by Martin Weber

The purpose of technology and social media in the church is to facilitate outreach and nurture – winning new souls to Christ while helping existing disciples grow in grace, as individuals and as a church family. Unfortunately, many members are abandoning the church – most painfully, many of our own children. Even pastors' kids (PKs) are leaving us.

To find out why, I devoted my Doctor of Ministry project to the tragic topic of attrition of adult PKs in the Mid-America Union. I mailed an 111-point questionnaire to each of 222 active and retired clergy in our nine-state territory who have adult children (as of 2008). My research question was: "What influences from Seventh-day Adventist clergy parents in Mid-America may affect whether their children experience attrition from that denomination upon becoming adults?"

Data collected from the 113 questionnaires returned by clergy parents identified 40 attrition factors, yielding these conclusions:

Parental conservatism regarding lifestyle standards is not statistically significant in attrition.

Legalism regarding gospel doctrine (soteriology) is a moderately significant cause of attrition.

Legalism regarding practicing the principles of the gospel is a major cause of attrition.

For clergy parents to hold their own children to a higher behavioral standard is one of the highest causes of attrition.

Lack of relationality in the pastoral family is the most serious cause of PK attrition. Pastors with the highest retention rate of adult children are those who managed to provide the most positive and 'fun' family experience in the parsonage and were close enough to talk about anything in an atmosphere of freedom that allowed children and teens latitude in developing their own faith experience.

The greatest predictor of future faithfulness as an adult is whether the PK during growing up years takes initiative to approach the clergy parent to discuss spiritual matters.

Closely associated with family relationality is the freedom and trust expressed in discussing controversial issues. There is no greater cause of attrition than to attempt to shield children from knowledge of, or resisting discussion about, church or denominational conflict.

Congregational criticism of pastoral family members portends future attrition of adult children.

There is definite correlation between the experience of entering the pastorate during one's 30s and the future attrition of one's children.
Having a clergy grandparent is a stabilizing factor in the spiritual life of a PK.

To summarize: The most significant factors in avoiding attrition are 1) being able to discuss church problems in the parsonage while also 2) managing to sustain joy and togetherness in the family circle and 3) giving teens freedom to develop their own faith experience without the expectation of being super saints because they live in a parsonage.

The final section proposed remedial recommendations based on the thesis: "The parsonage parent's best defense against attrition is to foster the positive elements of joyous relationality and intrinsic spirituality in the family while avoiding negative factors such as suppression, rigidity and legalism; Seventy-day Adventists can pursue this in practical terms by interpreting fundamental denominational beliefs in the context of the gospel and living them out in a missional community of shalom."

What that means, simply stated, is that there is nothing in the 28 fundamental beliefs of Adventists that would cause our children to leave the church. It is the abuse of our doctrines that causes attrition. Each Adventist belief is a channel through which we can experience Jesus. When taught and lived in the context of a fruitful and joyous relationship with Christ, church doctrine is a positive factor in keeping our kids spiritually safe for time and eternity.

Reprinted by permission. First published in Mid-America Outlook, Sep 2011.

Martin Weber is currently editor of Mid-America Outlook and director of communication for the Mid-America Union of Seventh-day Adventists. He has served many years as a pastor, most recently in suburban Sacramento, California.

Among books authored are his own story of abuse survival, My Tortured Conscience, and “book of the year” Hurt, Healing and Happy Again, with stories of people wounded in life before experiencing emotional and spiritual healing in Jesus. His most recent book, God Was There: True Stories of a Police Chaplain, was just released by Pacific Press. Weber has shared God’s message of healing love on five continents. He recently completed a Doctor of Ministry project regarding troubled adult children of clergy families.

For another summary of Martin Weber's research, click here: