Friday, June 8, 2012

Lies, damned lies and statistics

People often repeat headline statistics without knowing the context or looking at the source. I am not very trusting of these things so I tend to look up the original data wherever possible to see what was actually said and the context in which it was said.

Today was a case in point where my friend Pete tweeted:

Globally - 100,000 people become Christians every day. 4,500 new churches start every week. (Source: David B. Barrett and Todd M. Johnson)

I did a bit of searching around and the data comes from a study by David B. Barrett and Todd M. Johnson, "Annual Statistical Data on Global Mission: 2002," from the International Bulletin of Missionary Research (Jan. 2002), 23. You can download a copy here (registration required). I did and the actual statistics are not as optimistic as that.

Here are some of the statistics.

1900 - 558,132,000
1970 - 1,236,374,000
2000 - 1,999,564,000

In an increasing world population the number of Christians IS increasing, but where some Christians might see that as winning some a race the percentage figures are more sobering:

Christians as a percentage of world population
1900 - 34.5
1970 - 33.5
2000 - 33.0
2002 - 33.1
2025 - 33.4 (projection based on trends in 2002)

So even by their projection the percentage of Christians in the world in 2025 will be much the same as in 1970.

The sting in the tail for evangelicals
Evangelicals using these figures need to be very careful indeed. To get to them Barrett and Johnson include 1.38bn “church attenders”  (i.e. nominal Christians) and nearly 1.3bn Roman Catholic and Orthodox church members. Few of these will be people who would identify as, or be honestly counted, as "bible believing" or "born again".

Once again, evangelicals are tending to count people as Christians when it suits them, and not count them when it doesn't. See my previous article The problem of the Nominal Christian for another example of this in relation to persecution.