At Teach One Reach One Ministries, we are firm believers in using every dollar as wisely as possible in ministry. Occasionally, we will review products to help you decide whether or not purchasing them will provide value to your ministry. Barna recently unveiled three new volumes, How Teens Around the World Relate to Jesus, How Teens Around the World Can Make an Impact and How Teens Around the World View the Bible. Purchasing all three is not cheap, so should you buy them?
It’s important to note that Barna studies have been a huge help in this ministry. The nature of what we do – covering a lot of topics impacting children, teens and their parents worldwide – means the data they gather can help confirm our own research and/or point us to new areas we may need to explore and develop. If data intrigues you, you will love these volumes.
The problem with Barna research on the ministry level is that it can be too global at times for your particular ministry and the children, teens or families you serve. I remember, for example, when our daughter was a young teen. She and her friends at Church rolled their eyes when the teen Bible class teacher spent several weeks discussing cyber bullying. For them, in their area, with their circles of friends – one lesson would have been enough. Cyber bullying did not exist in their friend groups. They did, however, need additional lessons on topics that were impacting them personally. Unfortunately, the Bible class teacher based his lessons on teen trends and not on the needs of the specific teens he was teaching. While Barna research can be helpful to ministries like mine, it can encourage local ministries to focus on trends instead of the needs of the specific young people to whom you minister.
The other thing to remember is that studies never talk to every single person in the particular group surveyed. They rely on statistical samples – gathering a very small group that reflects the demographics of the population as a whole. Which means if your ministry serves a rather skewed sample, the data won’t be as accurate or could even be totally wrong if the same questions were asked in your ministry. So, if you have an urban ministry or a ministry to an orphanage or the young people in your church are the children of college professors at a Christian university, – or any other group that doesn’t match the percentages in the sample – the data in these books may not apply.
The final assumption is that the teens sampled for the books told the truth – not just what they thought interviewers wanted them to say. If you have worked with teens for more than five minutes, you know that teens are often experts at telling adults what they want to hear – which may not be even close to what they are actually thinking. While I am sure Barna took lots of precautions, any data must always be taken with a grain of salt.
What these books can do for you, however, is point out the questions you should be asking your staff, volunteers, the young people to whom you minister and their families. Where are the strengths and weaknesses in your ministry the answers to these questions reveal? What changes do you need to make?
As a side note, be aware that Barna has an extremely strict policy about quoting their findings. Taken literally, you cannot even quote them without their written permission (versus the norm of crediting the source). I have noticed that people directly quote them on a regular basis, so I am not sure how strictly this policy is enforced.
So are these volumes a good purchase for your ministry? Only you can be the judge. Hopefully, the information above will help you make an informed decision.