Journal Article

From American Church to Immigrant Church: The Changing Face of Seventh-day Adventism in Metropolitan New York

Ronald Lawson

in Sociology of Religion

Published on behalf of Association for the Sociology of Religion

Volume 59, issue 4, pages 329-351
Published in print January 1998 | ISSN: 1069-4404
Published online January 1998 | e-ISSN: 1759-8818 | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.2307/3712121
From American Church to Immigrant Church: The Changing Face of Seventh-day Adventism in Metropolitan New York

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In 1945 Seventh-day Adventism in Metropolitan New York was divided administratively into two conferences, one of which had an almost completely Caucasian membership, the other Afro-American. Both groups grew substantially during the following twenty-five years, but this growth was accompanied by the beginning of a flow of immigrants who had become Adventists as a result of missionary activity in their homelands in the developing world. Since 1970, the influx of immigrants — and of conversions among their non-Adventist peers — has burgeoned, while American-born members, both black and white, have declined sharply in total number and precipitously as a proportion of the total. The data presented here show that in this region “new immigrants” now account for almost 90 percent of the Adventist membership. While the situation in New York is more extreme, it mirrors a transformation taking place among Adventists throughout North America. Without the flow of immigrants, North American Seventh-day Adventism would now be in a situation of numerical decline akin to that of many of the mainline Protestant denominations. This paper sets out to account for the demographic transformation of Adventism in Metropolitan New York — for the decline of the American segments (Caucasian and Afro-American) and the huge growth among the new immigrants. It argues, drawing on modernization theory, that a strict church with a rigid doctrinal system and behavioral code will decline among constituencies with growing sophistication if it does not accommodate to modem values, but may succeed in the short-term by attracting less modern people.

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Subjects: Religion ; Sociology of Religion

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