For NAD Pastors
Attrition of Clergy Children
Martin Weber serves as the Communication Director for the Mid-America Union. His research on the attrition of adult children of Adventist clergy is based upon twenty-one thousand data cells of raw research from Adventist pastoral couples with adult children. From the data, 40 attrition factors emerged — 11 of them, he found to be extreme. Read the summary of his findings below or Read his entire researched study.
Doctor of Ministry Research Project on Attrition of Clergy Children
By Martin Weber
Summary of Findings
Seventh-day Adventist clergy, with colleagues of all faith groups, often suffer the loss of adult children to denominational attrition. To identify the causative factors, a 111-point questionnaire was mailed to each of 222 active and retired clergy in the Mid-America Union of Seventh-day Adventists who have adult children. Data requested was based on the research question: 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 the following summary of 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 (pastors’ kids) 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 a 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 to resist discussion about, church or denominational conflict.
• Congregational criticism of pastoral family members portends future attrition of adult children.
• There is definite significance 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.
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; Seventh-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.