Things I Learned: Feb. 14, 2020

(1) Coronavirus, (2) Online Dating, (3) Refugees, (4) print Bibles, (5) USA Nones, (6) Factors to become a long-term missionary, (7) China's disconnected, (8) dead simple productivity app, more...

This is an experiment. I am not abandoning the Roundup, which is useful to so many; but I think there may be usefulness in a shorter newsletter that dives into specific ‘learnings’ and how they apply to mission and church planting. ~J.

1. This particular coronavirus (now officially named COVID-19) is dangerous because it has a “longer” incubation period: the time between when a person is infected and when they begin to show symptoms. The common cold’s period is <72 hours, flu is <2 days. This virus is 5 to 10 days. The danger is: during this period, an infected person doesn’t know they’ve been infected (and others don’t, either). So they go around like normal, carrying the virus and infecting those around them (on average, each infected person passes to 1 to 3 other people). The ‘lagging’ nature of this indicator means we won’t know how many people are infected now for another week and a half or so. This can lead to unexpected spikes in infections. The solution: subject any potentially infected person to a 2-week quarantine, preventing them from spreading the virus. Additionally, more time with the virus outside of China should give us a good read on its trend line; we know China is ‘selectively reporting’ (but has changed its reporting method to something more accurate) but cases outside China should help us see its true state, though it will take another week or two. Monday, one article said the number of new cases had slowed, although more data is needed to see if that’s a true change in the trend. Other analyses suggest it’s very possible this virus could run its course by April, based on current modeling.

2. I’ve been keeping an eye on articles related to online dating (two couples in our personal circle met through such apps). A third of US adults have used a dating site, and 12% are married or in a committed relationship with someone they met that way (Pew). Why it’s important: globally, demographics are the #1 way the church grows, especially in Christianized areas (3x more births to Christian families than converts, before taking into account defections, which make it 10x). It is therefore critical for the church to help believers marry believers and raise believing children. I am wondering how the inexorable trend into online dating (at least in the USA, I haven’t seen research on Europe/Australia) is impacting this truism?

3. Despite the number of hands being wrung over the declining welcome for refugees in the United States, the best place to work with refugees (if you are so inclined) is not (and probably hasn’t been, for a long while) in the USA, or even in the west. The vast majority of all refugees (84%) are hosted in developing countries. The top refugee hosts are Turkey, Pakistan, Uganda, Sudan and Germany. Read the analysis here.

4. With the advent of the smartphone with its built-in camera, the number of digital cameras sold dropped from 121.5 million in 2010 to 15.2 million in 2019. I wonder if there has been a similar decline in the sales of print Bibles? I haven’t been able to find any historical statistics of Bible sales over long periods of time; I did find one page which suggests individual Bible purchases are down significantly, but purchases by churches are up. I’d be interested if someone knows of research to clarify this. (This is an idle curiosity. Digital Bibles are in many ways better: they can scale, they can be transferred in clandestine ways, they are easy to publish.)

5. In the USA, “the decline of religion may be slowing”—or, more clearly, “the rate driving up the religious ‘nones’ has appeared to be slowing to a crawl.” This is an important development. It appears to have confirmation, and if it is indeed true, we may be close to the ‘top’ of the secularization trend. Read here.

Trends move: they are just a collection of events strung one after the other, following in a certain pattern. The pattern doesn’t have to continue inexorably toward one specific end, or even on the same line for the next five, ten or twenty years. Regression to the mean is a powerful force and causes trends to curve up and down. Never get locked into thinking today’s trend will inevitably continue on the same path it is on today.

6. I finished a study of the factors that help people decide to become long-term missionaries. I shared that study with a church mobilization team I was consulting with. They found it useful, which leads me to reshare it again here, as you may find it useful too. See it on my website here.

7. A note in one analysis about China: “Remember over 450 million people in China are offline.” On the one hand, it represents just a little over a third of China’s population. On the other, it’s larger than the total population of the United States. I think a lot about surveillance in China (and surveillance is being expanded in the midst of the coronavirus outbreak): but how possible is it to watch people who aren’t online? Facial recognition, yes, and I suppose QR codes on houses (as is done in Xinjiang) can link faces to locations and relationships. Still, when someone isn’t online, it puts limits on the amount that can be known. I’d be interested in more analysis of the implications. Here’s a study from five years ago on the subject.

8. This guy’s productivity app is simple: keep it all in a single text file (which, after 7 years, has over 37,000 entries in it - a complete record of everything he’s done). I have used a variety of tools for keep track of my ToDo list - my latest iteration was an attempt at using Things on a Mac - but my most successful was a simple list in Evernote. I separated my list in Evernote into different notes for different days, but I’m beginning to think this approach (a single text document) has its advantages and might be worth a shot. This article from HBR explores how time management is more than just life hacks and apps. It boils down to three skills: (1) awareness of the limits of time, (2) arranging your schedule (what we generally think of), and (3) the ability to adapt your schedule (or re-arrange your prior plans and priorities).

9. “Wars are not won by military genius or decisive battles” is a fascinating read. We’re not “wrestling against flesh and blood,” but many of the lessons apply. I am particularly struck by this bit: “Modern wars are won by grinding, not by genius. Strategic depth and resolve is always more important than any commander… Winners absorbed defeat after defeat yet kept fighting, overcoming initial surprise, terrible setbacks and the dash and daring of command ‘genius’. Celebration of genius generals encourages the delusion that modern wars will be short and won quickly, when they are most often long wars of attrition. Most people believe attrition is immoral. Yet it’s how most major wars are won, aggressors defeated, the world remade time and again.” I work to help spread movements and believe in them - they get ahead of population growth - but in the long run, most of the growth is still demographic (movements slow as they age), and all of the growth takes time. Anecdotally, I’ve often heard that “movements can take up to 10 years to get started.” The largest movement in the world has taken 20 years to reach its size, and it’s still <2% of the province it’s found in. Strategic resolve to ‘run the race’ is critical.

10. Lastly, this PDF on “How complex systems fail” is old but just as applicable today. Thanks to @davehackett on Twitter for sharing the link.