August 12, 2015

Study Finds Challenges in Nurturing Baptized Adventists

, principal researcher of the “Before and Beyond Baptism” study

Seventh-day Adventists could do better in preparing and caring for those who choose to join the denomination through baptism, according to a new study.

Almost 1,500 Adventists aged 18 years and older participated in “Before and Beyond Baptism,” a study sponsored by the Adventist Church’s South Pacific Division to investigate the relationship between the church’s baptismal practices and its members’ Christian maturity and commitment to core Adventist beliefs.

The findings of the preliminary report reveal more than half of the participants were baptized before the age of 16. However, one in three aged 11 to 14 indicated that their parents had told them they were too young for baptism. One in five accepted Jesus as their Savior before, or by, age 9.

Many participants commented that the decision and request of a child to be baptized must be taken seriously.

“I wondered whether I needed to be re-baptized because I was baptized so young and began to understand and develop a loving and passionate relationship with God only a year or so later,” said a young woman who marked her age in the survey as 20 to 25. “Since then, I’ve decided God used my early baptism as the beginning of my journey. If we were baptized only when we understand everything, we’d never get baptized.”

These findings are, on the whole, encouraging, and a reminder of why the church funds children’s ministries and Adventist education. The next findings are more concerning, though.

One in four of the participants had no intentional post-baptism mentoring. Eight percent indicated they had no pre-baptism instruction; 4 percent because “the person baptizing me considered I needed no special instruction because I was brought up in the church.” Twelve percent indicated they had been re-baptized, and many participants expressed concern about the use of the term “baptized into the Seventh-day Adventist Church” compared to “baptized into Christ.”

The research team included academics from Avondale College of Higher Education and Andrews University and administrators from the Adventist Church’s conference, division, and General Conference levels. It distributed a 38-item questionnaire at camp meetings and regional meetings throughout Australia, New Zealand, and the South Pacific in 2014 and 2015. Of those who participated, 55 percent were women and 45 percent were men.

The questionnaire incorporated items about the participants’ background with one question asking about baptized Adventist relatives. Some 95 percent indicated their close family included at least one baptized member. The most influential member of the family, and the one most likely to be baptized: the mother. It appears the church gains most of its membership from within its ranks with less than 10 percent of its members coming from outside the church family.

Open-ended questions provided the opportunity for participants to include personal experiences and comments, such as this: “My aunty and uncle were having Bible studies with a minister every week. After a time, the minister asked my relatives if they’d like to get baptized. They replied with an emphatic ‘No.’ I was so embarrassed, I stepped in and said, ‘I’ll be baptized.’ I felt sorry for the minister because he’d gone out of his way to regularly visit my relatives.”

A section of the questionnaire asked participants about their past relationship with the church. Seventeen percent indicated they had been disassociated for a time — a third between six and more than 10 years.

The final section asked about the participant’s faith and relationship with the church. It showed most respondents attend church once a week and would continue to do so even if they moved to a different location. Significantly, eight out of 10 participants, when asked if they could see themselves as a member of the church in 10 years, responded, “Definitely.”

Barbara Fisher is principal researcher for the “Before and Beyond Baptism” study and a retired senior lecturer in education religion and literacy at Avondale College of Higher Education. This article appeared on Avondale’s website.