A survey launched last month by researchers at Elon University, a nonsectarian private university in North Carolina, seeks to understand those who have left the Adventist Church. “Our goal is to learn and document what led those who call themselves ‘ex-Adventists’ to leave the Adventist movement,” the research team writes on the website for the “Eighth-Day Freedom” project.
In addition to learning about those who have left the Adventist Church completely, the researchers also hope to examine the experiences of those who lost belief but remain connected to Adventism. “We are also very interested in capturing the views and perspectives of those who no longer believe, but who remain part of the Adventist system, whether inside the formal structure, or simply part of the community of lay Adventist believers,” the team says.
Tom Arcaro, a professor of sociology, is the lead investigator for the project. Before the current ex-Adventist project, he and Duane McClearn, a professor of psychology, led a similar survey of atheists, many of whom had left Christian denominations.
“The core of the project is a census-style survey,” writes Jeff Wright, a former Adventist and member of the research team. There are 62 questions in the survey, which is open now and will remain available until June 1. The team estimates that it takes 30–40 minutes to complete.
While a complete analysis of the results won’t be finished until after all the responses are collected, the team is releasing some preliminary findings on the project’s blog. One of the questions asks whether respondents view the Adventist Church to be a cult. “Reading through the comments has been difficult and fascinating,” Arcaro writes. “As a sociologist I find most of the comments inherently interesting, of course, but reading some offerings has been difficult knowing that a real person spent time thinking about and writing those words.” From over 350 early respondents, two-thirds said that they view the church to be a cult.
Looking at the context of people leaving the Adventist Church within society at large, McClearn notes that “current trends indicate a net loss for many religions and an overall trend toward a more secular world.”
Attrition rates have been a repeated topic of concern for Adventist leaders. According to David Trim, director of the Office of Archives, Statistics, and Research at the General Conference, over 40 percent of members will eventually leave the church.
While the Adventist Church continues to try and improve its retention rates, the ex-Adventist survey from researchers at Elon University will give new insights into those who are already gone.
The survey is available at https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/6V63JBN.
Alex Aamodt is the managing digital editor of Spectrum.
Title image: Eighth-Day Freedom research project.
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