A Lesson in Leadership: The Passing of David Barrett

Friday, August 5th, 2011

For decades we have all read in books, magazines, and websites all of the amazing statistics about the growth of global Christianity. We hear about the millions of new Chinese Christians, or the explosive growth of Christianity in sub-Saharan Africa, or the remarkable church planting movements taking place in Latin America. Have you ever wondered where they get all of these amazing statistics? Who has time to count the Christians in China?  Are the Christians in China even countable? Well, the man behind all of these statistics is Dr. David Barrett, who passed away yesterday (Aug. 4). I can say that I had the privilege of knowing David Barrett. He was truly a genius and a master of statistical analysis. He understood demographics and the significance of growth trends for the church. Twenty years before Philip Jenkins made the global shift in Christianity popular through his book, The Next Christendom, David Barrett was quietly documenting the shift through painstaking research.

However, I am writing this blog to do more than mourn the passing of David Barrett. He was a wonderful, congenial, brilliant man. But, he was more;  he was a leader. He possessed a specialized knowledge in an area where he had no real peer. No one brought together his level of statistical expertise, with his profound knowledge of global Christian demographics. No one had the research materials he had collected over decades. But, he understood that a great leader does not try to consolidate his or her power, but raises up others to carry on the work. In other words, the mission is greater than the founder of the mission. It is quite rare – very rare – to discover leaders who deeply understand this principle of leadership. David Barrett understood it. During all of the years he developed his research and methodology, he was training up a younger successor, Dr. Todd Johnson. Today, even with the passing of David Barrett, the work of statistics and global demographics of the World Christian movement continues under the leadership of Todd Johnson. I also know Todd well. Todd is just like David. Todd has a small circle of young demographers who he is mentoring and training. For twenty years I have opened up the International Journal of Missionary Research, or the latest edition of the World Christian Encyclopedia or World Christian Trends and read statistics about global Christianity. I do not have any doubt that I will be able to do that twenty years from now. The reason is leadership. David, we will miss you greatly. I feel the loss of your passing. But, I see you in Todd Johnson. I see Todd Johnson in the faces of younger leaders. Thank you for your leadership. Well done, thou good and faithful servant. The mission continues.


  • It sounds like David Barrett had a specific commitment with Christianity.

    Not so long ago, an Asbury Theological Seminary Alumni taught me: “Commitment starts in the heart, Commitment is tested by action, Commitment opens the doors to achievement.” (“Twenty one indispensable qualities of a leader” by John C. Maxwell).

    May Tod Johnson continue to embrace the lessons learned from David Barrett and may God continue to bless Christianity with committed believers from all over the world.

  • John Metz says:

    I never met either David Barrett or Todd Johnson. However, the first time I looked at World Christian Encyclopedia, I was completely dumbfounded. It was beyond me how anyone could have produced that work.

    Thank you for the post on who David Barrett was as a person.

  • Kip Lines says:

    Kenyans, missionaries and researchers in Kenya owe much to David Barrett. Arriving as a new Anglican priest (after leaving the field of mathematics) to serve as a missionary in Kenya in 1957, one of his initial tasks was to find a way to count the number of Christian denominations and adherents in Kenya. Barrett quickly grasped the complexity of the situation when the Kenyan Bishop he was assigned to work with split away from the Anglican Communion, forming his own African initiated church, taking nearly 16,000 members with him.
    Studying under Harold Turner, the preeminent phenomenologist of new religious movements in Africa, Barrett produced in 1968 the first major study of religion throughout Africa, entitled “Schism and Renewal in Africa: An Analysis of 6,000 Contemporary Religious Movements.” Six thousand! In 1973, Barrett published The Kenya Church Handbook, which attempted a comprehensive list of every Christian church in Kenya through 1972, listing over 200 denominations comprised of 19,490 specific congregations. While still living in Kenya, Barrett then began work on what would become known as the World Christian Encyclopedia. Barrett’s early research aided so many who came after him in understanding the complexities and confirming the authenticity of so many new indigenous Christian movements in Kenya and Africa. We are greatly indebted to this mathematician, turned missionary, turned researcher and, as you note, to the continuation of his research.

  • Keyaan says:

    Inleetiglnce and simplicity – easy to understand how you think.