So why do evangelicals pummel themselves with erroneous statistics?
Stetzer thinks it's a great marketing technique. Create a huge problem, and then people will be interested in whatever book/gimic/program/video series/bracelet you happen to be peddling.
I'll admit it...I love using scary statistics in sermons. And I know exactly why I do it. Such figures instantly create a crisis in the mind of the listener, plus they give your words an air of objectivity. Tell a group of High Schoolers that 80% of them will deny Jesus in college, and they just might listen to what else you have to say.
Christian Smith has some good things to say about this. In a 2007 article for Books and Culture he says,
Evangelicals, by my observation, thrive on fear of impending catastrophe, accelerating decay, apocalyptic crises that demand immediate action (and maybe money). All of that can be energizing and mobilizing. The problem is, it also often distorts, misrepresents, or falsifies what actually happens to be true about reality. And to sacrifice what is actually true for the sake of immediate attention and action is plain wrong. It should be redefined as a very un-evangelical thing to do.
I can't think of another movement engaged in such aggressive erroneous statistical masochism. I know I've used statistical scare-tactics, and have employed facts and figures sloppily. Smith and Stetzer offer a good reminder that zeal devoid of knowledge is helpful to no one.