Perspective: Lack of Adventist Community Pushes Some Millennials to Marry Young

(system) #1

A survey about Adventist relationships led Spectrum intern Rachel Logan to a conversation about the lack of community in the Seventh-day Adventist church for young adults. It started with jokes about Adventists marrying young.

The running joke is that you are not doing Adventist higher education right if do not graduate with a romantic partner. Satirical websites like Barely Adventist have written several articles on the subject, videos circulate on the Internet making fun of the practice, and Pop Culture websites have taken an interest in the “marrying young” trend among Adventists.

The joke is that young Adventist women go to college to get their Mrs. degree, but is it a joke that points to a more serious reality?

Sure, calling Walla Walla University “Western Wedding University” is a joke, but in reality, schools like WWU and Southern Adventist University are churning out young couples every year. I know ten Adventist college graduates under the age of 24 who married this summer and several more who became engaged.

So despite the fact that the median marrying age in the United States is 27 years old for women and 29 for men, Adventists seem to follow trends closer to those set in the 1960s, when women were marrying at age 20 and men at age 22.

Is it important for young Adventists to find their husbands or wives in college? Not necessarily. But for those people who want to marry an Adventist, what challenges do they face if they graduate without finding someone?

I conducted an anonymous survey that was posted on the Spectrum Magazine Facebook page and on my own personal Facebook page. I asked friends, family, and Spectrum readers questions about Adventist relationships and marriages that have piqued my curiosity.

Over the course of three days, I received 300 responses. Less than one percent of the responses were from those aged 17 and under, 37.58% were aged 26 and older, and 61.74% were between the ages of 18 and 25 years old.

First, I asked: Did Adventists even want to marry other Adventists? Over 76% of the respondents said “yes.”

Sociologist and assistant professor of Social Work at Walla Walla University Emily Tillotson says she often comes across students who are worried about finding "The One".

“In my experience talking to students, there is a lot of family pressure [for them to find a partner],” Tillotson said. “Parents will ask, ‘is this the one? If you’re not dating, then why aren’t you dating?’ That’s one thing I hear over and over in class.”

Forty-five percent of those who took the survey said they felt pressure to find a partner while attending an Adventist university or college because they were afraid they would not be able to find an Adventist partner after graduation; that’s a significant statistic. That means that 135 people of the 300 surveyed felt pressured to make one of the biggest decisions of their lives because of their fear of not finding an Adventist partner later in life.

If finding an Adventist partner is important, every day on an Adventist campus represents an opporunity that data suggests may be gone after graduation. Statistically speaking, millennials will probably not find partners in church because they are not likely to attend.

Tim Floyd, New Haven youth pastor and Bible teacher at Midland Adventist Academy, spoke at the Adventist Forums Conference in San Diego at the beginning of October. Floyd presented data he compiled indicating that 70% of millennials believe that the American church is irrelevant, and that 40-75% of baptized Adventist millennials will leave the church after their last Seventh-day Adventist educational experience. If this is accurate, the majority of millennials will not be attending church after their college graduation. And even if these millennials did make an effort to continue regular church attendance after graduation, 40-50% of baptized Seventh-day Adventist youth will likely end up leaving the church in their mid-twenties, Floyd reported.

“Adventist schools provide a huge community where young Adventists mingle in droves,” says John Lubke, a 25-year-old Walla Walla University School of Theology graduate and former Adventist youth pastor. “Apart from going to an Adventist college, there is no other way to be surrounded by as large a number of bright, young, like-minded single Adventists.”

While 45% felt pressure to find a life partner in college, 43% of respondents to the question said they did not feel pressure to find a partner (11% did not attend an Adventist college).

43% of respondents found it difficult to date casually within the Adventist community because it is expected that Adventist relationships must move at an accelerated rate toward marriage. Thirty-four percent said casual dating was not a problem, 20% responded that this question did not apply to their situation, and less than 2% said they were not Adventist.

What else may be encouraging Adventists to run to the altar sooner than the national average? Does sexual purity still hold an important place in the hearts of millennials? I asked readers to rate this statement: Adventists marry young because they wish to be sexually pure until they are married.

Of the 184 respondents in the 18-25 age group, 55 agreed with this statement and 27 strongly agreed. Forty-three respondents disagreed and 10 strongly disagreed. Forty-nine respondents neither agreed nor disagreed with the statement.

Of the 300 responses recorded across all the age groups, 28% disagreed or strongly disagreed, 29% neither disagreed nor agreed, and 42% agreed or strongly agreed.

As I received Facebook feedback on the survey, I began to notice particular interest in the results from young, married Adventists. I discovered one of the reasons they were interested when I received a Facebook message from Holly Roberts, a recent WWU nursing program graduate and young bride. She explained the progression of her relationship with her boyfriend-turned-husband, Matt. “I married Matt because I found someone who shared the same values as me and also had a similar upbringing,” she said. “I think that’s a huge part of why some of us get married so young.”

She admitted that many people asked her if she was going to marry Matt when they were dating, but she never felt a pressure to marry him. They have now been happily married for over a year.

The Holly and Matt were just one of many married couples who contacted me about my study. Many seemed eager to defend their choice to marry young.

Twenty-three year old freelance videographer, and wife of an M.Div. student at Andrews University, Heather Moor is used to people asking questions about her decision to marry at 21-years-old.

“I was fine being single and getting married in my later 20’s,” she said. “[But] I met Jonny in college and we really clicked. Sometimes, in the hard times, we’ve asked each other if we got married too young. But I don’t think so. It was the right time for us.”

Moor questions the validity of statements like “getting married too young.”

“I almost think that saying ‘we got married too young’ would be a cop-out for our own selfishness and issues,” Moor said. “It isn’t being young that causes marriage to fall apart, it is being a human being.”

When I was a senior studying at an Adventist academy in 2010, I visualized life at an Adventist college where I would be surrounded by hundreds of my Adventist contemporaries. After college, I could not imagine a place where I would be in that position again. College seemed like the place I would most likely find my husband.

“The communities that are present in the college setting drop off after graduation,” said John Lubke. “As such, young people go elsewhere to find their sense of community.”

As a millennial living in a post-college world, I feel as though the Seventh-day Adventist Church does not provide a strong community for young Adventists. There is a gap in church communities. Adventist schools provide an excellent support system through their educational institutions for both parents and students. Students meet friends in their classrooms and parents are able to socialize with other parents through school functions. When school-age children get older, they meet other teens at youth rallies and church youth events. When these teens attend college, their circles continue to easily grow. However, after graduation, young professionals–married or not–frequently must relocate to find work unless they are attending a graduate school like Loma Linda University. This leaves young professionals without the peer community that has surrounded them their entire lives. Often, it is not until these young professionals have children that they are able to reconnect within the Adventist community.

If their experience growing up Adventist was a positive one, young parents will take their children to church and send them to Adventist schools, and thus continue the cycle. However, until that point, young professionals often disassociate with the Seventh-day Adventist Church.

A dating service, like, isn’t enough; what millennials need is an opportunity to meet other young Adventists in a safe environment. A meeting place would help foster fellowship that seems to be lacking in the traditional church environment.

A community like this could bring support to all types of young Adventist professionals. Those who are newly married could find friendship with other young married couples, and those who aren’t married would be exposed to other young Adventists who might share a similar culture. For myself, as a young professional in a committed relationship, I would be grateful for any community that would connect me with other young Adventists seeking friendship in my area.

“The Adventist model for ministering to people through life’s stages is built more upon older trends,” said Lubke. “Two decades ago, there wasn’t such a need to minister to single Adventists in the their mid to late 20’s because they didn’t exist in the numbers that they do today.”

It is clear that our churches need to create a community for millennials to grow and form friendships. Young Adventists want a church family. However, like the group it is catering to, this millenial community will not be a traditional one. I confess I do not know what such an environment would look like–maybe an online database that connects Adventists within a certain mile radius. But whatever form it takes, it all starts with conversation.

When I started researching for this article, I thought my research would revolve around young Adventists and the pressure some feel to find a partner. However, as I began to write, I realized I was more interested in discovering why that pressure exists. Let’s address this need in our young Adventist communities and move forward.

Title Image: From left to Right: Rachel Logan, Kate Beck, Sonja Rootvik, Kurtis Lamberton, and Karissa Jacobson

Rachel Logan is a writing intern for Spectrum Magazine.

This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at

(Brad(Luna)) #2

First of all, at one point, I feel like I asked for an article like this, so thank you for your study.

For the most part, millennials either leave the church, or the church itself doesn’t bother to minister to them in any specific ways. Most of the time, there is a lot more focus placed on teen ministry than college age ministry, which is odd considering college is the time when people make many life choices. This leads to the phenomenon of Adventist youth being spread out significantly, with potential partners being nonexistent or very small in number. Online dating has a whole host of problems, caused both by the inherent limitations in such a medium(misrepresentation of oneself,financial and emotional burden of having a long distance relationship, and cultural biases against it). This as you mentioned, makes SDA college one of the few places to be in a large group of college aged SDAs and thus have a wider pool of potential partners.

If an SDA church could have its own college age group like many non denominational churches do, it might help with helping young Adventists meet each other in large groups. The problem is, such churches need to be open to Millennial values, which would be very difficult for very traditional Adventist churches. One of the strong points of non denominational groups is their allowance of a certain degree of plurality, which doesn’t happen in many Adventist churches.

(Brad(Luna)) #3

I would be curious about how young Adventists feel about dating non Adventist Christians. Personally, I find the whole unequally yoked principle and the light cannot have communion with dark principle to be not only extremely offensive but also downright arrogant. It is as if other Christians are not worthy of Adventists. I find often that other Christians make for much better conversation than Adventists. Of course, that being said, there are bad apples in every group. Some who claim to be Christians behave horrendously just as some who claim the Adventist title act in arrogance and hatred.


(Elaine Nelson) #4

“Extremely offensive but also downright arrogant.”

That is the Adventist attitude toward non-Adventists and especially for marriage choices. To insinuate that Adventists are too Christian to associate with other Christians is nothing but arrogant.

There are millions of happily married Christians who may have been raised in different denominations, but was never a barrier. But Adventists are expected to limit their choices to others of the same denomination.

Has anyone taken a survey of these young Adventist marriages 10 or more years later? What is the success rate 10 years later? Do SdA young people who marry non-Adventists have different or similar success rates?

Those who are more strict in their lifestyles and practices vary as we know: all Adventists do not believe or behave in the same ways. After children, many families will consider their children’s religious education and often “return” after a hiatus.

When partners are older, the success rate is much higher than when in the early 20s. All young people should complete their education or if graduate school, be close to completion before considering marriage. Maturation is not completed for men until nearly 30 and for women, a few years younger.

How many men who are planning on grad. school “need” a working wife to support them? Does she cut short her plans for more education by marriage?

(Brad(Luna)) #5

Although this certainly doesn’t happen in all circles, it also creates a sense that someone who is dating a non Adventist is somewhat disloyal. Certain doctrines are raised to extreme importance, even more importance than the ideas of Christianity and the equality of all believers.

I think the reason younger marriage tends to be emphasized among Adventists and evangelical Christians in general has to do with evangelical sexual mores. No one wants to be a 30 year old virgin, so they get married earlier than the rest of the population.

(Steve Mga) #6

Which sex has more fears and anxiety regarding being single?
Young Men?
Young Women?
Which sex has the more socialization with others of their sex? Young Men? Young Women?
And what phenomenons make this so?
Does increased socialization with same sex persons decrease anxiety about marriage and starting a family?
How much do parents increase the Anxiety among singles about their singleness?

My single daughter, 40 this month, has recently “met again” an old “boy friend” from grade school and early academy days. She posted a picture on her Facebook. Left half “Then”, Right half “Now”.

(Elaine Nelson) #7

One of my two daughters first marriage was at 42. She determined to wait until she found the right partner. Sadly, it only lasted about 8 years, but a beautiful granddaughter.

The other daughter married an SdA after finishing nursing school., divorced 7 years later; second marriage some 25 years later lasted only 4 years. As a widow with a bachelor son, 57 years, all four of us are loving our independence.

There are lots of things worse than being single: being miserably married.

Parents should never push their children toward marriage!

(Brad(Luna)) #8

As a young male I can’t speak for all men or women but from my experience men are much more worried about not having a girlfriend in general whereas Women are more worried about not being able to get married. Once again I can’t speak for women, but sexual frustration tends to increase for single Christian men as they age.

I think Adventism has a rather interesting laizze faire attitude towards marriage. They are more concerned with “doctrinal purity” and not marrying outside the denomination.

Some groups in Evangelical Christianity fetishize marriage extensively. Just look at events like purity balls where young teen girls wear white dresses and pledge to their dads that they will stay virgins until marriage. There’s also definitely an idea taught that if you wait until marriage, the lovemaking will be better and more amazing than anything else but you can’t ruin that gift by having premarital sex. Adventism tiptoes sometimes into purity culture but not fully. For example, courtship doesn’t seem to have caught on yet. The only element it has adopted is the marry young model. But as this article mentions it’s a unique side effect of Adventist youth being greatly separated from each other due to their small numbers and the fact that so many leave.

(Elaine Nelson) #9

Mormons push marriage at an even earlier age. Their entire goal for their young people is to marry another Mormon and being producing children. The women are to be submissive to their husbands as it is through him that she can obtain a future life on their own planet.


No, Luna, that statement is offensive. That Adventists dont marry people of other faiths because their of the “dark” and Adventists are of the “light.”?

Tell me, then, if an Adventist marries a Baptist, where/when will their children worship at, Sunday churches, Sabbath keeping churches? What doctrines will they believe, or will doctrines be put aside for the sake of unity? They’ll have to be.

Wouldn’t it be more reasonable to assume that Adventists, like other religions, marry of the same faith because they understand that if they don’t, problems may arise in the future? Doesn’t that sound more reasonable, than labeling us in such a negative light? Like, we believe where better than everyone else for example.

I’ve said it more than once, and I’ll have to say it again, due to your comment. Their are Christians of other denominations out there that I and many Adventists couldn’t hold a candle to when it comes to living out our faith. But, as usual, this gets overshadowed, by such statements as yours. Picked up, and repeated till people start believing it.

And please, no stories of obscure examples of some Adventists who said such things about other Christians. You have those type of people in all faiths.

(Steve Mga) #11

ALL Christian belief systems have the same problem whether Baptist, Methodist, Church of God when one Adult in the family is a member of one, and the other Adult in the family is a member of another. In which one do the children get Baptized, get Confirmed? This forces children at an early age to place value on each parent’s religion and in turn value on each parent’s ideas about life. One parent then might be more valued than the other when it comes to asking for advice about life.

(Elaine Nelson) #12

There are intermarriages of Muslims and Christians; Catholics and Protestants; Adventists and other Christians.

They mutually agree on what is important and do not emphasize those that aren’t.
Evidently for you, Sabbath observance is THE most important thing and yet there are children who have been raised Adventists by one parent and parents who attend church together with their children. If Sabbath observance is more important than Christianity and what it stands for (long before Sabbath was practiced), then you should have no problem staying away from possible marriage with an “outsider.” After all, Christians flourished and converted millions without introducing Jewish holy days.

(Brad(Luna)) #13

First of all it is true that Adventists often say and treat other Christians the same, but there are still problems. While lip service is paid to the idea that there are good non Adventists to, in both theory and practice, Adventism treats the rest of Christianity as a completely separate religion. You can see this in how Adventists refer to other denominations as other faiths or other religions. Much like the Catholic Church, there are teachings that Adventist is not a denomination but the one true church. This is reinforced with ideas such as Adventism being the remnant church. It is also reinforced with the idea that the other Protestant churches are daughters of the harlot aka evil. This is not an idea you see in many other denominations other than the Catholic Church and Mormons.

In theory, there is equality, but in practice Christians are considered second class citizens of a sort. How can people do so when they are part of the Beast? Now these types of end times ideas which drive this sort of mind set are decreasing which is a good thing but it is still there in subtle ways.

That being said I agree that you should marry someone who will support, agree, or respect the principles you believe are the most important to your life.

(Cfowler) #14

Are you a relatively new SDA? I thought that you were somewhat of a new SDA, but I wasn’t sure if I was remembering correctly.

(Brad(Luna)) #15

Simply because one claims the same religion doesn’t mean they will agree on what is important to them. People are unique and can’t be easily defined by doctrinal beliefs.

(Mercy triumphs over judgment. James 2:13) #16

Adventists traditionally have interpreted Paul’s advice to not be “unequally yoked together with unbelievers” (2 Cor. 6:14) as referring to marriage w/ non-Adventists.

(Elaine Nelson) #17

If traditions were sacrosanct there would be no Adventists, Catholics, or Christians


Very well put, thank you Steve.

@ageis7, the Sabbath is not the most important thing, but just as important as the other 9 commandments for us. And you illustrate my point well, even if you didn’t mean to. And most of the people who have mixed faith marriages(I said most, not all), don’t take their faith serious, so compromising on some issues is no big deal for them.

@Luna I think most SDAs’ dont marry Christians of other denominations, not because they dont want anything to do with them, a type of thumbing ones nose down at them, but because, (as Steve put so well) of the issues it will cause later on, especially with the children.

@cfowler yes, I am new to the SDAC and the Christian faith too. And have come to notice that SDAs’ are no different than other Christians. They have the same likes, dislikes, fears etc.

@hopeful, I’m sure some would have, and still do, use that to lift themselves up while looking down at others. But I still believe, most SDAs’ don’t marry other Christians primarily because of the issues it will cause later on. This may have been the mindset, to a larger degree, years ago, but I dont see it as being that way now.

Thank you everyone for your comments.

(Thomas J Zwemer) #19

the story is not complete without a comment on who to marry and improve one’s chances on “getting a Call”. I know of two instances in my era where the male broke an engagement and married a girl suited to the Conference President and the Chairman of the department of Religion. The subsequent histories were not pleasant. Tom Z

(Elaine Nelson) #20

Are the children of Adventist parents really any better or more spiritual than those of “mixed” marriages? Where’s the evidence? The attrition rate of the young is so high, has anyone determined the difference due to the parents church affiliation?