July 28, 2015: Adventists are the most ethnically diverse religious group in the United States, according to a news story published yesterday by the Adventist Review. In fact, Adventist Today has repeatedly reported this reality over the last few years. The story is based on a report released this week by the Pew Research Center, but it does not tell the whole story and may convey an impression that is not entirely factual.
Quoting the Pew study, the Adventist Review states that “37 percent of adults who identify themselves as Seventh-day Adventists are white, while 32 percent are black, 15 percent are Hispanic, 8 percent are Asian and another 8 percent are another race or mixed race.” It also states that the margin of error for the study is “less than one percentage point.”
What the Adventist Review did not report is that the margin of error quoted above is for the entire survey sample, totaling 35,071 interviews. The Adventist sub-sample totals 160 interviews, so the margin of error for the ethnic profile quoted in the paragraph above is nine percentage points. In other words the ethnic profile of the Adventist Church in the United States could be quite different than the information in the paragraph above.
There is no doubt that the majority of Adventists in the North America are from ethnic minority groups. The last study of Adventist demographics with a full sample that followed the same methodology as that used by the U.S. Census Bureau, conducted for the denomination’s North American Division (NAD) in 2007-2008 showed that half the Adventist population was white and half ethnic minorities. At the rates of change revealed by previous studies, the NAD undoubtedly passed over the threshold into a “majority minorities” profile by 2010 at the latest. (That study can be obtained online at www.creativeministry.org, the Web site of the research center that conducted the demographic survey for the NAD.)
The Pew study also asked the Americans it interviewed to contrast their childhood religion with their current status. Only 51 percent of those who identified the Adventist faith as the denomination they were raised in reported that they are still Adventists. A total of 21 percent told interviewers that they now belong to a different Protestant denomination and one percent said they have become Roman Catholics. Six percent indicated that they have joined a non-Christian religion, and 21 percent identified themselves as not a part of any organized religion or “Nones.” The Adventist Review did not report this information.
A number of studies conducted by Adventist research agencies have shown that about half of the children growing up in Adventist families in North America have dropped out of the denomination by the time they reached their mid-20s. This began to be true during the Baby Boom generation, born from 1946 through 1964 and now middle-aged. It has continued to be true during the two more recent generations: the Baby Bust generation (often labeled Generation X by journalists), now in their late 30s and 40s; and the Millennial generation, today’s young adults.
Anabaptists, Lutherans and Pentecostals have about the same dropout percentage as do Adventists in the United States. Methodists, Episcopalians (Anglicans), Presbyterians, Reformed and Holiness denominations have significantly larger dropout percentages, according to the Pew study. Baptists and Catholics retain markedly higher percentages of their young people into adulthood, but have much larger percentages of inactive members.
Self-identified Adventists in the Pew interviews included very small numbers of individuals who reported they belong to one of six very small Adventist denominations: Advent Christian, Worldwide Church of God (recently renamed Grace Communion International), Church of God General Conference, Church of God (Seventh-day), United Church of God and Living Church of God.