And Other Urban Legends Of The Church

There seems to be no end to so-called studies, reports, and Barna Group statistics about churches, attendance, defection factors, youth/millennial church attendance, causes of failure and success —  ad nauseam

As it is has been often said. . . 
“Statistics don’t lie, but liars use statistics.” 

That does not mean that those who cite statistical studies are aiming to lie; it just means that statistics and such scientific studies and polling is fraught with erroneous statements because it all depends on who you poll or study, the way the questions are phrased, and/or how the study was conducted.

For years! — the statement was made (and believed) that the Christian community experiences a rate of divorce higher than those who know not Christ.  Such a statement was illogical since the Christian community was a subset of society, and that could only be true if there was a variable that could account for such a discrepancy.  Finally, the irrationality of such a statement was proven. Yes, it was total “nonsense” [1] ( as I argued in February 2020)!

Likewise, many other such “statistical truths” are either illogical or counter-intuitive — or both!  One of the most bandied about within church leadership conferences and circles is  — “A first-time visitor will make up his/her mind about returning to that church within the first ten minutes of the church service.”

Again, another “urban church legend” that is anti-intuitive and has no credible studies supporting it.
In fact, there are no studies, no less credible studies, that support such an assertion! 

Here is one of many such “studies,” followed by a list of others who have also pushed this so-deemed “truth of visitor attendance.”  You can check out the many places this claim appears, and you will discover that they all cite each other.  It is one big circle of credibility.  I have yet to find the source of any so-called study which supports such a statement (no less a synopsis of the details of such a study so that its procedures can be examined — which is typically called “a peer review.”)!

“How To Lose A First Time Guest In 10 Minutes Of Less.”

In tracing through the numerous articles repeating this urban legend, the origination of this “urban truth” seems to be “Greg Atkinson” . . .

We all know a guest makes up their mind whether or not they will return in the first 10 minutes.”

That is the only “support” that I have found — a declaration by Atkinson!

Atkinson’s assertion may have originated from comments found in some of his cited sources. . . . .

  • in the book — “Raving Fans: A Revolutionary Approach To Customer Service”
  • in the article in Psychology Today — “The Once-Over” — Can you trust first impressions? Initial encounters are emotionally concentrated events that can sometimes overwhelm us—but they often contain important elements of the truth.
  • in the book — “Strangers to Ourselves: Discovering the Adaptive Unconscious by Timothy D. Wilson 

However, after searching and reading from his sources, I can’t find any statement that even comes close to supporting such an assertion. If such an assertion had any credibility, it should be and would be simply footnoted in an article or in Atkinson’s self-published book.

I  would suggest that it is merely another Urban Church Legend with no foundation, as is much of the Barna Group Research.  Too often, such “statistical studies” and “church polling” are often used to sell ideas, books and promote leadership conferences.

Next time you read these kinds of assertions about teens, millennials, growth, attendance, attitudes & beliefs, small groups, witnessing, or ministry — look for the sourcing and see if there is real support for such a comment — after all . . . God’s people are called to be “truth-tellers.”

. . . . .

Let me suggest another urban church legend about the value and congregational preference of “small groups,”[3] that on the face of it is counter-intuitive. . . .

. . . . .

1. Christian Divorce Rate — It is total Nonsense!

2. There are “endless” articles with no support cited for the assertion

3. When I speak of “small-groups, “I am not speaking about “Sunday School,” discipleship classes, personal discipleship sessions, or Adult Bible Study classes (and the like) which may be labeled “small groups.”  I am speaking about “small-groups” that are marked by a broad range of qualified and unqualified Bible teachers, that typically encourage and promote personal transparency and the open sharing of spiritual failure, and/or that seek the input of attendees who have not even examined the biblical passage under discussion.

Only the Lord can handle everything about us — known and unknown to others who see us from the outside.  There are thoughts, decisions, actions, past failures, and present thought lives that, when shared, make it more difficult for others to maintain a relationship with others.  While there are those who “want to” bare their soul to whoever will listen (Facebook proves that point all too well), it is counter-intuitive to maintain the position that this kind of “small-group” approach in the local church edifies the church and its corporate relationships.

One of the reasons that “mid-week-prayer-services” are so poorly attended is because people do not enjoy publicly praying and often find themselves forced to do so no matter how bad their day has been or how rocky their personal spiritual life is at the moment.

3 thoughts on “And Other Urban Legends Of The Church

  1. Small groups for a church are like investing in penny stocks. I happen to be a highly gifted small group leader because of a good understanding of the ebb and flow of human dynamics and qualified to not only teach biblically but keep the whole group on point.
    It’s very important to have a balance of healthy and needy people in the same group. It challenges the healthy to help the needy while role modeling what healthy looks like to the needy.
    without good and gifted leadership, and a smattering of mature believers, a small groups can and will hurt more than help some and the risks are high (My 2 cents from years of using small groups with at risk individuals who struggle with large groups).


    1. Exactly — it takes gifted biblical leaders to handle a diverse group of those who are healthy and those who are struggling. Without that leadership and knowledge, like someone like you can provide, it can and does get messy. People learn stuff about others that they cannot handle and relationships are damaged.


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