Ask any person involved in Seventh-day Adventist education and they will tell you the simple truth: shrinking schools is a common theme in our denomination. Not only are many of the schools shrinking in size, but most conferences have notably fewer schools now than they did a decade ago. Why is this? Why are people, apparently loyal Seventh-day Adventist Christians, no longer sending their children to respectable Seventh-day Adventist schools?
There are many reasons given by parents as to why they do not send their children to denominational schools at the rate they once did. The high cost is often a factor. Why spend money on a “small school” (read “old-fashioned and lower-quality”) education when a “state of the art” education is available for free? Another reason may be lack of extracurricular activities and programs.
In terms of boarding schools, parents will often say that they are not ready to give up their children at a young age. These reasons are more than understandable. In fact, many who are sitting in the pews on Sabbath mornings advance these reasons. Also, according to research conducted by the New York Conference Office of Education, most of the churches close to a Seventh-day Adventist elementary school have more children not attending that school than the ones attending.
In response to this trend, the New York Conference Office of Education followed up their research with an informal survey aimed at discovering any further patterns leading to lack of attendance. Over six months, the superintendent traveled to multiple churches and schools asking two questions. These two questions were asked of school boards, church boards, congregations, and individuals at potlucks. The two questions were:
1. What is the mission of the Seventh-day Adventist Church?
2. What is the mission of Seventh-day Adventist education?
After six months of repeatedly asking these two questions, not one correct answer was given. In fact, several respondents stated they believed that the Seventh-day Adventist Church is “just like any other church, just with a few different beliefs.”
What are the correct answers to the questions?
1. According to the three angels’ messages of Revelation 14, the mission of the last-day remnant church is to introduce people to the full life-changing gospel of Jesus Christ. As they respond to this message they are remade into His likeness, and then able to give the final warnings needed to prepare as many people as possible to meet Jesus at His return, facilitating their journey from error to truth.
2. Seventh-day Adventist education is to make the mission of the church come alive in the students, that they may have the character of God remade inside them, and prepare them to be the last-day missionaries in the event that our generation does not complete the work.
If a person has wholeheartedly accepted this two-fold mission, and if their local church school is carrying out this mission, then what sacrifice would they not make in order to have their children receive this type of education? Therefore, the question facing every church member and church school is quite simple. Have you caught the mission?
Jeremy Garlock is the New York Conference superintendent of schools.