Lies, Darn Lies, and Statistics

Pew research released some disturbing results of a survey of LCMS members. But the survey has a margin of error of almost 6%.  What does it mean? It means that in a normal survey, if you have a 50/50 split, with a 6% margin of error, then 19 out of 20 times the actual result will be between 44-56 and 56-44. That’s actually a 12 point spread. That’s a lot. And one in twenty times the result will lie outside of that. They asked 34 questions. Normally then, one or two of the questions are wrong by more than 6%.

Which is to say, we don’t know a whole lot. Also, there’s no regional breakdown. Because of the way the population is distributed, you are likely to have more people answer from areas where Lutherans are less likely to live, which is to say, more liberal areas. That may account for a couple percentage points worth of problem. Also, 16% of LCMS members in the survey attend church seldom/never. Which means they think of themselves at LCMS members, but they aren’t. I would bet at last half of those, if not more of them, are not actually on a membership list anywhere. So, we can assume that they are going the way of the world on these questions at a much higher rate. That could move the numbers between 8% and 16% relative to those who are actually in the pews on a Sunday morning. That means that, on a 50/50 question, you are now looking at numbers somewhere between 26/74 and 74/26. Which is to say, the numbers are meaningless. This is not a survey of our people in the pew. This is a survey of some of our people in the pew, some people who are not in the pews, some who are on the membership roster and some who are not. Which tells us precisely nothing about what LCMS members actually believe.

Do we need to redouble our efforts at proper catechization? Of course we do. We always do. Especially of pastors who have strayed from teaching the truth. And there are too many of those. Because even one is too many, and there will always be at least one. That’s why District Presidents need to visit. If they and their Circuit Visitors aren’t visiting parishes, they are belly servers, not men of God.

But is this reason to go crazy and PANIC!!!! Nope. This is nothing more than noise. Wars and rumors of wars. How about we actually just keep teaching, feeding, preaching. And leave the worrying to our Lord. But since he’s already won the victory, I’m guessing He isn’t doing a lot of that. Much to learn from His example.

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