William Lane Craig, the Secular Student Alliance, and some suspicious statistics

So the Secular Student Alliance made an infographic with some information they got off the Campus Crusade for Christ… er, I’m sorry, “Cru” website. The information on “Cru’s” website turned out to be a mistake, so the Secular Student Alliance made a new infographic with the correct information. In response, William Lane Craig whined about how the SSA “utterly distorted the situation” and accused them of “spin.” Waa, waa, whatever. But I did find one thing interesting in Craig’s podcast about this.

It’s what Craig claimed about Campus Crusade’s sorry, Cru’s success at evangelism (after the 12:00 mark):

They also reported that during the past school year they had more than one million exposures to the gospel, what that means is that there were more than one million complete sharing of the Four Spirtual Laws or Knowing God Personally booklet with students, and as a result there were 127,000 responses to place faith in Christ and become a Christian. So they say that they are seeing a response rate that continues to increase every year. Apparently, the number of decisions for Christ grew from 115,000+ to 127,000+. So students are continuing, in increasing numbers, to come to faith in Christ.

This is the booklet Craig is talking about. Craig is bragging about the fact that Cruade Cru got a million people to let them get through their silly, scripted evangelistic pitch. I suspect I may be included in that statistic; the last time I was in Madison hanging out at the student union (as an alumni), I got some young evangelist come up to me and I let them give me their spiel (I think it was the “four laws,” spiel, though I don’t really remember). When they were done, the conversation went something like this:

Young evangelists: Want to come to Jesus now?
Me: No.
Young evangelists: Oh.

Whoever sent them out evidently hadn’t prepared them for that. They had no rebuttal. I felt kind of bad for them. And those are the kind of events Craig is bragging about with his “over a million” statistic. It’s a meaningless number which I assume Campus Crusade Cru only collects because it sounds impressive to people who don’t think about it very hard.

The fact that they’re bragging about a meaningless statistic like that makes me suspicious of their claims about how many people they got to become Christians. I’ve heard many former evangelists of of the Campus Cru sort talk about later becoming disillusioned with the supposed effectiveness of Crusade Cru’s methods. If someone could find me good links on that I’d be appreciative.

Also, perhaps most significantly, the tale of ever-growing success for, ah, fuck it, Campus Crusade for Christ doesn’t fit well with the fact that young people are America’s least-Christian demographic, and huge majorities of them describe Christianity as judgmental, hypocritical, and anti-gay (the last of these is especially bad given strong levels of support for gay rights among young people).

You can actually see the effects of this on college campuses. At Madison, the local Campus Crusade chapter was huge, but their success seemed to hinge on hiding all the icky stuff about their group. Before the “Cru” name change went nation wide, they were calling themselves “Student Impact” rather than Campus Crusade, and the last big event I saw them advertising was called “Jesus Without Religion” or somesuch, which should tell you something about how popular religion is among today’s college students.

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  • MikeN

    Why do I get the feeling that a lot of those “responses to place faith in Christ” were along the lines of:

    Cru member: “So, do you want to ask any questions or hear more about this, or do you want to take this booklet as a respond to Christ?”

    Harassed student trying to go about their business: “Sure, sure, jesus, good stuff, thanks for the pamphlet, but I’m already late…”

    Cru: “So we’ll see you come to place your faith in Jesus at our next meeting, then?”

    Student: “You betcha, absolutely, see you Friday”

    Cr: “Thursday”

    Student: “Yeah, Thursday, whatever, gotta run…”

    Cru: “Yay! Write that down as another come to faith in Christ.”

    • eric

      Yup, I would tend to agree; I think their “conversion” rate is vastly overinflated, because its based on nothing more than a single vocal assent in a single conversation. A lot of people are going to say yes because its the fastest, most non-confontational way of getting them off the doorstep. How many people accept that book of Mormon just to get those two polite guys to go away? We’re dealing with the same phenomenon here.

      This is why better social science studies also track or ask about church attendence and other actions. Because consent to a belief-question is a lousy proxy for religious behavior.

      Cru’s method of counting successes is very similar to what the RCC does: counting anyone baptized Catholic as Catholic for promotional purposes. Like the RCC, they undoubtedly recognize that this greatly inflates the ‘on paper’ size of their group.

  • Cello

    Wrt the statistics, I am fine with the million touches they tout. All that means is that they reached out to a million people. Any business sales group would count the same way – we made a million sales calls last year. Then they claim a conversion rate of about 13% – which also doesn’t seem unreasonable to me. That is not an abnormally high conversion ratio for a sales team.

    My suspicions on some of those conversions would be that they fall in the category of my niece who is an active member of “the dive” (what they call it on her campus, though I think I heard her mention they now changed to the cru too) – she was raised catholic but joined cru for social reasons. The group gives her friends that don’t get drunk every weekend, which she really isn’t interested in doing. So I really wouldn’t consider her a conversion to christianity but as she came in as a catholic, I’m sure the cru leaders do.

  • lpetrich

    I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s hiding a lot of hurt from discovering that the SSA has grown very big in only a few years, with much fewer staff members than the CCC has.

  • mikespeir

    Even if they really did have 127,000 bona fide conversions, let’s check back in five years and see how many really “took.” Even the most successful Christian outreach efforts have an abysmal retention rate (e.g. http://ag.org/discipleship_downloads/crisis_in_discipleship.PDF).

  • Jon Hanson

    When I hear about all these “conversions” I can’t help but think of when someone mentioned that they were going on a mission trip to South America to “convert Catholics to Christianity.”

    Or all the Church camps that talk about how many attending “committed their lives to Christ.” It’s hard to imagine such converts weren’t at least leaning toward Christianity if they went to a church camp!

    I really doubt there’s any real change in the demographics, just in commitment, and from personal experience such emotional commitments are often short lived, although many people experience many throughout their lives. Most Christians I know have given their lives to Christ or made similar commitments numerous times.

  • http://twitter.com/blamer @blamer

    This bar sounds impressively high but it really isn’t: “place faith in Christ and become a Christian”.

    These 127,000 converted from what? If unknown and this is the US then we can assume nominal christian background. So hardly a +1 for team jesus.

  • Nemo

    The Cru at my college has always been called that, and they tend to be pretty open to all faiths. I’ve been well aware that ours is a little different. Here’s the thing though: Cru is what got me to renounce my faith. In high school, I was very devout. I prayed every night, truly believing my prayers were heard, that I was going to go to heaven, that Jesus was real, and that everyone else who disagreed was an idiot for denying obvious truth (Psalm 14:1). Towards the end of high school, I began having some doubts, and in early college, I found myself as an apathetic, identifying as Christian. After I started hanging out with the Cru people, I realized something. The nastiness that is associated with the Religious Right is an essential part of true Christianity. The Cru people believe in the Bible fully, yet all they talk about is a loving relationship with God. They don’t denounce and rebuke victimless “sins”. They don’t preach hellfire. The realization of just how incomplete Christianity is without the bad stuff is what allowed me to analyze my former faith without the emotional blinders I had been raised with. Even now, as much as I love arguing with funadmentalists, it’s the progressive Christians I can’t stand. I don’t think their vision is bad; it sounds nice, really. But it has no basis at all, and is unsupported by the teachings of Jesus or the Bible. They are essentially making God in their own image. Fundamentalists make themselves in the brutal image of the Bible.