I Left the Church Because ...

Speaker: Categories: Jan 08, 1994


[1hr, 12min, 30sec / 1hr, 2min, 46sec]


The November 20 (1993) Rejoice With Me Sabbath, inviting former Seventh-day Adventist church attenders and members to return for the special services scheduled that day, focused attention throughout the North American Division on what is perhaps the biggest problem facing Adventism today. That problem, sometimes referred to as the revolving door syndrome, has triggered a rather unprecedented, in-depth look at just who these Adventist dropouts are, what caused them to leave, and what the church might have done, if anything, to prevent such attritions.

Dr. Landa notes, "Seventh-day Adventists have always emphasized evangelism -- winning people to Christ and, more specifically, to the Seventh-day Adventist Church. . . . The emphasis on outreach has resulted in a worldwide membership of over seven million in less than a century and a half of effort. Obviously, Seventh-day Adventists are very good at recruiting members."

He then questions, "But are we good at retaining them? In the North American Division for every one hundred we baptize, between thirty-five and forty-two will abandon the church within five years. In the Pacific Un ion in 1960 the apostasy rate was 22%. By 1991 it had climbed to 35%. It is "guestimated" that there could be as many as one million former Seventh-day Adventists in North America alone! Obviously, the revolving door problem is very serious and deserves much more attention than it has received up to now."

Through an ongoing study, using questionnaires and open-ended, recorded interviews with a growing sample of 2800 former members, Dr. Landa is attempting to gather data which will help to define just who these dropouts are, what their assessments of the church which they have left are, whether or not they might consider rejoining it, and, if their responses to this latter question are positive, what it might take to bring them to such a decision.

"It is important for us to listen to what church dropouts are telling us," contends Dr. Landa, "because, by doing so, we begin to understand the specific issues or problems which alienated these Adventists and drove them away from the church. We can also understand how the church is perceived by a significant percentage of its members. By listening empathically, and being responsive and willing to face up to some unpleasant realities about ourselves, we can begin to address the problem areas singled out by former members in a candid and realistic manner, and we can begin to develop the kind of church which will be nurturing, relevant, attractive, and capable of involving and retaining its members."

That sounds like a rather impressive challenge, doesn't it! Is such candor and openness attainable? Is the climate right for even pondering such an issue as the Adventist dropout?

Using overhead transparencies, Dr. Landa will identify ten major groups of dropouts. He will describe the characteristics associated with each group and share representative comments made by various survey participants which will help us understand the perceptions of the church held by many including some who may still be attending each Sabbath morning! It is his conclusion that we must place priority on the church's most valuable asset -- its members.


Paul J. Landa, Professor of the History of Christianity in the School of Religion at La Sierra University, is the son of Adventist missionary parents. He was educated at Avondale College, Australia (BA), and in the United States at Andrews University (MA) and at Vanderbilt University (MA, Ph.D). His academic specializations are in the history of Christianity and in the development of Christian thought. He has interests in issues facing higher education, in strategic planning, and in the education of the non-traditional student.

He has presented the results of his research efforts in Europe as well as in the United States. As a planning consultant, he has worked with individual churches, conferences, and divisions -- both Adventist and non-Adventist -- here and abroad. He has authored two books and has been published in various denominational journals. He was one of the founding editors of Adventist Heritage. This new year he begins a regular column in The Signs of the Times. He is a member of various professional associations.

Dr. Landa has previously been a presenter at the San Diego Adventist Forum meetings: January, 1983, The Protestant Deformation, and April, 1988, 666 Is Not a Four-letter Word.

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