Does Adventist education make a difference? Does attending an Adventist school, college, or university provide something more than attending any other good educational institution? Is what one pays for Adventist education an expense or an investment? Is Adventist education actually evangelism? Does it result in spiritual development?
These were some of the questions that John Wesley Taylor V, associate education director of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, set out to answer in a pre-recorded presentation to the members of the General Conference Executive Committee (EXCOM) on April 14, 2021. Taylor’s presentation, entitled “Joining and Remaining: A Look at the Data on the Role of Adventist Education,” reviewed multiple studies that illuminate various aspects of education as a redemptive enterprise.
“Adventist education is the longest and largest evangelistic event in the Seventh-day Adventist Church,” Taylor reminded the hundreds of EXCOM members from around the world who were meeting virtually for the 2021 Spring Council.
Following a simple calculation, Taylor said that a child attending an Adventist primary school receives evangelistic instruction for a minimum of 800 hours. If a student completes every level of education in an Adventist educational institution, this can add up to more than 37,400 hours, he shared. And every Adventist school at every level is a place where evangelism takes place, Taylor emphasized. “This means a total of 9,489 evangelistic sites, with 111,360 evangelists and 2,044,709 attendants,” he said.
Adventist Education’s Effectiveness
Taylor reminded Adventist leaders that some years ago, the CognitiveGenesis Study looked at factors that contributed to students’ success in Adventist education. More than 800 schools participated, with 52,000 students in Grades 3-9 and Grade 11. “Results from the study indicated that students in Seventh-day Adventist schools surpassed the national average on standardized tests for all grade levels, and for all school sizes, regardless of ability levels,” he shared.
He also referenced the so-called Adventist School Effect, which shows that “as the number of years in Adventist schools increased, the difference between those who attended Adventist schools and the national average … became more pronounced in terms of achievement, as well as ability.”
According to Taylor, another significant result is the difference in graduation rates. “Across the United States, it averages 82 percent, but in Adventist schools, it reaches 98.4 percent,” he said.
Beyond Academics: Joining
Academics are not the only or best advantage, Taylor suggested. He quoted Jesus when He told His followers, “What do you benefit if you gain the whole world but lose your own soul?” (Mark 8:36, NLT). Regarding education, he quoted Adventist Church co-founder Ellen G. White, who in her book
Fundamentals of Christian Education, wrote that regarding Bible-based education, “the all-important thing should be the conversion of their students” (p. 436).
With this backdrop, Taylor discussed the role of Adventist education in relation to the Adventist Church. Beyond the more than 463,000 baptisms at Adventist educational institutions from 2009 to 2018, he shared that studies show a clear connection between attending an Adventist school and joining the church, and vice versa. “[A young person] who does not attend an Adventist school is 13 times more likely never to join the church if he or she does not receive Adventist education,” he shared, quoting a study on the topic. “Adventist education is mission, and we must affirm and uplift the central role of Adventist education in the evangelistic mission of the church.”
Beyond Academics: Remaining
Adventist education also plays a vital role in helping young people to stay connected to the Adventist Church, Taylor said, explaining that a study showed that in many demographic groups, around 50 percent leave the church by their mid-20s. On the other hand, he referred to seven studies that helped review various aspects of the relationship between Adventist education and church retention. “Together, they present a picture that is consistent over time, and compelling,” Taylor said.
The Valuegenesis Study, for instance, lasted more than 20 years. That study examined 2,200 12th-graders in Adventist schools. According to Taylor, the study showed that the more years in Adventist education, the greater the person’s reported loyalty to the Adventist Church. “They showed greater belief in the fundamental teachings of the church, and they were more likely to intend to remain Seventh-day Adventist at age 40,” he reported.
The study also examined factors related to the development of religious faith. The most significant factor was attending an Adventist school, Taylor said. “Eighty-one percent of all students said that ‘attending an Adventist school is the most important thing that has helped me develop my religious faith,’ ” he shared.
Another research project Taylor mentioned was the Youth Retention Study, which showed a positive relation between Adventist education and a personal commitment to Jesus Christ and a commitment to personal Bible study. It also affected the importance of religion in a young person’s life. “These are outcomes that are strengthened through Adventist education,” Taylor explained.
A Measurable Impact
In the last part of his presentation, Taylor referenced several doctoral dissertations on the connection of Adventist education and church retention of young people. Even though they focused on different populations and were based on different geographical areas, every study quoted showed the significant impact of Adventist education in the likelihood that a young person stays active in the Adventist Church.
The opposite is also true, Taylor said. Quoting a specific research project, he emphasized, “Those who have not experienced Adventist education are disproportionately more likely to become inactive or leave [the Adventist Church].”
Results of these studies are also backed up by data from the Office of Archives, Statistics, and Research (ASTR) of the Adventist Church. In their “Leaving the Church” study, researchers found a clear difference in church retention between those who attended an Adventist educational institution and those who did not. The difference was even more marked for students who completed their primary school education in Adventist schools.
According to Taylor, these differences should not surprise us. “While there are important relationships between retention and Adventist education in each educational level, the strongest relationship is found in its earliest years,” he explained. “It is something which suggests that early Adventist education is a powerful factor in retention.”
A Close Connection
Are the accession and the retention of children and youth in the church associated with their participation in Adventist education? “Based on the evidence, the answer to that question is, ‘Certainly,’ ” Taylor said. “There is a consistent and persuasive relationship between attending a Seventh-day Adventist school and the likelihood of that child or youth joining and then choosing to remain in the Seventh-day Adventist Church. And this is true for different times, for different places, and in different populations,” he emphasized.
“Adventist education makes a difference. Not only does it effectively prepare children and youth in the sciences, in language, history, and technology, [but] it views each student as a candidate of heaven. Adventist education does make a difference. Adventist education educates for eternity,” he said.