Culture

Represent: Generational Composition in North American Adventism

January 2, 2015

Last night, I read an interesting article about age composition in the Seventh-Day Adventist church. It came from the January 2015 edition of Lifeline. Lifeline is a monthly publication of the North American Division of Youth and Young Adult Ministries.

According to statistics released at the NAD year-end meetings, if you’re 45 or older, you’ll find a higher concentration of your age group in church than what you find in the general population.  Those ages 60-74 are represented twice as much.  Those 75 and older are represented three times as much in the SDA Church compared to the general population.

This means that if 25 percent of the population in your town is 60-74, you can expect half of your church membership to be that age.  If your town has 25 percent of the population ages 75 and older, you can expect three-fourths of your church membership to be that age.

What about younger age groups?  They are underrepresented in SDA churches in North America.  The percentages of those who attend SDA churches, ages 25-34 is about half of what one finds in the general population.  The age range of 20-24 is even worse—about one-third of the percentage are connected in SDA churches.

The positive take-away is that we’re effective in reaching or retaining those ages 60-74, and we’re very effective in reaching those 75 and older.

Good article and I think that the last sentence was probably written tongue in cheek. However, in case it wasn’t, I want to mention two details that came out of the previous U.S. Census in 2010.

  1. The most common age in America was 22. There were more 22 year olds than any other age group.
  2. The median age in America was 37.6 years old. Exactly 50% of Americans were younger, while the other 50% were older.

The implications of this is that, yes, the SDA church is reaching the older generations. However this also means that it isn’t typically connecting, retaining or otherwise engaging with the rest of the population (and the majority at that). This includes the Millennial generation, which is bigger, and more diverse than even the Baby Boomer generation. I can think of several reasons why this may be happening

In his book You Lost Me, David Kinnaman, details six perceptual grievances that Millennials tend to harbor against “the church” as a cultural institution. these grievances hold that the church is (1) intolerant of doubt, (2) elitist in its relationships, (3) anti-science in its beliefs, (4) overprotective of its members, (5) shallow in its teachings, and (6) repressive of differences.

Clint Jenkin and A. Allan Martin gave a follow up survey to Adventist Millennials and found that these grievances hold true to an even greater extent when it comes to the Adventist young adult perceptions of the Seventh-day Adventist church. This study was published in the Journal of Applied Christian Leadership, Spring 2014.

If you’d like more information on that study, let me know and I’ll point you in the right direction. Also, I think that the way our outreach is traditionally done is tailored to reach the demographic that we’re currently best at reaching…The point is, let’s not get comfortable and pat ourselves on the back just yet; there is still work to do. Help make 2015 an unforgettable year of change in your life and in our church!

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