Adventists Participate in Largest-Ever Study of U.S. Churches
Leaders Learn Crucial Information About Adventist Congregations and Other American Faith Traditions
For Immediate Release March 13, 2001
Celeste Ryan – 240-463-3526 Monte Sahlin – 301-526-0238
New York, NY—The Seventh-day Adventist Church and 41 other denominations and faith groups recently participated in a massive study of more than 14,000 United States churches, synagogues, and mosques.
Adventist officials say the findings of the study, released today in a 60-page report by the research consortium Faith Communities Today (FACT), provides information that will significantly influence the Church and its future.
"This not only provides us with an unprecedented look at religion in America at the retail level," says Monte Sahlin, key teacher for the Adventist Church in the FACT study, "it helps us to see where and how we fit in the faith community at large. It also allows us to draw inferences about how religion is interwoven in American culture and how significant we'll be in the future."
Like a number of those involved in the study, the Seventh-day Adventist Church, one of youngest and smallest denominations, is growing rapidly worldwide, adding an average of one new member every 28 seconds – more than one million each year. But in the U.S., its membership, like most other churches, isn't keeping pace.
That, says Sahlin, is one reason the study, the largest ever conducted on religious congregations, is so valuable. "Now we have new insights on what works and what doesn't in regards to religion in America, not only within our church, but in 41 others. Now we can compare our worship style, strengths and weaknesses, finances, the role of the pastor, areas of growth and decline with that of the Methodists, Southern Baptists, Judaism, or the study as a whole. Now we can learn more about our own traditions and practices as we compare them with the faith traditions of 90 percent of all other American churches."
Sahlin, a researcher for the Adventist Church for more than 20 years, says that studies have been done, but none as large, diverse, or detailed as the FACT initiative. A preview of the report enabled him to draw a number of conclusions by comparing the data from the 406 Adventist churches that participated with the combined results of all the faiths involved:
Insights and Highlights Drawn From the FACT Study
Spirituality and Church Growth– The activity most likely to generate growth among Adventist congregations is when the congregation focuses on helping individuals develop a closer relationship with God, and when they help the person deepen that relationship.
Community Service and Education Related to Church Growth – For Adventists, a strong indicator of church growth is if members are excited about the future of the congregation, if the church operates a community services center, and if the church sponsors an elementary school. The Seventh-day Adventist Church traditionally places strong emphasis on education and operates the largest unified Protestant school system in the world. Thanks to local congregation initiatives, Adventists also have the largest number of church-based one- and two-classroom schools worldwide.
Community Service Emphasis – Adventists are less likely to be involved in most kinds of community service activities. The area where Adventists are significantly more likely to be involved is health promotion. Nearly half of the Seventh-day Adventists in the U.S. are vegetarian. Adventists operate more than 600 healthcare facilities worldwide, and three of the 14 Adventist colleges and universities in the U.S. are medical schools. Congregations frequently host cooking classes, smoking cessation courses, and exercise programs for the public.
Where Members Worship – Although more churches are based in rural areas, half of the churches say that the majority of the members commute more than 15 minutes. That, says Sahlin, could explain the evidence of community relations challenges Adventists experience. There is a tendency for members to attend churches in communities where they don't regularly live, work, or serve.
Importance of Spiritual Practices Taught – One of the major findings in the FACT data is a strong correlation between strictness and church growth. The study shows that Adventists place more emphasis on family devotions, dietary restrictions, a ban on alcohol, and keeping the Sabbath than most faith traditions.
Sources of Religious Authority – Adventists are stronger than other faith traditions in recognizing scripture and the Holy Spirit as a source of religious authority.
Worship Style – Few American Adventist congregations have changed worship styles in the last five years.
Church Ministries – While Adventists are more likely to have prayer groups than the group as a whole, they are significantly less likely to have choir and teen ministry programs.
Expressing Denominational Heritage – Adventist congregations are stronger in their expression of denominational heritage than the average American congregation.
Year of Congregation's Organization – Most Adventist congregations, unlike the typical faith group in America, began in the post-World War II era. But, the organization of new Adventist congregations has slowed to half the overall rate in the decade of the 1990s. This underlines the strategic importance of the effort by the denomination's leadership in the last few years to encourage more "church planting" or development of new congregations in communities with no Adventist church.
How Adventists Will Use the FACT Study
The Seventh-day Adventist Church plans to use the information gathered from the FACT study to publish a book and Web page that summarize the findings pertinent to its congregations. Preliminary plans also include the development of a workbook that will allow consultants to conduct workshops and provide assistance for congregations in church growth, conflict resolution, and effective ministry development.
There are about 12 million Seventh-day Adventists around the world; 850,000 live in the U.S. and worship in 4,500 congregations. The denomination, officially organized in 1863, has its world and North American corporate headquarters in Silver Spring, Maryland.
For more information, interviews: Key Teacher Monte Sahlin, a vice president for the Seventh-day Adventist Church in the Mid-Atlantic region of the U.S., is available for interviews or more information. Call 301-526-0238 or 240-463-3526.