Why Do Pastors Use Bad Statistics?

Bob Smietana points out something we’ve all known for a long time: When pastors tell you a statistic from the pulpit, you better do some fact-checking of your own.

Like these numbers Pastor Mark Driscoll pulled out of nowhere (or, quite possibly, plagiarized from some other liar):

What percentage of Americans could be classified as evangelical Christian? The answer is around 8%. There are more left handed people, more Texans, and more pet cats than evangelicals in America.

Smietana corrects him without mentioning him by name:

This pastor is apparently quite concerned that the evangelical church is being overrun by southpaw kittens from the Lone Star state.

This claim, however, isn’t quite true.

There are more cats (and dogs) than evangelicals in the U.S. But not Texans or southpaws.

While there are about 95 million cats in the U.S., according to the Humane Society, there are between 50 million (Religious Congregations & Membership Study, 2010) and 75 million evangelicals (Pew Research).

That’s more than the estimated number of southpaws — between 30 and 45 million Americans — and Texans (26.6 million, according to the U.S. Census).

Going one for three might be good in baseball. But it’s bad for preachers.

You may argue that of all the lies pastors tell, these are the mild ones, but the point remains: When people who are supposed to be trustworthy say something that’s objectively untrue, their credibility is undermined.

What’s worse is that these statistics could have all been verified or debunked beforehand with very little research. If the pastors didn’t care to look up those facts, though, why should anyone believe them when they say anything else?

It just reinforces the stereotype that you know a pastor is making something up when he says, “Here’s a true story…”

(Image via Shutterstock)

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