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Religious Demographer David Barrett Dies

by Dr. Jay Gary, Aug. 10, 2011

dbarrettDr. David B. Barrett, founding editor of the World Christian Encyclopedia, and former research consultant with Southern Baptists, died Aug. 4 in Richmond, Va., after a brief illness. He was 83. He was known for his passion for the poor, and for those under served by the church in other cultures. I will remember him for his focus on the future of humanity. See BP obituary.

I first met David Barrett in 1985. With the publication of the World Christian Encyclopedia three years earlier, his research was increasingly shaping how the Protestant church thought about its mission. I was a journalist at the time, writing a feature on the year 2000.

I took time off to fly to Richmond, VA from California, and encountered a true scholar and futurist. Barrett had an encyclopedic mind, and sharp wit. In words I later learned to value, he taught me that “in God we trust, but all others must bring data.” And he brought data, in ample amounts. After 2 hours I had what I needed to finish that feature entitled, “The World by 2000: what’s the true score?”

More importantly, Barrett became a model to me, at a distance. When an international campus ministry needed to know how many universities they were working in around the world, I did what Barrett would do. I created a University Database and conducted a global census.

I later worked closely with David Barrett on the AD 2000 project for the Lausanne Committee for World Evangelization. We kept in touch by email and telephone closely from 1988 through 1989. When David talked, I listened, and kept a running log of our telephone calls, to insure I didn’t miss a point or source.

I served for a year as his vice chairman of the Lausanne statistics task force, leading up to their 1989 Manila congress. At that time, one of my friends from California moved to Richmond to work with him, Dr. Todd Johnson.

In 1990 it was David Barrett who invited me to attend the World Future Society with him in Washington, DC. He shared that ministry studies must develop a new shared language with futures studies. I later grew to appreciate why he considered himself a Christian futurist. He was unlike any other person of faith I had known. He worked on unusual projects, such as a chronology of the future, or a bibliography of books relating to the future, or a list of the world’s martyrs for their faith.

Later in the mid-1990s, when I got involved in the World Future Society, his reputation as a professional and gentleman was well established among its senior members.

Through the years I was fortunate to meet many others who David Barrett influenced, Dr. David Garrison, Michael Jaffarian, Eric Watt, or Justin Long. As the years went by my contact with Dr. David Barrett lessened, but his unconditional regard for me and my work never waned.

Several times I visited him in Richmond, and his intellectual curiosity and eagerness to discuss trends never waned. He never lost his passion for research, nor for the Gospel.

David Barrett believed in the God who loved humanity, and he believed that humans had responsibility to care for future generations.

To that end, David B. Barrett will always be a champion to me. He is one of history’s unsung heroes to all those who don’t have a voice, and yet wait for divine help.

For more, see:
Johnson, T. M. (2012). David B. Barrett: Missionary statisticianInternational Bulletin of Missionary Research, 36(1), 30, 32.

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