“We live in a data-rich, information-poor culture. We are very good at collecting data about learning, but not as skilled in using the information to improve student achievement, modify instruction, and differentiate instruction to best meet our students’ needs.” (From Pearson, 2012, Battelle for Kids FIP your School, module 4.)
The above quote applies in a specific context: education. So it is sort of surprising that on the inside of the dust cover for Futurecast I read: “Our society has widespread and unprecedented access to information, but what do we do with it all.” Imagine that! The world of education and the world of the church having the same problem: what to do with all that data we have collected. I'm not always certain that leaders in the world of education have made the best decisions given the current and available data. What about the church?
So what has the church done with all the information and data it has collected about our culture? Or have we bothered collecting any at all?
Barna is probably one of the preeminent collectors of data and, to be sure, one of the better interpreters of data that has been collected. What I appreciate about Barna’s work is that he is unwilling to simply leave the data on the shelf. I may not at all agree with how he interprets that data he has collected, but at least he is willing to do something with it.
I remember when I was still preaching in a church on a regular basis. I enjoyed collecting data (or ‘information’) about the community in which I lived and moved and had my being. Then I would find a way to incorporate that data into sermons or lessons in order to help the congregation who had lived there all their lives, understand how to use it. Sadly, it mostly fell on deaf ears because the congregants did not always appreciate being told that the ratio of bars to churches was 3:1 or that there were 17,000 people in the community and 45 churches.
My hope is that the work Barna has done interpreting the data will not be lost on a generation of preachers (who will probably be the audience for this book).
That being said, I find Barna’s statistics lists to be rather annoying most of the time. Frankly, it’s just hard to get excited about statistics unless you are a statistician. What I mean is that statistics can be pedantic at times even if some of the statistics are interesting: like that political conservatives are more likely to attend worship services by a 2:1 margin over political liberals (157). On the other hand, the chart on page 135 comparing percentages of adults who believe certain Bible stories are literally true is rather revealing. There is a great divide among adults—Christian and not-christian, Protestant and Catholic—and yet in nearly every category there is a solid majority who believe the stories in the Bible are true in some historical sense.
Again I point to Barna’s genius: he is not willing to merely point out the statistics without a call to action. He believes that we need to know these things about our culture in order that we can change them, change ourselves, or change other people. “Together we can redirect these trends” is the title of chapter 9: “…if you consider yourself a Christian—a true follower of Christ, not just someone who knows about Christ—then you are called to follow His example and create the future” (220) I’m not sure how far to take such a statement, but I am sure that Barna here is concerned that in some way we who are Christians are living out the faith we profess. “Genuine transformation is about loving God and people with everything you have” (222).
With this, I think we can all agree. It’s enough for Christians to have data; it’s something else for us to do something with it—or, better, become something because of it. It seems to me that at the end of the day, Barna is asking whether or not we are becoming something because of what we know.
I rate this book 4/5 stars and recommend it for devotional reading.