December 5, 2016

Linking Arms Instead of Pointing Fingers

Research about preserving faith in Adventist students.

V. Bailey Gillespie

If you are new to the Valuegenesis research about Adventist education, this brief discussion is for you. Valuegenesis research is all about faith, values, and commitment of Seventh-day Adventist young people in grades 6 through 12 in Adventist schools.

The research team, housed in the H.M.S. Richards Divinity School at La Sierra University, had the opportunity to survey all students in Adventist schools in North America during the month of October in 1990, 2000, and again in 2010 to create one of the largest data sets available regarding young people over a period of years—generations, actually—of any religious group in America.

Studying Students

We are often asked why this research is so crucial. The research team wanted to learn how the three venues of home, church, and school influenced the spiritual life of students. Then we wanted to explore what might be needed to improve these contact points with Adventist youth, and discover how to assist their pastors, parents, and educators in understanding what is central to those students regarding the development of their religious and spiritual lives, and the impact made by the influence of their homes, their local churches, and the religious life of their Adventist schools. In addition, the research attempted to provide a profile of best practices for these three groups—homes, churches, and schools—in spiritual nurture and growth.

For young people, friendship is evangelism.

The studies were generational in nature: We studied Gen X, Gen Y, and millennials (Gen Z) populations. Since this was a census of all of the students in Seventh-day Adventist schools, we are able to get accurate percentages of all of the students. Each study examined the same concepts, with only some updates as the years passed.

In addition, cultural and age-related questions were added to update the survey to keep the reliability significant. Our scales over the years were perfected and overall data sets provide a look at the trends in Seventh-day Adventist youth in North America over 20 years.

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The Church Connection

Special insights into post-high school youth reveal significant needs as well. We have come to the following conclusions about keeping youth in the church. This is what we believe helps this situation.

  • Learn to love them, and youth will get involved in the local church.
  • Have adult volunteers who are dynamic and excited about their own experience with Jesus. Young people live their lives in the middle of action and choices. People who tend to nurture this newfound faith have to be people of integrity, commitment, and dynamism.
  • Create environments in which young people experience church as God- and user-friendly; environment is crucial.
  • Learn how to be relevant. Research regularly reinforces the fact that relevancy is the best way to increase commitment and loyalty.
  • Understand that young people have something vital to offer a local church. Organize their natural gifts for use in the church; give them responsibilities; and provide mentors to help them with those responsibilities.
  • Teach young adult leaders to be disciplers rather than teachers. Think mentoring. Ask the question “Am I preparing my students to be hearers of the Word, or doers of the Word?”
  • Equip young people by giving them responsibilities. Equipping others is a powerful way to ensure involvement and commitment in local churches.
  • Remember: for young people, friendship is evangelism.

Our doctrine of God’s rich grace through faith demonstrates a clear need of becoming as central to the mission and message of our Lord Jesus as possible. This Jesus reason takes priority above any other belief or practice. When young people realize His gift to us, their lives change, as does the whole life and practice of the local congregation.

Loyalty and Maturity

Our research shows that having quality homes, churches, and schools increases the possibility of both growing in faith and being loyal to the Seventh-day Adventist message and church.

Research indicates that the longer one is involved in Adventist education, the more loyal and mature one’s faith becomes. This means that when local Adventist churches and schools unite to provide the best possible environments, messages, actions, programs, activities, and involvement, young people are more likely to move from understanding the faith of others to practicing their own personal faith. This movement to a personal faith requires cooperation in all three environments: home, school, and church.

Our data show that faith is increased, maturity of belief increases, and loyalty to the church grows when all three settings work together.

V. Bailey Gillespie, Ph.D., chief investigator for Valuegenesis Research in Faith, Values, and Commitment, is associate dean of the H.M.S. Richards Divinity School at La Sierra University.