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Seventh-day Adventist students have positive perceptions of how home, church and school influences their faith development, according to Valuegenesis II, a longitudinal study of young adults by the Church in the South Pacific. 

Lead researcher Dr Barry Gane, head of the School of Ministry and Theology at Avondale College of Higher Education, based the finding on 1359 responses to a 260-item questionnaire completed by students in Adventist high schools in Australia and New Zealand who have at least one Adventist parent. Comparison with Valuegenesis I in 1992 reveals significant trends.

While baptisms to age 13 are similar to 1992 levels, only 38 per cent of students have been baptised at age 18, compared with 81 per cent in 1992.

While mothers generally have the strongest home influence on faith development, students now give much more significance to the influence of fathers and grandparents. Affectionate parenting that is not over-protective or over-restraining correlates strongly with the development of Christian commitment, denominational loyalty, self-esteem and social responsibility.

Students now rate worship services as a much more significant contributor to faith development (81 per cent compared to 63 per cent in 1992). The study points to local church-based youth ministry as one of the most powerful influences—the absence of it would seem culpable. Students also gave considerable weight to the impact of service activities and to the influence of summer camps and youth rallies.

One of the most striking developments since Valuegenesis I is the increased importance students place on the influence of Adventist education in their faith development, with an average rise of 31 per cent in the rating of school factors.

Valuegenesis II also shows how important it is for adults to take a significant personal interest in the welfare and spiritual development of teenagers. Eighty per cent of students acknowledged the influence of adults at church, while about 70 per cent acknowledged the influence of adults at school.

The faith experience of students is still strong—87 per cent believe God still loves them when they have done wrong, 77 per cent want to learn about God while they are still young and 63 per cent have a sense of God’s guidance in their lives. However, 41 per cent identified with the statement, “God seems far away and silent when I need Him.” The proportion of Year 12 students exhibiting high faith maturity (measured against 38 criteria) is 50 per cent higher than in Valuegenesis I.

Attitudes to the local church were significantly more positive on almost all criteria. Most students saw their church as friendly and accepting, open to new ideas and encouraging of young adults. However, only 53 per cent felt their youth leaders knew them well, and only 45 per cent thought their minister showed interest in them (both lower than in 1992). Seventy-nine per cent expressed a high level of satisfaction with the Adventist Church (up from 60 per cent) and 75 per cent described the chance they would still be in the Church at age 40 as good or excellent.

Agreement with the Church’s key teachings has declined since 1992, and levels of disagreement or uncertainty have risen. Belief that salvation is a gift from God, in the Sabbath and in the second coming is strong. The areas of greatest uncertainty: whether the Bible is the sole source of doctrinal authority; the significance of church pioneer Ellen White; the investigative judgement; and the ultimate fate of the wicked.

While baptisms to age 13 are similar to 1992 levels, only 38 per cent of students have been baptised at age 18, compared with 81 per cent in 1992.

Adventist students are much less “at risk” than their peers in the community, though the proportion of students engaging in such behaviours is sizeable and increasing. Forty-three per cent of Year 11 and 12 students reported one or more “at risk” behaviours. Twenty-five per cent had consumed alcohol three or more times in the previous year. Thirty per cent had shoplifted at least once. More than 12 per cent had viewed sexually explicit videos or magazines 40 or more times in the previous year. 

The research, supported by a grant of $A60,000, will inform evaluation of church programs, facilitate evidence-based decision-making and influence planning for the future.
 


Dr John Cox is editor of Reflections, Avondale College of Higher Education’s alumni magazine.
 

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