Monday, December 18, 2006

Still Curious

Are people more willing to tolerate music they do not like for preaching they do like, or preaching they do not like for music they do like?

Thom Rainer’s book Surprising Insights from the Unchurched reports that music was an important factor for just 11% of the people they surveyed. I wonder if the survey takes into account alternative explanations.

In other words, if identical preaching existed in two different churches (one contemporary and one traditional), which would grow faster?

If I understand the survey correctly, and interpret it correctly, it would seem they should grow at a fairly even rate.


Brian Jones said...

Larry, I haven't read this book by Rainer, but I've read others by him. I must have looked at this book though..., maybe I even have it. Isn't one of his surprising insights that the unchurched want Sunday School? Right.

Anyway, after reading other books by him, I wondered about his research methods because his conclusions seem to bolster "traditional" Southern Baptist church ministry models. You're reading the book, what do you think? Am I off base here?

Larry said...

Actually, I read the book several years ago. That was just one of the things that jumped out at me that I remember (perhaps because of so much focus on the topic, such as Warren's "Tell me what kind of music you have and I will tell you how big your church can be.").

As for bolstering Southern Baptist models, that didn't jump out at me. I don't even recall the thing about Sunday School. Perhaps I will read it again one day. I have read several others by him. I didn't find them as interesting. Perhaps the only one that I read completely was "Breakout Churches."

To me, one of the problems was similar to Barna, in that he draws his info from such a wide swath of churches that I am not sure how helpful it is. I think he is more inclined to the position that "all churches are created equal." So I am not sure he is limiting his comments to even evangelical churches, or at least solidly evangelical churches. I don't recall precisely though.

Dave Vawter said...

I am not sure about the premise of the book for sure, but I would think this number would be more likely in unchurched respondents since they have not been pre-conditioned to accept one or the other.

When we looked for a church, the music style was a secondary consideration to the preaching, philosophy, and the general atmosphere of the church. Not that we wouldn't have drawn the line somewhere, but we would have been less put off by an unfamiliar music style than by preaching or philosophy that we could not be in agreement with.

Brian Jones said...

Alright, I had to dig out the book and look at again. Again, I haven't read it just looked at it. The details about the study methodology are sketchy. There is an appendix (#6) where Jon Rainbow writes just over 2 pages praising Rainer's study methodology. Who is Jon Rainbow? "Research and Statistics Consultant; Associate Professor of Christian Education and Leadership at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary." What a coindence! The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary is precisely the same place where Rainer works! So, that does little to bolster my confidence in the research methodology. A more arm's length evaluation would be more comforting, to me anyway. Something on the order of a double-blind clinical study.

There were two conclusions that led me to write what I did about bolstering SBC models: Myth #2 "The unchurched are turned off by denominational names in the church name." Well, since most of the 353 people interviewed now attend a church with a denominational name, I woudn't expect them to be turned off by a denominational name. I say "most of them" attend a denominationally named church b/c p. 23 says that "thirty-seven churches represented independent Christian churches, independent Baptist churches, community churches, and other nondenominational groups." An independent Baptist church still has a denominational name, so they don't count. I've talked to enough lapsed Catholics over the years (they're everywhere here in the Detroit burbs) to know that many of them would *never* visit a Baptist church--they've told me that exact thing. If you surveyed just "formerly" unchurched people who are now in churches that truly have non-denominational names, I'd expect to see them caring about the church name in much higher numbers than those who now attend a church with a denominational name. But, we don't have access to the raw data, so it is hard to be sure. But Jon Rainbow says it's a great study.

The other thing that I referenced in an earlier comment was Myth #7: "The Sunday School and other Small Groups Are Ineffective in Attracting the Unchurched." There's only about a page explaining this (p. 47), but the explanation calls the myth statement into question. Here's a long quote that spells it out: "...the formerly unchurched are positive about and attracted to Sunday School. In fact, the formerly unchurched were more likely to be active in Sunday School than the transfer churched. In a majority of our interviews, it was the formerly unchurched who indicated the greatest allegiance to Sunday school.... Interestingly, we did notice a slight transition from the nomenclature 'Sunday school.' Almost 20% of the churches in our study called their Sunday morning small group 'Bible study.' This shift was made because of the churches' perception of how the name 'Sunday school' is received. No formerly unchurched expressed concerns about the name." Well, 20% wouldn't need to be concerned about the name Sunday School, b/c their church doesn't call it SS. But more importantly--the myth statement talks about Sunday School being "attractive" to the Unchurched, but the paragraph just says that the formerly unchurched were active in SS--NOT THAT SS WAS THE THING THAT BROUGHT THEM TO CHURCH. That's a key distinction there. I'm not opposed to Sunday school; we have it at Calvary Bible Church and I think it is very helpful. But did the unchurched find their way to church/Christ through Sunday school, or did they attend the worship service, trust Christ, AND THEN get active in SS because they wanted to grow? We don't know because the author does not make the distinction I just made and we don't have the raw data.

So, that's why some conclusions in this book is at least a little suspect to me.