October 10, 2012

Church Trends

A new series by longtime Adventist Review writer Monte Sahlin, Church Trends shares action-oriented information about the Adventist Church and the world in which it works.
What Do Adventists Think About Adventist Education?
What is the current attitude toward Adventist Christian education among Seventh-day Adventist parents in North America? Some voices would have you believe it’s negative, or at least slipping—but real data from surveys present a different picture.
In the recent study Adventist Families in North America, a random sample in a double-blind design was asked to choose one of six statements to indicate their view of Adventist schools. Nearly half (45 percent) said, “I intend to educate or have educated my children in Adventist schools.” This was the most supportive statement among the six and had the largest response. Another 25 percent said, “All Adventist children ought to be educated in Adventist schools.” The demographic breakout shows that most of these were respondents too old to be likely to have school-age children.
Seven in 10 Adventist families expressed strong support for Christian education. The negative responses include 18 percent who said, “The public schools available to me are of high quality and fine for my children”; 10 percent who think that “some private schools provide better academic quality than Adventist schools” (6 percent) or that “some Christian schools are better than some Adventist schools” (4 percent); and 2 percent who believe that “Adventist schools are not worth the extra cost.”
Was support for Adventist education significantly stronger in the past than now? In 2004 a study was replicated in the Columbia Union Conference that was originally conducted in 1987. It found that over nearly two decades, support for Adventist secondary schools had declined only 2 percentage points (79 percent compared to 81 percent), for Adventist elementary schools only 7 points (78 percent compared to 85 percent), and for Adventist higher education only 9 points (65 percent compared to 74 percent). These findings indicate that the decline in support is relatively small.
What Does This Mean for Your Church?
Reproaching parents for not supporting our schools is probably not a productive approach. In the average congregation four out of five parents are already convinced and have remained convinced over the past two decades.
You should, however, take into consideration two significant changes in your planning and promotion of Christian education. First, there has been a big demographic change. Today’s parents are largely from what is called “Generation X.” The birth rate in North America crashed from 1965 to 1977, the years these parents were born. Conse-
quently, there are fewer of them, and they have fewer children. So almost every Adventist school has a much smaller pool from which to draw Adventist students.
Second, there’s been a long-term trend in attitudes toward the appropriateness of boarding school for young teenagers. In the 1987 survey 25 percent of Adventist parents thought it was “not important” for secondary students to live at home, but by 2004 this had dropped to 11 percent. Adventist parents are less and less willing to send their teenagers away to a boarding school. More day academies are needed, as well as continued experimentation with the use of the Internet to deliver accredited, quality Adventist secondary education to individual students and small clusters.
Tools and Resources
The new study, entitled Adventist Families in North America, is available from the Center for Creative Ministry, which conducted the research for the Family Ministries Department. You can get a copy at www.creativeministry.org or (800) 272-4664. If you send me an e-mail request, I will share with you the 2004 report on attitudes toward Christian education. Also, your local conference Office of Education is available to meet with a group of parents in your congregation or to provide a facilitator for serious, long-range planning on this topic with your church board or school board.
Most important is to be clear about the mission of Adventist schools. They cannot thrive if that mission is seen in a self-centered way, if it is about only “my” children and not all God’s children. 
Monte Sahlin is a director of research and special projects for the Ohio Conference. You can suggest resources to him at [email protected] or (800) 272-4664. This article was published August 19, 2010.