Student Researcher Seeks Participants for Religious Disaffiliation Survey

Loma Linda University Clinical Psychology student Alex Larson is looking for participants who can help provide data about Adventist views on religious disaffiliation. Larson describes the research project this way:

Attention Seventh-day Adventists! I need your help with my Masters thesis research. I'm conducting an anonymous, in-depth survey that focuses on Seventh-day Adventist attitudes regarding disaffiliation from the Seventh-day Adventist church, including the example of former SDA pastor Ryan Bell. This survey also allows for an analysis of the role of God and religion in the lives of Seventh-day Adventists, and their views on truth and religious disaffiliation in general. To participate, you need to be at least 18 years old and currently identify as a Seventh-day Adventist.

Larson, a graduate of Pacific Union College, says that several would-be subjects who call themselves former Adventists have inquired about whether they might participate in the survey as well. "What matters [for this study]," Larson says, "is if they currently still identify. This is because I'm looking at how people who have "stayed in the church" are viewing those who leave--I'm expecting that more than a handful of people who have responded have considered leaving at some point, and...I want to hear from them."

Feedback from ex-Adventists demonstrates the possibilities for research targeted more specifically at those who have left the Adventist denomination. I've been getting quite a few ex-Adventists who were wondering [if they could participate], which tells me that perhaps I need to look at future research in interviewing ex-Adventists on their opinions," Larson said.

The survey takes approximately 25 minutes to complete.

The letter of informed consent, included in the study, states the following:

If you participate in this survey, your answers will be anonymous and securely stored in password-protected research database. However, as with all internet communication, it is possible that through intent or accident someone other than the intended recipient could see your response. Please do not disclose any confidential or identifying information about yourself or others. In addition, when we receive the results, no information will link your answers back to you.

Although participation might not benefit you directly, the information gleaned from this study will potentially contribute to a better understanding of the perspectives of Seventh-day Adventists on an action that often causes distress to individuals as well as their church communities. Please see this study as an important way to anonymously provide your perspectives on this issue to your fellow Seventh-day Adventist church members.

In order to reach a wide cross-section of Adventist Church members, Larson has asked several Adventist media sites to share information about the survey. If you meet the criteria and would like to participate in this study, PLEASE CLICK HERE.

If you respond to this article, please:

Make sure your comments are germane to the topic; be concise in your reply; demonstrate respect for people and ideas whether you agree or disagree with them; and limit yourself to one comment per article, unless the author of the article directly engages you in further conversation. Comments that meet these criteria are welcome on the Spectrum Website. Comments that fail to meet these criteria will be removed.

This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at

I took the survey but had difficulty with the word “Religion” which includes both a non-changing belief system AND a strict set of behaviors of a particular worshiping group. In Christianity “Religion” can be just the Nicene Creed or the 28-SDA, or the Baptist Confessions. So many “Either – Or” questions. The “Do I believe the Bible” OR “Do I believe Science.” was a tough one. I think here on Spectrum we have proved that one can give up being a member of SDA, but maintain a faith in God, and a reason to live for God. To have less of a RELIGIOUS JOURNEY and more of a SPIRITUAL JOURNEY with God. There is a difference between just a Believer in the “28” and being a Disciple of Christ. It is OK to Question. It is OK not to have all the answers. Question is not necessarily Doubt. What do we do when we understand “something” in the Bible more clearly? An AHA moment. Did anyone else find some of the questions difficult? Maybe I read too much into them, especially the word “Religion”. I know many persons who moved away from Baptist to Episcopalian and found a better journey. A couple who moved from Protestant to Catholic and found a better journey. Some moved to SDA and found a better journey.

4/13EDIT – There are members who would like to be allowed to be SDAs but not permitted to be as such. They do so through other ways. One way is Church 1.0 in SanFranciso area [can also join on line]. There is Kinship International. Over the past few years at their mini-gatherings they have had to obtained the services of an SDA pastor to baptize persons who their local pastor would not baptize. They have even had to obtain “membership” in the SDA church 2 or 3 states away from the SDA church in their home town in order to become a member of the SDA. If it wasn’t for groups like Kinship International, a non-recognized SDA organization, hundreds of SDAs would not be affiliated with SDA church.
I learned about Kinship quite by accident. I have met several church going gays here in town and introduced them to SDA by taking them to a mini-gathering. One is Jewish handicap in a wheelchair. The place has an elevator so works well for him. He does the Sabbath candle blessing for the group. Have taken him 4 years, and he looks forward to it.
I met a homeless gay about 10 years ago took him to SDA potluck after church, took him to nursing home visiting each month when it was done. [They quit for a summer, never restarted in the fall] He met some SDA friends that way. Has attended church a couple of times. But my church would not accept him as a member – on the back of the bulletin #17 it says “God condemns homosexuality”. So I took him to the Episcopal church on Sundays. Was one of his sponsors at his baptism. Still attends church every week. Is a choir member.
It is NOT easy attending SDA church, becoming a member, and some are very open regarding that they dont want you to inquire. I have heard of groups who have dress codes, even for first time visitors, and will send them away if not dressed in proper attire [pants not allowed for women]. At the Episcopal church one can take up the offering in a t-shirt, shorts, flip-flops, and also in a suit and tie. The important thing is hearing the Word.

4/14EDIT – About a year ago, when we were having discussions about fossils, I took the opportunity to ask my Jewish community about Gen 1 and 2 and fossils. One highly respected Jewish authority in the congregation would only answer this way – In Wyoming I looked over the edge and saw the bones.
Perhaps this is what we have to do with the Bible, with Science. Recognize both. Accept both. Accept that God made ALL. That the Scriptures are based upon Facts. That the Facts were passed down orally from one generation to another until one decided to write them down. We do have over a million witnesses to Mount Sinai. But only one version was written, one version was passed down, and the Babylonian Jews have given us the final Authorized Version of the Torah. However we think of it, it does provide the information necessary for Salvation. The remaining books show us how to love and bless God, and to love and bless our fellow man – our neighbor as ourself. Most of the N.T. is commentary on the O.T. in relation to Christ. Three facts – 1. In the beginning. 2. God 3. Created
The 4th fact is that God has authorized us to explore the Created. Even down to to cellular biology. To map out mental illness in the brain, such as depression, anxiety. And conquer those with brain electrical stimulator implants. Same with parkinson’s. Or with chemicals. In some instances, God allows us to be Co-Creators with Them.


I think that the research question is important. Very important and that is why I was so disappointed with the the survey. It will produce meaningless data and is a missed opportunity for learning about permeable borders of our faith and institutional church (Not to mention the missed opportunity for a grad student to advance his/her career)

At its core the ill informed hypothesis Uses faith, doctrinal beliefs and church affiliation interchangeably. The survey design failed to define terms, had somewhat arbitrary, subjective responses That will make analysis rudimentary correlations at best. As graduate-level work, it nears academic malpractice. Further after enduring the vague questions, Ryan bell is anchored as the reference. That woul be the equivalent of studying the risk factors of a population using the risk factors of a single heart attack victim as the reference risk standard.


Thank you Mark! The exact words I wanted to post. Academic ineptitude and borderline malpractice. Also, where is an IRB approval? It is unethical to conduct a human subject research without an approval from IRB

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Dear student.
Utterly disappointed. There is a switch and a light bulb but they don’t seem to be connected. This has to go back to the drawing board. IMHO. Some semi structured interviews might help to get the gist. You cannot find what you are not looking for.
Perhaps “time is out of joint”. Or not.
Nothing is like a good question.

Perhaps, just Perhaps none of the questions in the survey are relevant. Smug face. Happy forum reviews.


Does an acorn leave the oak tree ? Or does the oak tree reject the acorn ?
Does a group member leave the group ? Or does the group reject the member ?

If a mere student, seeking to understand, cannot find empathy and safety among a more accomplished group of commentators . . . well, then, it seems to me that all the answers to that student’s questions regarding ‘disaffiliation’ – wherever it may occur – can be found right here in these Spectrum comments.


Who are the “stakeholders in Denominationalism”. I am a member of a Presbyterian Church USA. not because of the Westminster Confessions, but because the pastor and previous pastors were and are Gospel oriented. There are Adventist pastors of equal voice. just not within a day’s travel of Augusts. Let us have a conversation on what Christ did not about what we should do. Our role is that of Philip. creationists and evolutionists use the tools of science, each to their own purpose. So one does not reject science but one learns to know it limits. The great philosophic questions are not amenable to the scientific method. The Gospel story puts life into context. (Clear enough for the plow boy and profound enough for the most keen scholar.). TZ


This is an ambitious and useful topic to pursue, and kudos to the student for this venture.

I question as to whether or not many conclusions of value can be drawn from the (accumulation of answers to) questions that are posed on continuums stretched between such simply conceived (and, IMO, frequently ill-conceived) dichotomies. I felt compelled to answer “neutral” or “no opinion” on most of the questions due to the oversimplifications and (what I determined to be) false suppositions inherent in the posing of the questions.

The great share of the questions that were pointed in a particular ontological direction presupposed ideological conflicts and therefore did not account for disaffiliation due to various non-ideological causes such as psychological and sexual abuse and general neglect by clergy, family, faculty, etc. (which might be a significant aspect to general disaffiliation statistics.)

Several of the questions assumed an ambiguous parallel between “religion” and “denominational affiliation”.

One question separated the idea of “being good” from the idea of “God” which, posed to a non-believer would make sense. In the context of this survey, though, the question is aimed at believers, many of whom understand God to be good, love, etc. (So, a “good” person would be a believer in God, not because he is familiar with God as a named entity, but because he is familiar with “good”).

It also seemed odd to me that Ryan Bell’s very unique and specific experience was used as a nexus for a survey that is purporting to research the very general topic of religious disaffiliation. If the researcher wants to focus on religious disaffiliation due to loss of faith, then I would expect that to be specified in the title of the survey.

I hope there is a follow-up survey to account for some of these deficiencies and therefore result in the collection of more relevant and useful data.


For Whom the Bell Tolls…I will not participate in the survey but wish the student researcher well. Rene G.

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i just finished the survey and thought it was aiming at whether church affiliation and spirituality were really connected…the initial questions repeated at the end are probably the most important for the purpose of this survey…

This also makes me think of Parodox Ministries in Redlands CA. The mostly young adult church broke away from conference but still worships on Sabbath and is a great ministry for the community. Not being officially affiliated shouldn’t be inherently taboo.


Please explain “disaffiliated” If “affiliated” is being part of something is “disaffiliated” not being part of something or is that “unaffiliated”.

I interpet "disaffiliated " as no longer being affiliated with something one was previously affiliated with as opposed to still being a member but disaffected by not being a happy member.

Depending on the definition I may have taken the quiz when not entitled to do so as I have not been affiliated (member)with the SDA church since 2002 or there about.


Agreed oldabe,

The term “disaffliated” was confusing to me as well. At first I thought I qualified as disaffliated, then I thought I didn’t. ???


My sense is that the researcher perhaps needs to better differentiate as to whom he is talking about. It appears that the researcher is using disaffilation aimed specifically at SDA’s but it doesn’t say that. Additionally he uses the word “Religion” in a way that may mean demoninational belief’s, or may mean personal faith. There are also issues in that the questions suggest that if someone has any issues with their experience with how Adventism is practiced leads to someone leaving Christianity.


I wish Alex Larson & his study well. Some of the premises & questions are unclear, which may limit the usefulness of the results.

The survey states that it is about “religious disaffiliation, the public rejection of a religious belief system.” One can be Christian without being part of a denomination, so is the survey about rejecting Christianity or Adventist membership? Most people who disengage from denominations do so without ceasing to be Christians or becoming atheists. Frequently they join other churches or become a “None.” Irreligion may be growing, but it isn’t synonymous w/ disaffiliation per se.

The focus on Ryan Bell intensifies the confusion. It perpetuates a polarity of the Adventist ethos albeit in an updated guise: one either remains a member or falls off the spirituality cliff. In fact, I don’t quite get the need for the Bell component at all, unless the interest behind the study is specifically about the path to atheism.

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Sometime ago church conference presidents and pastors discussed the increasing danger of baptismal dodgers threatening their industry what they failed to discuss the danger threatening their industry their own increasing in keeping their rendezvous with sins. Lately, more pastors, are now undertakers they used also to do as pastors. The news of any disaffiliation should be listed under “ Church Improvement”. Yes, the research question is important is key coming from the industry undertakers’ brave confession. Not on the silence and distance hypothesis. Good fortune to the researcher. The random looking up something and finding something else on the way.

I think that Alex Larson has made a valiant attempt to assess an on-going issue within the Adventist Church of attrition rates that approach 40% relative to new ascensions. However, it appears to me that the survey is deeply flawed and it is not at all clear that reliable results can come from the survey or its interpretation. My observations are as follows.

First, the idea of disaffiliation is poorly defined - does it mean no longer attending a particular church without declaring so? Does it mean transferring church membership to a church in another denomination? Does it mean reducing the amount of attendance at a given church. Each of these definitions can define “disaffiliation” and can lead to different interpretations.

Second, there is a missing time dimension for when the actions in the survey are taking place or have taking place. For example, if the survey had suggested that the events for which the answers occurred took place within the last year or two the interpretation would be more concise.

Third, the surveys is greatly biased in two directions - it is a self-selecting survey which will likely attract those with a particular perspective on the issue; in addition, it appears to be greatly slanted toward demonizing those Adventist who “leave” the Adventist church. While the state of-the-art in survey selection is to seek a random design approach or one that surveys every subject in a class (for example, every member of a randomly selected church), this design suffers from the the same effect as asking magazine readers about their sexuality,(i.e, The Hite Report,1976, that had a 4% response rate and was not considered scientifically sound).

Fourth, many of the questions are confusing as there can be more than one response to a given question. While there is an attempt to resolve this with modifications to the StronglyAgree - Strongly Disagree nexus, this may actually add to the confusion.

These comments notwithstanding, I believe Alex Larson has done a service in seeking to better understand why so many Adventists are leaving Adventist churches in much of NAD, but not at the same rate as in other Church Divisions.

I’m not eligible to complete the survey: I left the SDA denomination perhaps 10 years ago. I am an academic in the social sciences, and I see that a number of people have identified issues with the survey.

I’d note that:
(a) those are to a large extent the responsibility of Alex’s supervisor(s) rather than of the student himself: a Masters research study is a first foray into research, and requires a high level of quality control from the supervisory team and
(b) I agree that making Ryan Bell a specific focus is probably an error, although topical: the concerns are broader and longer-term, and a single case has specifics that likely won’t generalise.

While there will be some value to be drawn from the results generated so far - and it may be too late to create a new and better survey and gather data within the timeline of the Masters - I’d encourage Alex to continue to conduct research in this field, and to work at making a better-designed survey with more generalisable results next time. If the current supervisory team is not up to scratch, seeking a new team for the doctorate - possibly even at a different university - might be worthwhile.

I think a crucial complementary study would be of people like me: those who have left but stay in touch. There are heaps of us. My experience in discussion has been that those who stay make a lot of assumptions about those who leave, rather than ask and listen, and a lot of those assumptions are flat out wrong. As such, the complementary survey would provide an essential counterpoint (and reality check) on this survey of the ‘stayers’ attitudes to the ‘leavers’.

Critiques - helpfully intended, I hope - aside, knowing more about this space is valuable and important, and I’m delighted Alex is undertaking this work.


I would suggest that the denomination promote the implementation of reviews/surveys on a quarterly basis. …Worldwide…because of the wide open back door.
Communion services are a time of reflection or…“examine yourselves whether you be in the faith”…occasion.
Sermons and sabbath school presentations should be reviewed/critiques for relevancy and content.
The denomination leaves much to be desired in quality control.
The non denom mega church, that I attend often has sermon feedback cards that the staff mention every week to submit. They are enclosed in every church bulletin

I am not eligible to answer the survey,but I have several observations. when I read the output of the faculty at Andrews,I am generally impressed. when I listen to recent graduates from the Seminary sent to the Southern Union, I am greatly disappointed. How does one endure childish bigotry from the pulpit? I prefer to stay home and read. Christainity is far too important to waste time with incoherence. TZ