Full transcript of Episode 01: Research Matters
Lizette: Podcasting from Nashville, Tennessee. Hello and welcome to the inaugural episode of Keep Asking, the Lifeway Research podcast. Thank you for joining us.
We’ll start out by introducing the Lifeway Research Team. Scott McConnell, missionary kid, Broncos and Phillies fan is our Executive Director and fearless leader. Scott, do you have anything else you want the listeners to know about you?
Scott: I’m a dad and a husband. I’ve got two kids and a wife of 25 years and they’re the most important part of my life.
Lizette: Casey Oliver, forever loyal fan of the New York Giants and Knicks teams, pro sports snob and statistician. Casey, what else can you tell us about you?
Casey: I’m also a father. We have our second child on the way. He’s due in January. I’m married to my wife, Mary Beth. We love our church. We’re members at First Baptist Goodlettsville (TN) where we teach our college Sunday School class. And like you said, I’m a huge sports fan. I love the Giants and I played sports into college.
And I’m Lizette Beard, Project Manager, qualitative researcher, Mizzou grad and Tiger fan, and host. So let’s get started.
Why Research Matters (01:10)
Today in our, this inaugural episode, we want to talk about why research matters, why it’s important and why we think that we can help. Scott, I’m gonna just start out with something pretty broad. Why does research matter? You’ve invested your whole career into it. What’s important about it and how do you see it helping others?
Each survey is a snapshot of the culture we live in.
Scott: We can make better decisions if we understand what’s happening around us and why it’s happening and that’s what research delivers. It is a snapshot, each survey is a snapshot of the culture we live in. And, and as we can often look at multiple research projects, we can see how that culture is changing. And, we can see how our ministry and our efforts can actually impact that culture around us.
Lizette: Casey, a lot of times when I tell people I work on a research team, they say “Well, that sounds boring.” But you and I have had some great conversations. As someone with a Masters Degree in Statistics, what is exciting about research and stats and data for you?
Well done research can affirm and correct our narratives.
Casey: I think it just helps us form better narratives. I think, you know, back to what Scott was saying, we’re inherently bad at identifying trends and the range of those trends, you know, for us at Lifeway and the church and culture on our own. You know, my friends aren’t America or the church. Hollywood isn’t America or the church. So some of those places we naturally go to in terms of trying to make inferences about broader culture can lead us to misleading places. But yeah, well done research can affirm and correct our narratives as needed.
Data in Sports (02:50)
Lizette: You guys both love baseball and I hear you talking about that. What is it about stats and data in baseball that people can kind connect to or sports in general that they can make that leap and connect to why it matters in other decisions, in other areas that they work in?
Scott: I think baseball’s statistics are fascinating for a couple of reasons. (02:52)
One is the typical player in baseball, especially as a hitter, does incredibly poorly and that’s on average. And so to see an average where somebody who gets a hit one out of three times is considered a great hitter is, is incredibly helpful, that those statistics of their futility are actually encouraging.And so I think that’s a big thing to just kinda keep in perspective how you’re doing otherwise you’re gonna always feel like you’re in a slump.
The second thing that I think’s helpful with baseball statistics is the game has not changed dramatically through the years and we’re talking about a hundred years. And so, yes, early on they changed how many strikes and how many balls was a walk or a strikeout. But it’s really stayed pretty much the same. And because of that, the stats are incredibly comparable. And so when we think about the greatest hitters or the greatest pitchers of all time, those statistics actually allow us to compare.
It’s much harder in football. As I went to the Football Hall of Fame a year ago, they had a pretty neat illustration of glass and a running back kind of breaking through the glass as they broke records. Well that’s because the game has completely changed and so the statistics are not even comparable. A great running back today is going to have much higher statistics than a great running back two generations ago. And so the beautiful thing with, with baseball is the comparisons are actually comparable.
Lizette: So I know we find in our conversations or when we’re doing press releases in talking about research, people are really drawn to the big numbers or the churches that show up on the front cover of a magazine. You know, the big exciting things. But what you were just talking about is the batter who hits one out of three.
I think one project that stuck out with me a lot was our Transformational Church project where it was, where we could see some small differences–like the difference between a transformational church and a regular church that wasn’t seen as much. It wasn’t the difference between 100 percent and 30 percent. Sometimes it was the difference between 60 percent, on whatever the topic is, and 45 percent. What do you have to say to the person who’s always looking for stats and numbers that seem big or exciting or dramatic?
Every conversation benefits from facts.
Scott: I think every conversation benefits from facts. And so some of those facts are gonna be: if you can get one out of ten people to get on board with praying in your church, then the prayer life of your church can be transformational compared to where it is today. And, and just a one out of ten sounds like a small stat but it can be incredibly encouraging and actually sound very doable as compared to thinking that I’ve gotta get nine out of ten people to do something they don’t wanna do or are not doing today.
Lizette: Casey, when folks are trying to compare statistics or data and make decisions… well let me give you an example [and you tell me which one] is better. Tom Brady has played in six Super Bowls and only won four. Joe Montana played in four Super Bowls and won all four.
Casey: Repping Joe Montana.
Lizette: Who’s the better, who is the best quarterback?
Scott: This is a loaded question, Casey. Be careful.
Lizette: So Casey, thinking about . . .
Scott: You’re on sacred ground here.
Casey: Uh -huh.
Lizette: . . . thinking about that, who would you say is the better quarterback?
Casey: I mean, Eli Manning’s two for two so . . .
Lizette: So he’s half as good as Joe Montana? Is that what you would say?
Casey: Hundred percent still, it’s gotta be. Yeah, I mean, that speaks to the nuances a lot. Because, when we evaluate quarterbacks the same way, you were talking about with churches, a lot of times we wanna look to how many Super Bowls did they win? How many did they play in? And you know, there’s a lot of context stuff that we’re dropping there as we go.
The same with, you know, what Scott was talking about statistics for quarterbacks a lot, or for running backs. You know, Eli Manning, best quarterback in the world, he recently just moved into eighth, or I think seventh actually in all time on the passing touchdowns, thus passing John Elway. And as much as I do wanna rep him and talk about how great he is, I understand that that doesn’t mean that he’s one of the seven best quarterbacks to have ever played football. You know, so that context matters of it being a different era. And I think that’s one of the things that is important as we look at stats as providing context to nuance and helping people to frame that in a way that makes sense.
Reactions to Research (08:00)
Lizette: Either one of y’all can jump in. We’re not gonna tackle any of the big or specific things in this episode. But what are some of the reactions that you all have seen that people have to research or data, negative or positive or off the wall, that kind of surprises you or frustrates you?
Scott: The beautiful thing about research is that it informs a conversation.
And so conversations are gonna be going on and if there can be some facts in those conversations, they’re better conversations. But the way the facts get used, the way the research get used a lot of time, they’re weapons. We need to keep in mind that the research itself doesn’t blame anyone. But the research can be used, just as you were just doing in a quarterback comparison, it can be used to raise somebody up or to put somebody down and it can be the same statistic. And that’s kind of the joy of research and statistics is that they get used because they are helpful and they give us perspective. But again, you may use it, view the same statistic, from a different perspective.
Lizette: I was reading something the other day about research. And I realized that sounds incredibly nerdy that I was reading about research. But I loved a line that said, I think the guy’s last name was Creswell, but it said a research project is not something in you, it’s something out there. It was saying it’s not you just rearranging all the things that you know or rearranging all the things that you’ve figured out. But it’s going out; it’s a process of discovering, engaging, learning. What are some of the things, Casey–in doing research–that you’ve discovered or you’ve enjoyed about the adventure of learning and growing as you’ve worked through projects?
Casey: Yeah. I think I can just be surprised a lot, you know. I think that you have a sense that you know something about a topic, about where Americans stand on a topic, about where church goers would stand on a topic. And again, just relearning that lesson over and over again that, you know, my Facebook wall is not America–it doesn’t represent everybody. And being able to be surprised and learn something about broader culture. And that’s kinda fun being the first one to know that sometimes, too, you know, to kinda have run some analysis and to be able to say hey, I know something about America that maybe nobody else does.
Does Data Dictate the Decision? (10:45)
Lizette: Well that brings up another point before we wrap up. We talked at the beginning about research helps make decisions. Does the data dictate the decision? How does it help?
Scott: It really gives you perspective. the research that we do on, on the church and the culture gives you a lay of the land. And so I think on a culture, what we get is we get signposts. We get to see the direction the culture’s headed. We get our bearings on where it’s at today. And that directional information is incredibly helpful as we go to make decisions because we know the context–the outside forces that are touching us as we go to make those decisions.
But research also provides ministry markers. It gives us some perspective on, on our efforts in, in terms of sharing the Gospel or in discipling other believers. And gives us some perspective of what progress looks like. It gives us some perspective on why certain ministry activities work better than others. And so those markers can be incredibly helpful as we try to make strategic decisions about where to put our efforts or where to scale back a little bit.
Keep Asking (12:00)
Lizette: Scott, you were actually the genius behind the title for the podcast – “Keep Asking.” Where did that come from? What were you thinking?
Scott: Well a couple thoughts. One is that, that’s what research is. You know, the best research actually spurs more research. So we ask some questions. We get some answers. But because we’ve learned something from the audience we’re studying, it actually creates more questions. And so we want to then go into another phase. We wanna do another research project to continue that cycle of learning by continuing the cycle of asking. But I think the other piece is we want, we want listeners to be asking–asking questions of us. And, we can continue that conversation together about how research answers some of their questions.
Lizette: Well, thank you for listening to Keep Asking, the Lifeway Research podcast. If you like what you just heard, we hope you’ll pass along our web address, LifewayResearch.com, to your friends and colleagues. Be sure to Tweet your questions and comments to us: @lifewayresearch and individually: @smcconn, @statsguycasey, and @lizettebeard. Join us next time for another edition of Keep Asking. Remember keep asking, learn more, do better.
Links of interest:
- Statistics and sport: Moneyballs http://econ.st/Jxsqwx via @TheEconomist
- Statistics for Dummies Cheat Sheet
- Special issue of Facts and Trends on the Transformational Church Research project (pdf file)
- Religious Landscape Study of America (Pew Forum)
- Australia’s National Church Life Survey Project
- STATS.org: “The Biggest Stats Lesson of 2016”