How Accurate Are These Statistics? October 18, 2008

How Accurate Are These Statistics?

Mike O. attended a conference session run by David Kinnaman, author of a really interesting book unChristian.

Kinnaman is president of The Barna Group, a sort of Gallup polling group for the Christian world.

He presented several statistics about non-Christians and where we get our perceptions of Christians:

Where do young non-Christians get their perceptions of us?

  • 59% from churches
  • 50% from Friends
  • 48% from other religions
  • 44% from books
  • 40% from parents
  • 31% from TV/movies
  • 16% from music

Also on the list of his findings:

  • There is more similarity between young Christians and young non-Christians than there is between young Christians and older Christians.
  • Most non-Christians blame interactions with Christians for their negative view of Christianity.
  • Non-Christians have an average of five Christian friends.
  • 53% [of non-Christians] have been approached to become a Christian.
  • 38% said that conversation felt awkward or uncomfortable
  • 14% who said it was friendly.

Do those stats make sense to you?

Do any of the numbers surprise you?

How many Christian friends do you have…?

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What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • I don’t have that many Christian friends, now that I think about it. A few people from high school, but I don’t really stay in touch with them. I guess two people with whom I interact regularly. Although, there are probably more, but it’s just people with whom I’ve never actually discussed religion. The stats aren’t really that surprising to me. The percentage of people who say conversation about becoming a christian is awkward seems a little low, perhaps, but that’s about it.

  • I’m curious that these statistics don’t account for a non-Christian’s previous experience as a Christian. No account for deconversion.

  • NeuroLover

    I’m really surprised that the number “approached to become a Christian” is just over half. Really? Because it’s 100% of the non-theists I know personally, and a very high proportion of people I know who are of other non-Christian faiths. I suppose a lot of it has to do with where you are geographically…

  • Ryan

    I also see “approached to become a Christian” being the only real surprise, but for the opposite reason. Up in Ontario, I doubt it is anywhere near as high as 53%, so I think NeuroLover is probably right that that one would vary greatly by geographic area.

  • Autumnal Harvest

    Like neurolover, I was surprised that only 53% have been “approached to become a Christian.” I’ve lived on both coasts, and the Midwest, and everywhere I’ve lived, occasionally random people have stopped me on the street, or rung my doorbell, to proselytize. I wonder if those surveyed took “approached” to mean a more concerted, systematic effort, by someone they knew.

  • It depends on what counts as a friend and, frankly, what counts as a Christian. I don’t know how to answer that.

  • Bo

    I have at least 5 close friends who are Christians, and almost all of less-close-but-still-friends-friends are Christians.

  • I’d say the “approached to become a Christian” stat is %100 in Kentucky.

  • Where do we get our perceptions? Who could know for sure? I wouldn’t trust my own answers to such a question, much less the responses to a survey.

    And only five Christian friends on average? I must count my friends differently, because I would say I have an order of magnitude more than that.

    And I’ve never been “approached to become a Christian”. I expect people to know better than to do that. It could definitely be a regional thing, because I am in a blue state university.

  • Karen Brown

    Well, I think it makes a difference that a lot of atheists are not ‘out’ as atheists.

    After all, they will only approach you to become one if they realize you aren’t one already.

  • Beijingrrl

    At 38, I’m not a “young” atheist any more, so most of my real friends are atheists. I still have a lot of religious acquaintances, but we don’t tend to move beyond a certain level of intimacy.

    I personally don’t really mind the people knocking on my door as long as it’s not too early in the morning. Maybe because it’s a rare occurrence. I do get really annoyed by the stealth proselytizers. It just irks me when I’m having a nice conversation with someone and all of a sudden they start inviting me to church. It makes the whole previous conversation feel completely insincere.

  • Seeing as how the religious outnumber us by at least twenty to one, it’s no surprise atheists will have many Christian friends. The thing is, who cares? I have only one or two personal (IRL) friends with whom the topic of religion has ever explicitly been discussed. For the vast majority of those I call friends, I have no idea what their views on God and religion are, because that’s not the basis of our friendship.

  • Vincent

    I’d like to know the average of how many non-christian friends a Christian has. Remember, non-christian is more than just atheist.
    I’d suspect the average would be in the small decimals.

    also, only 38% found it awkward?

  • Jeff Satterley

    I would have thought a lot of non-Christians get their perceptions of Christians from politics. Religion is so ubiquitous in the political arena, that it’s tough not the think of it in terms of how it affects government policies.

    To be honest, I don’t know the religion of a majority of my friends. It never really comes up.

  • Purple

    I don’t think I have any close non-religious friends. Now that I think about it… all of my close friends are Christians. One of them is a fundamentalist who doesn’t believe in evolution etc. etc. and is the son of a pastor.

    -shrug- Well, when you live in Texas…

  • Catherine

    hmmm, I think my friends are about evenly split between Christians and atheists/agnostics. The Christians I tend to be friends with though are the more liberal ones (since I am gay and liberal as all get out, I tend not to mix well with the really conservative Christians).

    I HATE being approached by strangers trying to convert me. If we are friends, we can stay up til all hours talking about religion and such. However, I’m not going to feel very comfortable having some deep, meaningful conversation with some random person who is out to convert me.

  • T’s Grammy

    Wow! I guess 50 year old grandmothers don’t count as “young”.

    As for the negative reaction to Christianity, yep, I blame mine on negative interaction with Christians, starting with my evil freaking mother. But I also blame it on the religious reich. They are making me overly defensive to say the least.

    I live in NY (about as blue as you can get) and I’ve been approached — or do they mean by friends? If they just mean by friends, my friends know better. They respect my right to disbelieve and I respect theirs to believe. This is, after all, America.

    I have always preferred a small group of friends to a large circle of acquaintances and maintain about a half dozen good friends throughout my life. Among my current 5 that I consider close enough for that category (there are other people I’m friendly with like coworkers and neighbors but whom I don’t really socialize with and consider part of that group and wouldn’t have any idea of what they think): 3 are Christian, 1 unbeliever and 1 who was raised Catholic but I’m not sure what the heck she believes now as she keeps that private. We’ve been friends for just under 10 years now and I don’t really know what she believes — just a vague something is the nearest I can discern (because I’m not rude enough to ask, hey, you still believe in God or what). She is, however, utterly gullible for psychics. I’m always groaning and telling her to keep her hard-earned money. She’s used to that small lecture and I’m used to the fact that she won’t listen to my advice on that score.

    More annoying is the agism. Why are so many of these surveys and even civil rights groups concentrating solely on the young these days. Even my union is soliciting special groups to focus on what youth thinks. WTF? Do us old farts not count any more? And, fu to that, meaning I’m a baby boomer and I will be heard until they shovel the dirt over my cold, dead body.

    And then they’ll probably have to hear my grandson’s two cents in my place because he is already not afraid to argue, rebel, or get up on his soapbox and never has been. Stubborn little cuss. Reminds me of someone…

  • Aaron

    My evangelical brother in law recently read this book and was commenting on some of the statistics. Primarily those in the book that discuss the behavior and beliefs of christians. For example apparently only 3% of christians hold a ‘biblical’ worldview. So I took a brief glance at the chapters he was referring to, needless to say the survey methodology was flawed, and their interpretation of the results was a stretch. They defined a biblical worldview as one that ‘strongly agree’ with 8 specific statements. So, a christian who simply agrees or hopes that these statements are true, or who agrees with say 7 of the 8 items, is not considered to have a biblical worldview according to Barna group. I know that’s not included in the ‘results’ you pointed out above, and may not be of immediate relevance to visitors of this site, but for me it points out that something fishy is going on with this research. I emailed Barna group for answers, to some questions such as “how many replied with ‘agree’ to each of the 8 items?” and they didn’t seem to understand the question and simply directed me to their book. What I suspect is that the book is designed to be read by evangelicals with the take home message that there is a crisis in the ‘church’, and guess who’s ready to swoop in with the answers to this crisis while charging a hefty consulting fee or public speaking fee? My guess: Barna Group.

    Again, many of you may not give a damn about Barna swindling churches, and I for one don’t really care if megachurches want to waste their money on this sort of fix. But, as a researcher, I find it troubling that this sort of poor research will just further the misperceptions of evangelicals about what science is and what it is not, further frustrating those who are interested in knowing truth about reality who engage evangelicals in dialogue. Not to mention having to listen to evangelical relatives bellyache about how they belong to a group that is a persecuted minority.

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