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December-January 2016


Follow the Leader


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Snapshots of Student Spirituality

By Barry Raper


Youth ministry author Kenda Creasy Dean recently wrote the book Almost Christian. It’s a book about research specifically directed at youth in American churches. The subtitle is worth noting: What the Faith of our Teenagers is Telling the American Church. While it is certainly right for us to be concerned about the evangelical church in America, another question comes to mind: What about the faith of Free Will Baptist teenagers? It was with this in mind that the Free Will Baptist Student Survey was created.


Origin of the Survey

After starting with a base set of questions, the survey researchers met with a group of experienced pastors and youth pastors in the middle Tennessee area for brainstorming. From this meeting we were able to hammer out both the final list of questions and also formatting for the survey.

The first discovery was that making a survey is difficult. We also knew in the back of our minds that the survey had limitations. For example, we had many additional questions, but for the sake of brevity we restricted ourselves to the final number represented in the survey—46 questions. Below is the general format of the survey:



Purpose of the Survey

The primary purpose of the survey is to gain an accurate picture of the spirituality of Free Will Baptist students. Other surveys have been conducted that gauge beliefs and behaviors of American teenagers in general. However, we wanted to discover where Free will Baptist students stand on certain core issues.

A second purpose of the survey is to assist local churches in making disciples of youth and their families. Church leaders and parents can take information gleaned from the survey and make the necessary adjustments in training and teaching. One local church, for example, took the survey, reviewed the results, and then had an open discussion forum with parents and students. Assessment of the survey results may lead to changes in preaching, curriculum, and education.


The Early Numbers

Space will not allow for an in-depth review of all of the numbers generated by the survey to date. At the time of writing more than 800 surveys have been completed. Respondents come from a variety of states, sociological areas, and church sizes. Below are a few select entries to give the reader an idea of what we are learning about the beliefs and behaviors of Free Will Baptist students:


“I believe the Bible is completely true.”

Several statements throughout the survey gauge convictions about the Bible, the reality of Hell, beliefs about homosexuality and abortion, and other issues. Consider, for instance, three statements related to the doctrine of salvation—from slightly different angles:


“I believe Jesus Christ is the only way of salvation.”


“I believe those who have never heard of Jesus are lost.”


“I think sincere people from other religions will be saved.”


Imagine the ministry and discipleship value of knowing the beliefs of our students regarding salvation and other crucial areas of faith and lifestyle. We believe this survey will become an invaluable tool for pastors, youth pastors, and church leaders to help them understand and minister to their students.


Looking Ahead

The initial goal was to reach a thousand students with the survey. Recently, however, was made to extend the survey with the hope of gaining an even larger survey sample. Greater numbers will provide an even clearer picture of the spirituality of Free Will Baptist students and will enable more comparative analysis within the survey.

Thanks to each church and student who has taken the time and effort to complete the survey. We would like to enlist the help of your church if you haven’t participated in the survey. In order to make this process more efficient, the survey is available online at


About the Writer: Dr. Barry Raper chairs the Pastoral Ministry program at Welch College. Visit to learn more.




©2016 ONE Magazine, National Association of Free Will Baptists