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Sponsoring a Church School
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The majority of Seventh-day Adventist local churches in the U.S. do not have a church school connected to their congregation, either directly or by being part of a constituency for a school. Only 41% sponsor or cosponsor an elementary or secondary school.

This is a very surprising fact, given how central Christian education is to the Adventist experience and organization. Nothing gets a greater share of denominational funds. Nothing else is promoted as much as Adventist schools. Why do such a small percentage of churches report that they sponsor an Adventist school?

One explanation could be that support for Christian education among church members is in decline. The Center for Creative Ministry conducted a major study on the attitudes of Adventist parents toward Adventist schools last year for the Columbia Union Conference. This study is applicable across the U.S. because this union is a demographic mirror of the entire country in terms of its Adventist membership. It replicated questions from a survey conducted more than two decades earlier and found only a very small decline in support for Adventist schools in general. There is a large decline in the willingness of parents to send their children to a boarding academy, but there is strong support for increasing the number of day academies. It is unlikely that lack of support explains the low percentage of churches that sponsor a church school.

A more plausible explanation may be the size of most Adventist churches and their location. The majority of Adventist congregations is located in small towns and rural areas and has fewer that 100 members. These small churches in out-of-the-way places are unlikely to be able to mobilize the resources to conduct a church school. They will find it very difficult to come up with the funding, facilities and sufficient children to enroll.

But the most likely explanation is the “graying of Adventism” in America. We have previously published data showing that the median age among Adventists is probably at least a decade higher than it is for the general population. In fact, the number of Adventist families with school-age children is in decline. Many congregations simply do not have more than one or two families with children and, therefore, are unlikely to be involved in sponsoring a school. A significant number have no one of an age to have minor children. This is why efforts to engage new generations are so vital to the church, its schools, and other institutions.

Discussion Questions:

1. Does our church sponsor or cosponsor a church school? Did it do so in the past?

2. How many families in our membership have school-age or younger children?

3. Are there families in the community that would have an interest in a Christian school?

4. Should we launch a study to test the level of interest in a school?

Trends in ministry can be found in the Adventist Congregations Today book and CD-R and Faith Communities Today (FACT).

Paul Richardson
Executive Director
Center for Creative Ministry

Creative Pastor e-Newsletter, July 26, 2006, Center for Creative Ministry