Using Statistics in Christian Ministry

Interesting factoid: Statistics are better and more accurate predictors of human behavior than estimations of human behavior based on ‘known’ facts. For instance, I can say that so-and-so will do such-and-such a thing because I have seen examples of people doing such things. I’m basing my judgment on anectodal evidence. The problem with anectodal evidence is that it is just that — anecdotal. My own observations are very, very limited and generally do not reflect true trends.

There are all kinds of organizations, companies, and agencies in the world at large that do nothing but collect statistics on human behavior. One such area where research of this kind is extremely useful is in the social sciences, specifically psychology and counseling. Counselors are beginning to rely more and more on statistics in predicting patient/treatment outcome because it has been shown that these numbers are better at prediction than are our own estimations. An example of this is predicting that a patient is going to relapse into former unhealthy behaviors, even though current treatment is going very well, because the numbers indicate that the vast majority of patients similar to this one have themselves relapsed. Such knowledge gives the counselor a heads-up and gives them the opportunity to head the problem off and try a different tack to avoid the relapse itself.

Many Christians I know cringe when they see statistics used in this way. The general notion as I perceive it is that these statistics tend to remove or negate man’s free will, placing him into a box and taking away his ability to control his own actions. The fear here, I think, is that the use of statistics in the helping professions will prove our methods useless and redundant, that they will prove that man has no choice but to act in such ways, that all our work and effort
is, ultimately, in vain. The fundamental misunderstanding here is, however, that while statistics predict accurate future behavior, they in no way influence behavior itself. Statistics are simply
descriptive and serve certain purposes in the helping professions.

This all leads me to wonder how much of a role statistics plays in Christian ministries. I am sure that there are organizations out there that gather such data, analyze it, organize it, and deliver it to churches, ministries, and various similar Christian agencies, but I am personally unaware of such groups. Organizations like Focus on the Family and Crisis Pregnancy Centers undoubtedly collect data to some extent, but I wonder how much of that is used to write and publish reports and journals that would be useful to the Christian community at large. Since my Master’s degree is in psychology and my background and area of interest is in research, data collection, and analysis, I have a vested interest in finding or establishing an organization that conducts surveys, tests, and the like and uses the resultant data in a meaningful way to aid the Christian community in outreach. So, if anyone has heard of such organizations (or has
money to throw toward funding research grants), I would love to hear about it. It would be very cool to put my particular skills and interests to work for the furtherance of the work of God.

Postscript: 2 Peter has a lot of good stuff! I may write a bit about it in the near future…

2 thoughts on “Using Statistics in Christian Ministry”

  1. Statistics do nothing to change free will; they are merely predictors, as you so well state.  And powerful predictors at that, when applied properly.  I suspect that Chrisitians in general fear statistics because they can in theory be used to refute positions generally regarded as Biblical (spanking kids comes to mind).

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