When Immigrants Take Over: The Impact of Immigrant Growth on American Seventh-day Adventism’s Trajectory from Sect to Denomination

The Seventh-day Adventist Church in the United States has been following a well-defined trajectory from sect toward denomination for the past century: it has reduced tensions with its surrounding environment by removing antagonisms between itself and the state and other religious organizations and as its members have become less peculiar in their lifestyles and beliefs and more integrated into society. However, over the past 30 years it has received an influx of immigrants from countries of the developing world who, generally, are more sectarian in their beliefs and behavior and more confrontative of other religious groups than is the typical American Adventist today. This process is especially advanced in some metropolitan areas such as New York, where Adventism has been transformed from a church of Caucasians and African Americans to a body where nine out of 10 members are now “new immigrants.” This paper poses the question of whether the influx of immigrants will reverse the trajectory of Adventism in North America, making it generally more sectarian.

From American Church to Immigrant Church

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 …