First Love: Dropouts’ Beginning Experiences in the Seventh-day Adventist Church

 Portuguese version available        

 Spanish version available


“Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken the love you had at first.” - Revelation 2:4 (NIV)

Do you remember when you fell in love for the first time? Perhaps you couldn’t stop talking to your friends and family about the special person in your life. Or, maybe you waited with eager anticipation for each time you got to see him or her.

Now, do you remember when you first became a Seventh-day Adventist? If you have been an Adventist all your life, do you remember how you felt after being baptized? For many people, coming to know Jesus for the first time is similar to those “first love” feelings.

Findings from two important studies give insight into former and inactive Seventh-day Adventists were asked about their initial experiences with the Church. A recent study (2013) conducted by the Center for Creative Ministry asked dropouts what most attracted them to joining the Church, respondents indicated that doctrine, friendships, and charisma of the preacher were the top three factors that drew them in. 

The same study found that once they began attending church, many of the respondents were eager to commit their lives to Christ and the Church. This eagerness may be a two-edged sword. Many converts (39%) perhaps hastily joined the church, spending less than a year between their first contact and their baptism (Center for Creative Ministry, 2013). This short timeline may offer insight into the Churches’ high dropout rates. With such little time to study, some individuals may not have understood what it really means to join the Adventist Church.

A little less than a third (28%) waited between one to four years to be baptized. The remaining 33% were baptized five or more years after their initial contact with the Church (Center for Creative Ministry, 2013).

The Office of Archives, Statistics, and Research also examined this topic. In a recent survey (2014), they discovered that nearly half (46.1%) of Adventists are practicing members five years or less before leaving the church.

                                    

As part of the same ASTR study, former and inactive Seventh-day Adventists were asked how long they had been regular attendees of church (ASTR, 2014). Only a small percentage (13.4%) reported that they had attended for one year or less. More than a third, (35.9%) attended for two to five years. A little over a quarter (30.5%) reported attending six to 15 years, with 20.2% attending longer than 15 years.  

                                                           

It should be noted that although interviews and surveys were conducted with church dropouts who left after different amounts of time, it is possible that the numbers for early dropouts are on the low side. Many of those who were willing to participate in the research had been longer-standing Adventists. For this reason it is plausible that more dropouts occurred early on but were not picked up in survey .

From these statistics, we can see a glimmer of hope, a window of opportunity to remedy the situation. Since over half (50.7%) of the respondents attended more than five years, the time span provides an opening to stop the leak of dropouts.

Yet, as noted in a previous blog, 39.25% of all members over the last 50 years have left the Church (Office of Archives, Statistics, and Research, 2015). So the question is, what went wrong? What might be done during the five to 20 years we have these precious souls as part of the Church family to grow that commitment and keep that first love alive? Be sure to check back as we will be taking a look at how these individuals’ “first love” faded, as well as ways in which we might rekindle that love.


To read further:
Survey of Former and Inactive Church Members
2015 General Conference Session Report: Membership Audits and Losses (PDF)
2015 General Conference Session Report: Membership Audits and Losses (PowerPoint)
Nurture, Retention & Discipleship: An Integral Part of Evangelism and Witness
Retention and Reclamation: A Priority For the World Church
Leaving the Church


Created in collaboration with the Institute of Church Ministry.