Reining in the statistical horse

Reading between the lines

This week the graphic below, from Digital Agency Buzzplant, started doing the rounds in earnest in the UK. Like all the best infographics, it grabs the attention straight away. However, it also encourages a tendency to read and use the data selectively.

  • The data was drawn from 250 churches in the USA, although many in the UK are extrapolating the trends to this side of the Atlantic. Is this right?
  • Churches cite social media as their ‘most effective method of outreach’, but surely that effectiveness is best measured from OUTside the church?
  • The opening gambit of the post on Mashable, where the infographic appeared, repeats an oft-repeated and always inaccurate mantra that church and technology don’t mix. Religion isn’t a word often associated with technology”. William Tyndale, who used the new-fangled printing press to produce Bibles might have disagreed. Missionary doctors, who have pioneered techniques in combating some of the world’s deadliest diseases might have something to say about it too!
  • Data such as this is stimulating and challenging. We should be grateful to Buzzplant for bringing it to our attention. However, we should never allow the digested form of an infographic to short-circuit a more extensive analysis.
  • Since you are one of a small percentage reading this on a blog – what do you think? Comments welcome.

4 thoughts on “Reining in the statistical horse

  1. The article and image linked to fall into other traps as well. Mostly they approach it from a top-down perspective which is wrong on the count of Social media and of church progressions into new arenas.

    Ask how many “churches” are doing Social media (and how they are using it) and you get responses like this. Now ask how many *Christians* are using Social media (and how) and you’ll get a completely different result.

    In the past few years I have attended several “conferences” about Church and Social Media. In every one the examples of good practice and ground breaking usage were of individual Christians (or perhaps a couple of them) just doing stuff and not of “a Church” or denomination. Social media has a tendency to break down the dividing walls we use elsewhere. Hence denominational or theological differences become less important (in my experience).

    Social media is peer-to-peer by nature. Churches used to be but rarely are these days. If THE church is to reach into the brave new world of Social media then it will have to be on the same basis it reached into uses of other technology – by the _people_ going out and doing it. I’ve been using and developing for the web since 1996. Churches didn’t really appear on the web until the early 2000sbut Christians have been using it since it’s earliest days.

    If a Church (by which I mean a single congregation or perhaps a denomination) is to use Social media it woul dbe better to act as a collation hub rather than a dictator. Christ’s church has been present on, engaging with and at the forefront of Social media for years and it may be having a bigger impact than many “industry” commentators will be aware of.

  2. I liked seeing the stats, I thought it was quite encouraging, but I like your further analysis even more. Perhaps the best thing is that it gets us thinking about social media and mission. I would have to agree with most of what Crimperman says about individual Christians using and connecting with people through social media. This seems to me a much more powerful way that the ‘church’ is engaging and perhaps if we think about the spread of the gospel throughout history this is a way that it has always been effectively done.

    • Andy. I am sure you are right. Since social media is about conversation, it is hard to have one of those with an organisation! I think you can see this when products want you to be their ‘friend’ – a misuse of the word, I think

  3. Great article and comments. I completely agree with Crimperman on the the way THE Church in the form of individual Christians are extremely active online presence. By extension this changes what we mean when we think about church. The church community in which I am involved is no longer simply local or denominational but much more complex and vibrant. It is also far more transparent, clearly visible to the world around. This is a great opportunity. It is also a great responsibility to be reflective of what it means to be Christ’s body.

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