Debunking the Dropout Myth


droppingBad News Is Big News
It’s easy to point accusing fingers at the sources of
statistics-but the problem isn’t really the numbers. These numbers
arose from well-intended attempts to assess the effectiveness of
church ministries.
The more problematic question is, Why are we so willing to wallow
in the worst possibilities, even when those possibilities aren’t

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  • We get excited about bad news. Human nature relishes the
    discovery of a hidden crisis. Once we’ve discovered that crisis, we
    rarely keep the news to ourselves. We spread bad news and, with
    each retelling, we tend to stretch it. That’s why God warns: “Do
    not go about spreading slander” (Leviticus 19:16).
    In a recent Wall Street Journal article, Rodney Stark and Byron
    Johnson provided a clear example of this phenomenon: “The national
    news media yawned over the Baylor Survey’s findings that the number
    of American atheists has remained steady at 4 percent since 1944,
    and that church membership has reached an all-time high. But when a
    study by Barna Research claimed that young people under 30 are
    deserting the church in droves, it made headlines and newscasts
    across the nation.”
    The tendency to turn bad news into big news doesn’t completely
    explain how rapidly these numbers spread through churches. I
    suggest an additional reason. Since the 1950s, a fun-and-games
    approach dominated many youth ministries. In the 1990s, a new
    generation of youth ministers emerged. These leaders were quickly
    frustrated with the assumption that a youth minister’s role was
    primarily to entertain adolescents.
  • The news that youth ministry had failed to keep kids
    connected to the church resonated with these young leaders’
    existing feelings of frustration.
    This widespread
    frustration yielded some very positive results. This frustration
    fueled the development of healthier ministry strategies than the
    fun-and-games approaches the youth ministers had inherited. The
    results included ministry approaches that emphasized discipleship,
    community, and the cultivation of intergenerational relationships.
    The good news is that many constructive outcomes were propelled
    forward by spreading twisted statistics.

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