Monday, May 12, 2008

Should we analyze "types" of Christians?

(Part 3 in a series)

There are probably hundreds of typologies that we could create to classify types of Christians, both in the Church as a whole and in local churches.

Should research of Christians use types?

I would say a positively, definite "it depends" (spoken like a true academic, no?). It depends if the person making or using the typology finds them useful for the purposes that they have at hand.

There's no inherent reasons to use "types" over "traits" when describing people, but it can be useful for presenting information to people not used to dealing with statistics. Most people understand different types of people more readily than different levels of peoples' characteristics. Converting continuous data into discreet types loses information (typically a bad thing in research), but it might be worth it to make the information more accessible to a general crowd.

Types might also be useful in devising church programs or outreach. Suppose a church wants to tailor specific programs to specific groups of people. Well, even if the congregation or community is most accurately described in terms of continuous characteristics, it's impractical to make endless number of programs. As such, dividing people into several different groups and aiming programs at each group makes sense. Again, simplifying the information might have practical benefits.

As an aside, I think this is a noteworthy achievement of the Reveal Study. Though I think that they are over-interpreting their data, the general thrust to come out of their work is to get away from a "one-size-fits-all" approach to church, which just makes sense. (In statistics, this would represent an interaction effect).

When shouldn't typologies be used? Since they involve losing information, I would say, generally speaking, that unless there is a compelling reason to use types, it would be best to stay richer, continuous measures of people when appropriate. Why throw away data? Now, obviously some characteristics are initially measured as separate groups, e.g., paid clergy or not, so these would lend themselves to types without losing information.

Perhaps it's less important whether we use types than it is that we use them well. I will blog on that in my next post on this topic.

Next post.

1 comment:

J. R. Miller said...

very good insight. I will follow with interest and see how this plays out in future posts.