Young adult Seventh-day Adventists – whose place in the 18-to-34 age group is typically referred to as the millennial generation – aren’t much interested in traditional Adventist evangelistic lecture themes, a new survey revealed April 19.
Only 21 percent of millennials who identified themselves as theologically “liberal” agreed with the statement, “The Antichrist is the pope,” according to a survey conducted by Dr. Alan Parker, a professor of missions and evangelism at Southern Adventist University in Collegedale, Tennessee. Emily Charvat, a Southern Adventist student, co-authored the presentation.
That number increases to 47 percent among those claiming to hold a “moderate” theological perspective, while 55 percent of self-identified “conservative” millennial Adventists agree with the statement.
According to notes for a presentation of initial survey results, “There were a total of over 2668 responses gathered, with 1687 responses from the millennial age group. Social media was the primary tool of recruitment for the electronic survey (1104 responses from Facebook and Twitter), with a number of organizations also providing a strong secondary source of respondents.”
Those organizations included ARISE Institute email, GYC Social Media, Disciples Software email; Union College email, and the La Sierra University Church Young Adult email lists.
Noting a dramatic shift among Americans in their views of the papacy – seven in ten Americans, including 53-percent of white evangelicals, now hold a favorable view of the pope according to the Pew Research Center in Washington, D.C. – Parker suggests it might be time to ask whether zeroing in on the “beast power” is the way to reach the present age.
“Adventist young adults in North America are leaving the church at an alarming rate (which some suggest is as high as 70 percent) leading us to question an approach that may alienate more people (young adults especially) than it brings in,” the presentation notes said. The 70 percent dropout rate is taken from a 2009 study by S.S. Rainer of Rainer Research in Lakewood Ranch, Florida, called the “Collegedale Church of Seventh-day Adventists young adult dropout and assimilation study.”
The presentation included comments from survey respondents as to what they believed the Antichrist was.
“Personally, I think the Antichrist is any type of false Christianity, whether it be Roman Catholic, evangelical, or even misguided Adventism. Anything that elevates human tradition and salvation by works is the Antichrist,” one anonymous survey respondent said.
“I think the antichrist is a lot closer to each of us than any organization. It is anything that takes the place of Christ in our hearts and is a righteousness by works system,” said another.
The mass-mailing of glossy brochures decorated with pictures of the “beasts” described in the biblical books of Daniel and Revelation are not going to resonate with those in their age cohort who aren’t already Adventists or those who favor conspiracy theories.
“Millennials believe that Adventists, conspiracy theorists, and Christians of other faiths are likely to be attracted to evangelistic meetings based on the advertising,” the presentation stated. Survey respondents said only 6.2 percent of millennials would be “likely to be attracted” to evangelistic meetings through such beast-bedecked pamphlets.
The survey also found that theologically conservative millennials “were more likely to have a positive overall impression of Adventist evangelistic meetings, while liberals were more likely to have a negative overall impression.”
Also, “Conservatives indicated that they are more likely to bring a friend to an evangelistic meeting, while liberals are less likely to bring a friend to a meeting,” the presentation stated.
However, Parker said via email, “While the impressions of advertising are generally negative, the impression of the message content is generally positive. This is especially true of the fact that both liberals and conservatives see the messages as being biblical.”
Apart from changing the advertising emphasis, the millennials surveyed were asked what changes they’d like to see in Adventist evangelistic campaign meetings.
“If there was a speaker that was more appropriate for my age group,” one millennial wrote. “I don’t want someone who is older and has a different mind set [sic] and is closed minded. I would attend one if it was a youth pastor so I can actually understand the information.”
Another suggested they would attend “If it were lead [sic] by college-aged [sic] youth like myself.”
Parker also noted that many millennials said they were participating in evangelistic outreach meetings, noting the efforts of Southern’s Evangelistic Resource Center and the lay-led outreach of ShareHim International.
“A surprisingly high number of millennials have attended multiple meetings or even preached their own series. This figure is likely much higher than what it would have been 20-30 years ago and suggests that public evangelism has become much more accessible (and is not just the domain of the professional evangelist),” Parker said.
Parker told The Compass Magazine that the results released Thursday were “a summary” of the research project. “The full release will be on May 9 at the 180 Symposium for Youth Evangelism at Riverside, [California],” he added. That event will be held on the La Sierra University campus.