man looks like?

JackW said...

I didn’t know I was saying something that didn’t agree with the spirit of Frank’s post, so I reread Timothy and Titus to see if I was missing something. Didn’t find what I was missing. Nothing that said that leaders were not lead followers committed to following the Head of the church, the Lord Jesus Christ, as an example to the church.

My point was that the failure of leadership has at its root the failure of followership as well as forgetting the Lords Headship.

DJP said...

If anyone were to ask me — which, I note, they're not [name the movie reference] — I'd say this:

House churches are like denominations in that the theory is as a rule far better than the practice.

In reality the church, period, started in houses, period.

In theory there is not one thing wrong with a church meeting in a house.


In theory there is not one thing wrong with a denomination, in that it allows Christians of like convictions to pool resources, hew to a standard, and not have to re-argue the basics every Sunday.


In practice too many house-churches are "pastored" by unqualified men "leading" insubordinate souls with who they share the real issue of being unable to accept authority and accountability to something other than their own gizzard, but who would to a man and woman deny that that is the issue.

Repeating: that is not necessarily the case, that is not always the case, a house is a perfectly fine place for a church to be born and grow... but it is too often the case.

Does that forward this for you at all, Frank? If not, delete-a-le (as we say in Spanish).

THEOparadox said...

I always thought GB was a little off. Looks like I was wrong, he's WAY off! He's become the voice of the post-Christian christians.

FX Turk said...

When you put it that way, DJP, you have explained the punchline and deflated all the fun out of the topic.

For the off-topic topic, anyway.


DJP said...

And that'sssssss... bad?

(Name that movie)

FX Turk said...

Art --

I only shut down off-topic musings from people who don;t think the local church should be set in order by elders.


Scot said...

It seems that both emergents and Barna are two sides of the same coin. Both accept at face value the responses of their fellow, "I'm a Christian because jesus (little j) means something to me." The tree doesn't need to show fruit; its self-testimony is accepted.

The difference is that Barna seems to start with some grasp of orthodoxy, but with a cracked foundation. Emergents just building the Sears Towers, thinking an ole foundation will do.

Jugulum said...


Also note that Biblechuckster answered your question in his original comment. It read, "it was not equal to real Church. Mainly I believe because of non qualified leadership."

Tom, that means your summary could have started:

Biblechuckster: There's a problem with Home Churches. The problem with home churches is mainly unqualified leadership.

Art Sido: What's the problem with home churches?

Mr. Fosi said...

@DJP: "I'd say we were taking the long way 'round." ;^)

SnatchedFromTheFire said...

It's sad - i've been duped by the very "divorce polls" spoken of and, though not always the case, they always continue to be quoted by those disgruntled-kids of the Almighty (almost as though they were folding their arms and tapping their toes waiting for God to do something about that embarrassing mess).
I've often felt that the definition of "Christians" needs to be presented from the beginning of any such study (and not in that silly, who are the "real" Christians kinda way aka. KJV only bros) or who the heck are we talking about?!? I once questioned a major youth outreach organization what a "decision for Christ" actually meant to them and it amounted to nothing more than showing interest in Jesus. Gotta define our terms here or were wasting our time.

Anonymous said...

THANK YOU! Whew. I noted that Barna studies were everywhere, and as a person in the congregation, I was supposed to accept his studies as true and golden and take action based on them. The youth were said to be leaving the church and well, every Barna study backed that up. I even found his stuff at Awana. Things have been rearranged because of this man's work, he was used to support all sorts of "vision casting."


Anonymous said...

Where's the facebook share button?

Stefan Ewing said...

Sobering, fascinating stuff. And thanks to religionannarbor for the link.

Stefan Ewing said...


You're definitely on to something. A good textbook starts with its basic definitions. If we started out with the actual history, origin, and meaning of such basic names and terms as "Jesus Christ" and "Evangelical," that would go a long way toward getting folks onto a right footing.

Mary Elizabeth Tyler said...
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Cathy said...

Doesn't this relate back to Dan's post on discontentment last week. Barna just uses shoddy polling to create a feeling of discontent which he fans into out right fear and despair. Then he offers the "cure." He actually causes people to be discontented with God's ordained means of adding to and growing His Church. Just now doing a study of Ephesians 4. Seriously- sometimes I wonder if all of these church growth gurus ever read the Bible.

DJP said...

Cathy is now my Favorite Commenter of the Day So Far.

Mary Elizabeth Tyler said...

George Barna would do well to read about Calvinism in history. John Knox almost single handedly (with much more than a "little" help from above), eradicated ignorance and almost beastly behavior from Scotland.

The Puritans of England/America, the Covenanters of Scotland, and the Huguenots of France were all a testament to the transforming power of the Holy Spirit and Word of God.

I suspect that same work of the Holy Spirit is still alive today, and history is once again repeating itself.

Oh yeah, of little faith!!

Matt Aznoe said...


I remember you expressing a negative view when I mentioned Barna studies over a year ago, and now I understand why. I must confess that I have not been impressed with their more recent studies, though I do believe some of the initial studies do shed light on a serious deficiency in doctrine in the church.

The problem I see is that the church is splitting into two camps: lets change everything, and let's just keep doing what we are doing. I do think there are some serious problems in the church in America today -- even ones that are strong in doctrine -- as is evident in the general lack of fruit in our churches today. So changes need to be made, but the changes being offered are wrong and far too aggressive in their rejection of traditions, many of which are based in on solid Biblical instruction.

I have been finding some of the works of Andrew Murray to be very helpful: specifically, his book on humility. If I were to make an attempt at what we need to seek in the church it would be this: more humble and fervent prayer in our personal lives and in the corporate church and more humility before God (while certainly not neglecting proper Bible study, but that is already being emphasized in many circles).

Anyway, thank you for shedding some light on George Barna. I now understand your bias against him and find it entirely justified.

Anonymous said...

A bit tangential, from the linked Pagan Christianity review by Tim Challies:

>>2. I dislike the way Viola and Barna put forward their argument. They leave no room for discussion on the issue. If you disagree with them, you must love the traditions of man more than God. It becomes impossible to enter into honest dialogue because of the way they have set up the predicament.

I have had the same said to me: "You leave no room for discussion on the issue". But where the Scriptures are clear, we're not to be discussin', but teaching the Word, right? It's not bad that Barna/Viola spoke forcefully, but that they departed from Scripture.

Anonymous said...

(Not that I was propounding the same argument as Barna/Viola.)


DJP said...

An aside to the person who (friendly) wondered at first whether interacting with Andrew Murray in WTG was still topical - see?

Mary Elizabeth Tyler said...

I wonder what George Barna would think about Jonathan Edward's unofficial pole, and real-life head-counts. He claimed that only about 5% of his congregation was saved. That's a tough one to swallow. But, I think probably, maybe, in all likely hood, it’s true.

Few there be that find it!

Solameanie said...

Dan, your comment at 6:13 a.m. ought to be printed on parchment paper, shellaqued and decoupaged on to a plaque for prominent display.


Bill Radford said...

I was at a conference where I asked George Barna a two questions about emerging movements in the culture. He didn't know anything about either of them, which told me all I needed to know about him then. Subsequently my opinion has been confirmed as he has written essentially the same book 800 times (oh did I exaggerate?)

Coram Deo said...

Well done young Turk!

Now, destroy him and bring me his lightsaber!

*cue maniacal laughter*

In Him,

Matt Aznoe said...


Actually, when I did an analysis a while back of the Barna data (you can find my post on my blog if you are interested), that is exactly the conclusion I came to. Actually, it was a little less than 5%.

That is a figure that actually seems to come up fairly often. Perhaps, in light of that, there really is no problem in the Church... at least nothing that is new to the church. The call has always been the same: to humbly believe in the Lord Jesus Christ as our Savior and Lord and to commit our lives to Him.

Mary Elizabeth Tyler said...

It's those nasty Tares causing all the trouble in the church, giving all of us a bad rap! :)

FX Turk said...

Matt --

I have yet to meet a "change anything" person who wasn't intent on changing doctrine to achieve something dubious, but I'm also unwilling to concede that there are only two choices.

Let me put it to you that Dr. John Piper is someone who has offered cultural innovations to church life (i.e. - dg.org & the distribution of resources for free) without substantively offering rennovation of everything because he said so.

There's my counter-example to your point. What say you?

Matt Aznoe said...


I would agree with you. Really, there are three positions -- the two I mentioned are the two wrong positions. Piper is a good example of someone who is trying to change the church (the parts that are truly lacking) without changing doctrine. He has also had a strong emphasis on prayer.

I guess what concerns me is when I hear things like "God will build His church" used as an excuse to do nothing instead of seeing it as an opportunity to participate in the great work. Some of the complaints, even by the emergents, were actually valid complaints.

Changes do need to be made, but then again, changes have always needed to be made because we are sinful people. We shouldn't let the bad example of 1 Corinthians let us forget that through repentance and reform, they became the church of 2 Corinthians.

Mary Elizabeth Tyler said...

I think this whole Barna poll issue that Frank so eloquently wrote about, brings up something very interesting.

The redemptive work of God throughout biblical history, and our own history (post-the closing of canon), shows His uniqueness and His sovereignty when it comes to election.

In Scotland, He used John Knox to make a huge statement and impact, by doing a widespread sweep of redemptive work, as was the case in Nineveh. It is almost like He is saying, "O.K., this time around everyone is invited to the party, and it won't be salvation on a case by case, individual invitation only, basis. Then at other times, He sends missionaries out into the sparse, dry fields, and the harvest is barely worth the winnowing (but we know it really is).

And no, God did not really say that to me, He did not speak to me audibly, so no piling on, as Rachael said yesterday. :)

As usual, thanks, Frank!

Peter Eddy said...

To DJP's quote: Gimli!

He wanted to go through the mine.

Peter Eddy said...

Oops, the movie was The Fellowship of the Ring.

DJP said...

Mr. Fosi and Peter are right about one referenced movie.

What of the other, in my later comment?

Jay Beerley said...

What concerns me is people's obsession with statistics. People are not numbers. So, if nation-wide ____ amount of people do ____, that doesn't matter. I have Joe and Suzy in my flock and I care about where they are at in the disciple making process. Statistics are only useful if we want to crank out de-personalized "discipleship" programs. I like Stetzer a lot more than Barna, but as an Southern Baptist even the Lifeway machine makes it feel like we're pawning off our responsibility to pour into the specific and real lives of those around us to the "system."

Mr. Fosi said...

@DJP: "The thing about shaking hands is... You need hands! Ok, bye bye now."

DJP said...

Ladies and Gentlemen, we have a winner.

Hysterical movie, gold mine for apposite quotations.

Jugulum said...


"I have had the same said to me: "You leave no room for discussion on the issue". But where the Scriptures are clear, we're not to be discussin', but teaching the Word, right? It's not bad that Barna/Viola spoke forcefully, but that they departed from Scripture."

I don't think Challies was objecting to forceful, confident conclusions about what Scripture teaches. He objected to the way Barna & Viola portray the motivations of people who disagree.

An analogy would be "If you're not yet a Calvinist, you're not willing to submit to God's sovereignty", or "If you believe in continuation of miraculous gifts, you care more about flashy signs than God's word".

Or an example relevant to today's post (which Frank and Dan avoided): "If you're a proponent of small house churches, you just want to avoid accountability to mature qualified leadership."

Unknown said...

How did a good post on a guy who needs to tighten up his research and quit drawing conclusions on his research without some serious Biblical study end up in the comment section as a small church bashing session. Thee big church, complete with all the bells and whistles called for in the Scripture is no different than the small ones. And every critique made on the small church in these remarks can be made on the big institutional church as well. PS I hope Barna shapes up too. I like research that is helpful. I usually like to draw my own conclusions about it though.

Tom Chantry said...


Have yet to see anyone bashing small churches in this thread. Care to elaborate?

Solameanie said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Tom Chantry said...

To elaborate:

The issue with "house churches" is not that they are small. (My own congregation is rather small by most standards, and once met in the back yard of a deacon's house when our then-landlord changed the locks without telling us.)

The issue with "house churches" is not that they meet in houses. (I was once part of a church plant in Iowa which consisted of about a dozen individuals and families, and which met in a house. However, there was a structure of authority through a planting church, and in time the people there covenanted together as a church and appointed elders to rule. They were not a house church, no matter where they met.)

The issue with "house churches" as that designation is most often understood is the absence of polity, or, as Frank put it, the failure to even attempt to adapt to the instruction given in the Pastoral Epistles.

The big church, complete with all the bells and whistles called for in the Scripture is no different than the small ones.

Perhaps so, because the Scripture calls for few bells and fewer whistles, and the marks of a New Testament church may be accomplished even in a very small assembly. This makes the point, though: any church, small or large, which has every bell and each whistle called for in Scripture is in fact quite different from the group which self-consciously decides to forgo bells because it cannot abide whistles.

The difference between a church and a "house church" is not architectural, but rather ecclesiological.

Tom Chantry said...

...but back to the main point...

I does seem a fortuitous coincidence that someone who makes his living writing books about the perils of the institutional church should "sound the alarm" about people leaving...the institutional church. Perhaps this reflects a general disatisfaction with traditional churches? Perhaps there is a better alternative?

Why, funny you should say that...Here, have you read my book?

I must confess, I'm not and have never been a Barna-reader. I could never figure out what polls and statistics had to do with church leadership anyway. My question, though, is this: is it necessarily the case that he has slanted his polls in order to create the problem for which he has a solution in his books? Or is it equally possible that he's a bad statistician/pollster working in a field that defies statistics, and that as such he has been driven to adopt a solution to a problem which he now really thinks to be real?

Or was that question too convoluted to be answered?

Matt Aznoe said...

Tom Chantry,

I don't think we can say that a problem doesn't exist. The problem isn't necessarily in the statistics; it is in the solution. Statistics (when done well) are much like psychology -- they make good observations about what is happening, but they don't really explain why or how to address it (or if they do, they are often hideously and dangerously wrong).

I don't think anyone can deny that on a macro level, the Church in America is facing some problems. The trend of our youth leaving the Church permanently (as opposed to returning after a few wayward years) is one such example. Somehow, our faith is not being transmitted to the next generation. One often mentioned reason is hypocrisy, and it is one we really should consider prayerfully.

But I think your point was that Barna didn't make the statistics to sell books, but he is selling books to address a problem he has seen in his statistics. I think that is probably true -- at least in the beginning. But as he starts to skew the direction of his studies and the process of the polls themselves, he does seem to drifting into wrongful motives. At least, they are not as pure as they once might have been.

Tom Chantry said...

But I think your point was that Barna didn't make the statistics to sell books, but he is selling books to address a problem he has seen in his statistics. I think that is probably true -- at least in the beginning. But as he starts to skew the direction of his studies and the process of the polls themselves, he does seem to drifting into wrongful motives. At least, they are not as pure as they once might have been.

My point was actually that I don't know, and can't say, because I've never bothered to read him. But yeah, you've nailed the distinction I was driving towards. Is this a case of manufacturing statistics to support a cause, or of adopting a cause because statistics have been misunderstood. I think it's an intriguing question.

I also admit that it is ultimately immaterial, for a number of reasons. First, the statistics are being proven meaningless - the point of the post. Second, I still question whether statistics really make much of a difference, anyway.

Let me illustrate:

Pastor X says that statistics show that the young are leaving the church, and he suggests that we abandon doctrinal instruction and have pie-throwing contests. (Hey, I never said my illustration would be unrealistic, did I?)

Pastor Y says that statistics show that the young are leaving the church, and he suggests that doctrinal instruction is lagging, and must be re-emphasized.

Pastor Z never reads statistics, but is convinced from the Pastoral Epistles that doctrinal instruction must be re-emphasized within his church.

Now in this illustration, Pastor X was probably going to go wrong no matter what, possibly (I said "possibly"!!!) because he's no Christian. Pastor Y read the same statistics, and because he's a biblical guy, he came to a biblical solution. Good on him. But Pastor Z is equally biblical, he's just a skeptic when it comes to statistics. Yet the Bible leads him to exactly the same place as Pastor Y.

So my point (yes, I have one) is that whether we glance at statistics or not, the Scripture ought to be leading us to the same solutions for the church. That said, I think there is wisdom in discounting statistics, since the only place they can really independently lead you is to a face full of pie.

Matt Aznoe said...


You make a good point, but let me play devil's advocate (hopefully not literally!). In a perfect world with a perfect pastor, you are correct, but we can often have blind spots so that we do not see the problems that are in our midst. This is where statistics can be illuminating because they may cause you to pay attention to a problem you should have known existed but for whatever reason had not yet registered.

The same goes for psychology or for observations from non-believers looking in. We may have known at some level that something was wrong, but they bring some clarity to the diagnosis.

The problem comes in when we look to these sources of observation to get their advice on the solution. Instead, we should go straight to prayer and examination of the scriptures to see what God says as well as to double check the observation to make sure that it is, in fact, correct.

Now, even as I was writing this, it got me to thinking. Are there any examples in the Bible of God showing His people that they were wrong through a non-believer? I am thinking there probably is, but I am drawing a blank right now (maybe because an example doesn't exist?).

trogdor said...

No doubt pastors have blind spots. Pointing them out seems a more fitting job for biblically-informed elders, deacons, lay leaders, the pastor's wife, fellow pastors in the community/denomination, etc, than for statistical analysis or surveys.

Matt Aznoe said...


Good point. Maybe we are relying too much on the tools of the world and not enough on the Bible and the body of Christ as God works through us.

Anonymous said...
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Tom Chantry said...

Yeah, Matt, I think I'm with Trogor (to a point, that is - assuming he doesn't put all those helps which he listed on the same strata). My argument would be that a proper polity is layered, with plurality of leadership and input from the body. There are plenty of opportunities to discover our weaknesses right there within the fellowship of the saints. If we need polling and statistical analysis to show us our weak points, that probably says we aren't paying attention to the checks on personal weakness which Christ built into the church.

Matt Aznoe said...
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Matt Aznoe said...

Tom and Trogdor,

Yeah, the more I think about this, the more I am convinced you two are correct. Isn't it funny how easily things of the world slip into our lives, and we don't even realize it? It makes you wonder how many more things are in our lives and in our churches that we take for granted but are not from God and are, in fact, detrimental to our walk.

FX Turk said...

I was going to beat someone dow, but Chantry is like a 6-armed bouncer in an all-night bar fight in here.

I'm going to roast some chicken.

trogdor said...

Definitely not on the same level. There's a difference between your elders saying something's wrong and some small group leader or the pastor of your denomination's other churches raising the same complaint. Obviously the closer someone is and the more authority they have in the church, you should take their observations more seriously.

Matt Aznoe said...


If I may, I would say that Tom is rather a spirit-filled man of wisdom and grace who strives to make peace by the power of the Word and the Spirit.

Instead of beating people down, perhaps we would be better suited to follow his lead. After all, I just changed my mind on the value of statistics....

Sir Brass said...

Matt, I think Frank was being facetious ;), considering that he equated Tom's handling to the "bouncer beatdown" :). Frank is an acquired read (but one worth cultivating).

Tom Chantry said...


I'd like to think that you, like Frank, were being facetious. I really would like to think it.

The thing is, the whole Frank-is-mean meme is just so tiresome, and I can no longer remember who actually believes it any more. So, if you are among those who think that Frank has a tone problem, know that I am not one who agrees with you, and please leave me out of it.

And if you were entering into the spirit of fun, then my apologies.

As for your complement...

...I read the comment to my wife, and she disagrees. She does not sanction the phrase "spirit-filled man of wisdom and grace" in reference to me. Apparently she thinks I beat people down on a regular basis. Like Frank.

Unknown said...

Tom, Totally agree abt the ecclesiology comment. Just don't want to dismiss a movement that on their best day is trying to make a coarse correction without giving them a fair shake. My experience witht he group is a far cry from the "average house church our brilliant brother Frank refers to. Caricature and presumption don't serve movements well but neither do the high-visibility flakes that give fodder to the same.

Having said that, my read historical read of Barna is that he does good research and draws crappy conclusions from it. The Baylor report indicates that he may do both.

trogdor said...

For a high-profile example of ignoring biblical exhortations (for decades) and relying on surveys/stats, see Willow Creek's 'repentance'. To borrow the earlier illustration, they spent years as a hybrid of X and Y, and 'repented' by saying they'd lean more towards Y (if the surveys said to). Why not just be Z and do what the Bible says the church must do?

Unknown said...


Do I hear you saying that in essence this boils down to the church simply knowing and doing the will of God which is already recorded for us in the revealed word - itself being both accurate and complete? That we don't need anything outside of that to buttress, supplement, or replace what we already know is the revealed will of God? That the Bible alone is where we learn how to love and obey God? That new revelation of God has ceased and that statistics are about as useful as hunches, premonitions, coincidences, personal thoughts and experiences, intuition, and a whole host of other nonsensical errors are in determining the will of God not just at a personal level but also at the ecclesiatical level?

Is that what I hear you saying? Because it sounds awefully familiar.

Unknown said...

I don't remember a time in my life when I was anything else but a cessationist yet the more I read, study, and memorize God's word the more I realize how much I just don't know. Perhaps that's a good part of the reason why I've remained that way, but more likely its just the grace of God. On the other hand, the perspicuity of the word seems so obvious that one has to wonder why so much of this has to be rehashed so often.

If the imperative is to preach the word - in season and out - then, obviously, what value are statistics in determining what words to preach?

NotReturnedVoid said...

Mr Turk,
Right on the "money" here too!I just published a piece yesterday showing one Barna's partner in Pagan as well. I had no idea you were posting this.

John Beardsley, BDM

trogdor said...

Chantry is basically Goro. Whenever I read an article and the first comments, think I have a good idea, but get delayed in posting, I inevitably come back to find that Chantry has Hulk-smashed the same points I was planning to make, and he's done it far better.

For this thread, I had planned to address:
A) The difference between "church that meets in a house" and the "house church" movement
B) The chicken/egg conundrum of Barna's research and his anti-biblical ecclesiology

Sho'nuff, by the time I got back here, both were addressed. Patrick Swayze had nothing on Chantry.

Unknown said...

Let's just think about the logic, here, let's just think about the logic. (name that movie!)

This whole statistics bit is nothing more than an authority issue. I've not really read any of his material directly, but I gather that the statistics that Barna are compiling come primarily from polling people and lumping their responses together to try to determine trends in the church. When all of that is said and done, do you really end up with anything more than just group think?

So either the revealed word of God is the true seat of authority or something else is. This attack is nothing at all new and the Pyros have been addressing it head on (this time around, at least) for well over a week.

Ed said...

I don't generally comment on Barna's research for obvious reasons. However, I will treasure this in my heart, "Ed's a guy much closer to the center mark of Christian orthodoxy and orthopraxy."

I've always wanted to be "closer" to orthodoxy. ;-)

I am framing it for my wall.

God bless,


FX Turk said...

Oh Ed: if you want to be offended because I said you're not perfect but "much closer" to it than Barna, rock on.

Ed said...

A smiley face implies humor, not offense, Frank.


FX Turk said...

OK: If I want to be offended by a smiley face, then I'll rock on.


Robert "Cricket" Renner said...

Two comments:

1. Aren't 85% of all statistics made up? (Was it Barna that stated that?)

2. In reference to Tom & Matt's earlier discussion, wasn't it Barna that had a poll that stated youth are leaving the church in great numbers? And, wasn't there a more objective poll that said youth may leave for a short time as young singles, but come back in the same numbers that have left once they are young marrieds?

In His service in Alaska,

boyd said...

Christian surveys are worthless regardless of who does them. How do you make a distinction between a real christian and someone who self identifies as a christian?

Tom Chantry said...

Chantry is basically Goro.

Frank? Ed? You can stop being offended now. At least you aren't demons with various extraneous limbs, which, from the link, I apparently am. Not getting how that relates to Swayze, unless it's that, just as you wouldn't want to see that Goro fellow do any "dirty" dancing, you probably wouldn't want to see me do any...

...you know what? Never mind.

trogdor said...

The Swayze was of course the star of Road House, which might have won an Oscar for best documentary about bouncing. Goro's 4 arms plus Swayze's 2 and mad bouncing skillz = the 6-armed comment thread bouncer. And I thought you were allowed to dance since you aren't a Baptist and all.

Forgive me, I've gotten maybe five hours of sleep since Saturday, these things made a lot more sense in my sleep-deprived mind.

John N said...

I’m glad you’ve exposed this.

So basically Barna is a prophestician of doom and his findings are as useful as a one-legged man in a butt kicking competition.

Tom Chantry said...

And I thought you were allowed to dance since you aren't a Baptist and all.

I most certainly am a Baptist!

Robert said...

I think all churches should strive for the Z option that Tom presented. The day that we need statistics to show us we're doing something wrong in the church is a sad day indeed.

I also agree with Phillip about the perscipuity of Scripture. The problem isn't with clear instruction from Scripture, it is with our prideful assertion that we can make it better somehow.

The really sad part about these polls is that they show a trend that has already occured in churches that are pretty much already lost. It will take a wholesale change in those churches to where they start teaching the Word to their whole congregation, regardless of age. I teach our 3 year olds-kindergarteners in a rotation on Wednesday nights and as I started to look through the curriculum to prepare for our slot in October, I saw that I'm going to have to change some of what it says. We're covering Daniel and this curriculum puts forth the idea that Daniel chose to eat vegetables and water because he knew that they would make him healthy and strong. The truth is that Daniel chose them because God had put restrictions on what His people could eat and he wanted to be faithful to God. It is small changes we make to the Word in order to "make sense of things" to the children that cause them to eventually leave the church. I mean, we're basically telling them that the explanation from Scripture isn't good enough. And how do we expect kids to react when they grow up and we tell them that the Bible is authoritative? That is a bit confusing to say the least. And I don't need a poll to tell me that.

donsands said...

Another excellent open letter, as usual from Centurion.

When someone comes by and says, "Barna says". then I say, "Barna Schmarna."

Have a great weekend in our Lord's grace and joy, and enjoy our day off here in America.

Anonymous said...

>>An analogy would be "If you're not yet a Calvinist, you're not willing to submit to God's sovereignty", or...

Thanks for the examples. I'm less convinced than ever though. We need men making strong statements like this -- not baseless ones of course-- but if I make such a case and I've erred, is it not my rightful expectation that a brother will confront me and say, "You're wrong, brother, and here's why." How has my strong statement left no room for discussion, unless my brother is afraid to tell me I'm wrong? Why is he afraid? I only said what I did because the love of God compelled me to warn my brothers from the Scriptures--I don't like to look like a fool more than anyone else. If I've erred, what prevents him from stepping up to correct me?

And if he can find no basis on which to correct me, he needs to consider the possibility that I've spoken the truth and that his fight may not be with me but with God's truth. How would I be serving the Lord and my brother better by toning down my assertions so that he was never forced to such a decision? Or what godly men through church history would we point to as our examples in this?

No, we need to learn to be men, both in giving and receiving those pointed, life-giving words.

Daniel Meyer

Jugulum said...


I'll make a distinction that I'm not sure was clear in my first comment, and see if that affects your answer.

I absolutely agree with you that we need to learn to give and receive pointed, life-giving words, which will sometimes include "You're not willing to submit to God's sovereignty", and "You care more about flashy signs than God's word", and "You just want to avoid accountability to mature qualified leadership". Sometimes, it's apparent that those are indeed people's motivation, and love demands that we call them out on it. (Though we have to guard against pride & irritability in ourselves when we do it, and against making that judgment too quickly.)

The problem in the examples I gave is that they're universal accusations, which Scripture doesn't justify. When we say such things, they have to be judgments, not assumptions.

Unwillingness to submit to God's sovereignty will certainly prevent someone from accepting Calvinism--but it's not the only thing. So will "I haven't delved into the relevant passages", or "My traditions are twisting my interpretation; I haven't yet succeeded in setting aside my preconceived ideas," or "I've been fed bad information". (Someone from an Arminian background might be entirely willing to accept Calvinism, without having clearly seen the biblical testimony yet. God can give us humble hearts before he fixes our soteriological understanding.)

On the house church issue, DJP handled it very well up above in his 6:13 AM, August 31, 2011 comment. He spoke pointed, convicting words, without presuming that the criticism univerally applies to all "house churches".

We have to show discernment, and knee-jerk generalized accusations are anything but. That's how I read Challies criticism of Barna and Viola.

Solameanie said...

Frank, I think you've been listening to too much David Essex. ;)

Anonymous said...
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Unknown said...
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Unknown said...

Hello. I took the photo you’ve taken and…er…beautified above.

You’re welcome to use and abuse it as much as you want, but please attribute the source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/danssordidandsundrypictures/2713832859/

Anonymous said...

> I'll make a distinction that I'm not sure was clear in my first comment, and see if that affects your answer...When we say such things, they have to be judgments, not assumptions.


I didn't catch the distinction initially, and it's an important one that I need to chew on. Thanks for clarifying.

Daniel Meyer