Friday, May 18, 2007

It ain't necessarily so...

Grandmère Mimi called me out for the post below where I wrote:

We're all dazzled by big congretations and massive gatherings of people.
"Not quite all of us are dazzled," she tartly (and rightly) responded. My attempted point was that large churches and more members is a pressure every church feels, and every pastor or priest looks rather anxiously to see how many attend services, and what the membership rolls look like. And the reason we all do this, as Josh Marshall astutely points out, is because the mega-churches and the James Dobsons of the world, spend a lot of time telling us just how big they are:

Dobson's organization says his daily radio program is heard by as many as 220 million listeners over 3,500 stations in the United States. He's also seen on 80 television stations, and 10 Focus on the Family magazines have 2.3 million subscribers, the group says.
(emphasis added) As Josh says: 220 million listeners? Really? 2/3rds of America tunes in regularly?

But where else do these numbers come from, except the group that claims them? There is no independent body, no government agency, no third-party which regularly assesses the attendance in churches or the number of listeners to radio stations or TV stations (well, there is for the latter, but they don't publish those numbers in regular press releases). We know these churches and groups are big, because they constantly tell us they are. And since they are big, they must be doing something right. Right?

Like making sure they tell us how big they are. And relying on us not to pay too much attention to the numbers, just to be impressed with, well, with how big those numbers are.

It's kind of the sea we all go swimming in. I do know small churches which are perfectly happy to be small, because they know they always will be. And my point (this time!) is: this entire obsession with size comes about because the people with the biggest megaphones are always telling us how big they are.

And like most bragging about size, it's almost always done by men; and it's not to be relied on as....well, as gospel.

UPDATE: Josh has now noted that the Dobson website claims that listenership is world-wide, not nationwide. Which just raises the issue of innumeracy among journalists (could no editor catch that error?), and doesn't quite blunt the fact that it's numbers that matter. Especially anything that sounds like really BIG numbers.

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