North Pacific Union Valuegenesis Research

"This generation!” The exclamation is often said in deep frustration or with exuberant joy. It represents the spectrum of adult responses to the young in the church. And while the church has been successful in providing many significant and personal ministries for this important segment of our congregations, we often fail in a basic way to nurture these young ones in their spiritual lives. We continue to hear the statistic that “many of our youth are leaving the church,” and, in addition, we all know how difficult it is to minister to young people when we feel we simply don’t have the skills or interest.[1]

In 1990, the Adventist Church explored faith, values and commitment in Adventist schools with Valuegenesis 1, which provided us with insights and a baseline for future research. More than 12,000 youth in Adventist schools responded to that first study. More recently in 2000, Valuegenesis 2, with more than 16,000 respondents across North America, gives us a hint at the change and progress we have had in nurturing a rich and growing faith-life among the children and youth in our schools and churches.

Specifically, we have more than 2,000 young people who responded to this research challenge in the North Pacific Union alone, and the results provide a basis for building ministry in our homes, churches and schools in our union. Funded and supported by conferences and educational ministries across America, the insights of this research help us understand and create positive responses to the exclamation, “This generation!”

The research in the North Pacific Union looked at the Millennial Kids, not Generation X, as we did in the first research project. The Valuegenesis 2 data sets have given us a clearer picture of this unique group. Here is a summary of some of their characteristics, beliefs and commitments that we have seen in this project as they were seen in the students of the North Pacific Union.

• This generation (in grades 6–12 in Adventist schools) is more spiritual than their counterparts in our earlier study—this is true in the North Pacific Union as in the whole of the United States and Canada. They are more deeply committed to Jesus, and a greater percentage (70 percent) feel the need of prayer once a day or more; a larger percentage (75 percent) attend worship services once a week or more in this study in the North Pacific Union; and 46 percent read their Bibles once a week or more, one of the few percentages that is lower than the research 10 years ago and reflects the general population’s downward trend in reading scores.

•This generation sees the churches in the North Pacific Union as more friendly, warm and interesting than the earlier group we surveyed, a trend that is consistent with the research in the whole of North America. In our union some 59 percent of the young people spoke positively about these climate issues. Ten years ago that percentage was at 33 percent. And while this increase is good, we still can do better, especially when we recognize how crucial user-friendly churches are for young people to positively identify with their local congregation in building trust, mission and commitment to mission.

• Climate issues again proved important when we explored the young and denominational loyalty. Sixty-nine percent said they were “satisfied” or “very satisfied” with the Adventist Church, but when we asked, “Under what conditions might you consider leaving your local Adventist church to worship in another congregation of another faith?” youth said they would leave when:

—Sermons are boring: 4 %

—The church is cold: 27 %

—There are no activities for us: 9 %

—Worship services are not meaningful: 21 %

•This generation has a deeper commitment to God and Jesus. Their faith maturity, a scale that measures a deep, personal relationship to a loving God and a consistent devotion to serving others, is much stronger than earlier research. Youth in this union were one percentage point above the North American Division average at 45 percent. And while knowing that less than half of the youth in our schools have what the researchers consider a rich and maturing faith, this percentage is still greater than a 100-percent increase from 10 years ago when the North American Division average was at 22 percent—one in five of our young people between grades six and 12. This growth is good news and reflects a clearer understanding of grace and a more proper understanding of works in the life of the young Christians in our schools of this union. This is a particular benefit of Adventist Christian education. We can be proud of our young people for their faith-life. And with the continued emphasis on understanding grace in the process of salvation, I am sure that all of the youth in the church, whether or not they attend Adventist schools, would show an increase here if we could just study them.

• We also can say positive things about the orthodoxy of the young in the church schools too. They are significantly more orthodox in all areas of Adventist theology, responding that they “definitely believe” almost all of the doctrines, including the basic 27 fundamental beliefs of the Adventist Church. The only troubling aspect of this area of research is that three uniquely Adventist beliefs, the remnant, the sanctuary and prophetic role of Ellen G. White in the church, continue to be the least believed among the young.

One unique measure in the most recent research is that of the intrinsic and extrinsic religious scales (called the I/E scale). This measurement is routinely used in religious research to help define our understanding of religious experience. First, a definition: the intrinsic religious person “lives” his or her religion, in contrast to the extrinsic person, who typically “uses” religion. Extrinsic religion is often defined as turning to God without a turning away from self. It often describes a person who is prejudiced and dogmatic, has low self-esteem and often suffers from poor psychological functioning. By contrast, intrinsically religious people are more open and have a deeply devotional or spiritual approach to their religious life and world. So we were eager to see the results of using this scale to measure Adventist students. Chart 1 shows the results from grades nine through 12 in the area of intrinsic and extrinsic religious world view.

Chart 1: Grades 6–12—North Pacific Union

Notice that 48 percent of the students in the Adventist schools in the North Pacific Union had an intrinsic religious world view, while only seven percent had an extrinsic orientation. Some 45 percent are open to being influenced by positive environments and approaches to religious life. This emphasizes the “mission field” that we continue to have among our young in the church. Our schools have helped nurture a positive religious outlook in what is close to a majority of both boys and girls.

As I indicated earlier in this article, one of the most interesting findings of the Valuegenesis1 research some 10 years ago was in the area of young people’s understanding of grace and righteousness by works. Adventist teaching stresses that salvation is by grace alone through the substitutionary life and death of Jesus Christ. We don’t do good works to get saved; we do them because we can claim salvation through Jesus because of His death on the cross, and we simply respond to this gift.

Our earlier work revealed confusion about the way grace functions in salvation. Using a rather small scale to explore young people’s understanding of salvation, we found that almost 67 percent of the youth then and many of their parents were confused in this regard. Valuegeneis2 decided to ask a much larger set of questions about this topic to get a clearer profile of students’ beliefs. The results were gratifying, compared to the previous survey. Chart 2 compares the North American Division with the North Pacific Union "Grace and Works" scores. Notice the improvement over 10 years among students in our Adventist schools.

Chart 2: Grace and Works—North Pacific Union and North American Division

We added new questions that would clarify this theological discussion in a more clear way, and the results continue to be positive. The new questions on grace show that our students’ understanding of God’s actions in salvation grows as they progress through the school years. The older they are and the more Adventist schooling they have had, the more clearly they understand God’s gift of grace and salvation. In addition, they begin to understand that human beings’ good works—which we all want everyone to have—are acts of worship that occur as we internalize God’s gift in our hearts. Now, more than half of the students in the North Pacific Union understand grace in a clearer way. That is an increase of more than 25 percent in the 10 years between this research and the previous. In every question where we asked for clarification regarding God’s actions in our salvation, we found that students have a more mature understanding than those participating in our earlier research. We can be proud of this growth. Chart 3 explores some of the additional questions about God’s rich grace.

Chart 3: Grace—North Pacific Union and North American Division

This research has so much to teach us. And for more detailed information, you need to read the new Valuegenesis book,[2] but let’s conclude with some general observations that summarize some of the insights of this valuable research.

1. Local congregations in the North Pacific Union must continue the work of building user-friendly churches for the young in their care. While growth is evident, they need to involve the young in as many activities as possible to help them see how their church cares for them in order to build relationships that are grace-oriented and loving.

2. Adventist schools must continue to model the kingdom of God for the lives of the youth in their schools, with compassionate, caring and accepting teachers and administrators who help students see the value of a religious life and the results of loving God in their actions and attitudes.

3. The home, church and school must continue to build mature faith by emphasizing community involvement, friendly environments, consistent devotions, and strong and open relationships with adults ready and willing to spend more time with their children, students and church members in meaningful dialogue about their own faith journeys.

4. Schools that continue to emphasize the love and grace of Christ best nurture and assist to maintain a growing faith. Churches must recognize the wonderful asset of having an Adventist Christian school in their midst, one which provides models of the kingdom for the young in their churches. This is a call for support, involvement and growth as local members build strong Christian education.

For those students who do not attend Adventist schools, we must continue to provide opportunity and support. While this research did not look at the lives of Adventist students in public education, we are keenly aware that the at-risk behaviors often exhibited in secular schools can be one of the greatest challenges for Christian youth who don’t have the opportunity or choice to go to their local Adventist school. The research supports this key difference between these two types of educational systems and shares the benefits of a Christian education. Be assured, your Adventist church-school dollars are making a significant difference in the faith life of our young people.[3]

[1] Roger L. Dudley, in his longitudinal study of Adventist graduates, found that approximately 48 percent of the youth in his research distanced themselves from the church after 10 years. The Valuegenesis research in the North Pacific Union discovered that 77 percent said that there would be a “good” or “excellent” chance that at age 40 they would be an active Adventist Church member. (See North Pacific Union Valuegenesis Report, Hancock Publications, 2002, p. 32.)

[2] For complete exploration of the scales and research on the faith, values and commitments of Adventist young people, order Valuegenesis—Ten Years Later: A Study of Two Generations by V. Bailey Gillespie and Michael J. Donahue with Barry Gane and Ed Boyatt, available from the John Hancock Center for Youth and Family Ministry, La Sierra University, Riverside, CA 92515.

[3] If you would like to receive our free "Valuegenesis Research UPDATE," a bimonthly newsletter in portable document format (.pdf), just send your e-mail address to hcyfm@lasierra.edu or visit www.lasierra.edu/centers/hcyfm.

July 01, 2004 / Feature