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July 1979 · Vol. 8 No. 3 · pp. 33–40 

The Schools Students Choose

Harold Jantz

Canadian Mennonite Brethren youth are choosing non-conference schools in large numbers. The purpose of this study is to try to determine why and to see what we can learn from the results.

The survey questions were sent to all Canadian Mennonite Brethren churches, in some cases with specific names of students on them, in other cases with only a request to the pastor of the students to have the forms completed and returned to us. Of the approximately 275 forms we mailed out, 101 completed returns were received in time to become part of the study.

Also incorporated into the study are statistics based on the student lists submitted to us separately by churches for Herald mailing purposes. These give us a more representative picture of where students are going this year since they are based on larger returns. However, they have not been directly related to the returns from the students themselves.

Table 1, based on names and addresses supplied to the Mennonite Brethren Herald by our churches, gives a picture of the schools these students chose. The last line of the chart shows the level of students choosing non-Mennonite Brethren schools from each of the districts. A total of 61 churches with 10,500 members are here represented. Together they have 174 students in 32 different church-related or Bible institutions. If one can assume a similar ratio for the other approximately half of our churches and their membership, we may have somewhere between 300 and 350 students in non-Mennonite Brethren Bible and theological training schools.

One part of the questionnaire asked the students how they learned about the schools they chose. Two observations arise out of this information:

First, nearly two-thirds of the students made a choice between a Mennonite Brethren school and the one they eventually chose. There {34} are differences between schools in the ratios of those who chose between Mennonite Brethren and non-Mennonite Brethren schools and those who did not make such a choice. For example, at Briercrest 27 students said they chose between a Mennonite Brethren and a non-Mennonite Brethren school while only 8 did not. Of the 15 Capernwray students who responded, however, the number was almost the same; 8 who did and 7 who didn’t.

Second, family and friends rank very high as channels for information and as the way whereby potential students are directed toward Bible training schools. This is particularly true in relation to a few schools. For example, at Prairie Bible Institute the family ranks high and at Capernwray schools friends rank high. Deputation groups and school literature together form an important way of communicating the goals and the offerings of schools to potential students. But apparently students themselves are the best advertisement for a school. If students enjoy a school and speak positively about their experience and their lives back up what they are saying, others will be drawn to it. However, families remain a critical factor in steering students toward one school or the other. Likely their influence is the long-range kind, as when parents direct their children to the school they themselves once attended. Advertising letters, promotional literatures, catalogues and deputation visits are important short-range means of reaching potential students.


Students gave many reasons for choosing the school they eventually attended. I distinguished 25 reasons why they chose as they did, though there likely are more. They provide an insight into the minds of our young people, many of whom are highly motivated Christian youth—or want to be. I will do some analysis of the reasons given by students from the seven most frequently chosen schools.

1. Over fifty percent of the students (52%) stated in some way that they were going to a school because they wanted to grow spiritually, to know God, and to learn the Bible. “I wanted to be with others who could help me to grow spiritually,” one said. Or another, “I chose to give up the advanced musical training I could have received at an M.B. school . . . (for) the solid, basic Bible teaching I desired.”

2. The desire to study within an interdenominational setting cropped up very frequently (45% of the time). “I wanted exposure to an interdenominational school to escape from a strictly ‘M.B. way of thinking’.” “A diversity of ‘roots’ and world-wide ‘melting-pot’ unity {35} (which) cannot be found in Mennonite schools.” “The excitement of coming together with those from many different backgrounds and experiencing the strong unifying bonds of love which simply come from having the same Master and Lord.”

3. The third most frequently cited reason for choosing a particular school was the discipline (31%). “I was impressed with the discipline of both the students and the graduates of ______,” said one student. Another said he chose a particular school because of the “good discipline, yet not too strict.” Or another, “The rules were more rigid than most schools and therefore I felt it had what I wanted—to become a trained disciple.” Or still another, “I was drawn to the high standards they maintained.”

4. A significant percentage of students gave a negative feeling toward Mennonite Brethren schools as a reason for choosing a school without a conference affiliation. Whatever the justification for the feelings, they existed for at least 29% of our respondents within the seven leading schools. Their statements expressed various viewpoints: “The only information I could receive from ______ was negative.” This student added later on, “I must say that since that time I have seen that ______ is a good institute where God is honored and men of God are produced.” “Quite a few of M.B. schools which I heard of were quite slack in some of their rules concerning dating and out-of-school activities,” wrote another. Another said of a particular Mennonite Brethren school, “their academic standards are high, but their spiritual temperature is low.” And wrote one, “I chose Capernwray over ______ because I am more interested in the informal atmosphere of study for personal benefit.”

5. In one way or another at least 22 percent of the respondents within the seven most frequently chosen schools cited the impression they had that they were to be given a thorough program of studies. They said things like: “The highly qualified staff and fully accredited courses attracted me as I had good reports on the teaching staff and variety of courses.” “I feel I received an excellent education at Briercrest.” “WBC has high academic standards.”

6. A high percentage of the students whom we analyzed more closely cited a sports program as an important factor in their choice (17%). The reference to sports, however, was limited almost entirely to one school, Briercrest.

7. A significant number of students, 15.5% of the sample involved in the top seven schools, cited the cultural exposure as a reason for choosing certain schools. “Meet new and different people from all over Europe,” is how one student put it. “A chance to adapt to a totally different culture” said another. This reason figures very {36} high with the Capernwray students, 60% of whom gave this as reason for their choice.

8. A number of students also gave size as a reason for choosing a certain school, some because the school was small, some because it was quite large and offered many study options. Fourteen percent of the respondents gave this reason.

9. A relaxed academic atmosphere charms those who do not desire high standards. Some 14% of the respondents used statements like the following to explain why they chose the Capernwray schools, the only school for which this reason was given: “There isn’t a large homework load and you don’t have to do a lot of assignments.” “There weren’t a lot of real heavy, hard-to-understand books used.” “Less emphasis on head knowledge . . . good marks weren’t emphasized.” Many of these students did state, however, that it was a rich experience for them to listen to good lecturers and to live in an atmosphere conducive to spiritual growth.

10. A number of students (13% in the sample in the seven top schools) cited a special program as a reason for choosing certain schools. Several mentioned one-year programs designed for mature students. Several mentioned a one-year certificate course that is offered by Briercrest. This reason seemed to apply especially to older, serious students who did not feel they could afford a lengthy period of studies.

11. The strong mission emphasis of several schools, particularly Prairie Bible Institute, is a reason why the school is chosen. “I was drawn to the large number of dedicated missionaries who go out from the school,” said one. “I knew God had called me to be a missionary and Prairie has a strong missionary emphasis,” said another. This reason was given by 11.5% of the students in the sample from the top seven schools.

12. Many students, especially among the Briercrest sample, cited good school spirit as a reason for choosing the school. It was a reason given by 11.5% of the students in the sample of the top seven schools.

13. While the desire to go with a group may be an unstated reason for many students, a full quarter of the students who went to Briercrest cited it. “I had a lot of friends there,” said one student simply. This was given by 11.5%.

14. The chance to travel was mentioned exclusively by the students choosing the Capernwray schools. (Capernwray schools are found in Sweden, England, Germany, Austria, several places in the United States, New Zealand and Australia). This was given by 11.5%. {37}

15. Some students (10% of those in the top seven schools) gave the music program of the school they chose as a reason for going there. This applied almost entirely to Briercrest.

16. For some students I think that Christian community became a reason for recommending a school rather than a reason why they had first gone. Yet it was cited by several. “I learned how to open up and express myself in a large group as never before. “I felt so close to the group,” said one. Another said, “What caught my attention was not something the school offered but the student body. There was a sincerity in the students. Christianity wasn’t a joke to them. . . . This was a reason given by 10% of the students in the top seven schools.

17. The example of teachers and lives of students is similar to the reason just given, yet it can perhaps stand by itself. A number of students, particularly in the case of Prairie Bible Institute, gave this reason. This is how one put it: “The lives of the teachers portray that they are not teaching an impossibly high standard. I want what they have.” This reason was given by 10% of the students in the top seven schools.

18. Convenience was a reason (given by 8%) for students who wanted a school close to their homes. Invariably these students chose a school within their own province.

19. A number of students specifically mentioned the good reports they had been getting as reasons for making the choice for a particular school.

20. Economic advantage was a reason for students choosing Capernwray schools. While they chose mainly European Capernwray schools, the students mentioned that despite the distance the costs were not more than if they had chosen a Canadian Mennonite Brethren school.

21. New atmosphere could be interpreted as the same as the desire for an interdenominational atmosphere. However, some students said they hadn’t known what they wanted and this seemed to be a way of filling a need in their lives—a “new” place. Another said, “I wanted to go somewhere different than most people.”

22. A few students specifically cited doing evangelism as a reason for wanting to go to a certain school.

23. A small sampling of students gave “evangelical soundness” as a reason for their choice. Interestingly, the four times this reason came up was always in relation to Winnipeg Bible College.

24. A similarly small sampling cited the accreditation of a school as one of their reasons for choosing a particular school. This came up {38} in relation to Briercrest, where the accreditation with the American Association of Bible Colleges was named.

25. A sensible approach to rules was given as a reason by one or two persons in the seven school sampling. These spoke of “common sense rules” or discipline with “reasonable” enforcement as reasons that attracted them to a particular school.

I would like to make a few observations from the reasons which the students gave for their choice of schools.

1. I think it is clear that many students truly want an encounter with God when they enter a Bible institute of some sort. They want a school experience that will strengthen their faith and deepen their understanding of the Christian way. We should not minimize this quest nor be satisfied if a significant proportion of students or potential students of our own schools feel the quest will not be satisfied.

2. Our students are choosing schools which range across a wide spectrum and are choosing them for quite different reasons. These range from the highly structured, highly disciplined schools on the one side (of which Prairie Bible Institute might be the best example) to the quite informal and unstructured on the other side (of which the Capernwray schools might be a good example). Both types of schools are attracting a significant proportion or our students (Prairie may have over forty and the Capernwray schools close to sixty). In between we have small schools like the Nipawin and Peace River Bible Institutes, theological schools like the Vancouver School of Theology, specifically missionary training schools like the Christians in Action school in Los Angeles, charismatic or Pentecostal schools like the Portland Bible College or the Pentecostal Bible Institute at Eston, Saskatchewan, and several denominational Bible institutes.

3. Of all the responses that I received only one, from a student who had chosen to go to the Swift Current Bible Institute (a General Conference Mennonite school), talked about studies which had led him to reconsider lifestyle issues.

4. The many responses which contained negative attitudes toward our own schools deserve careful study. A number of the responses indicate lack of information about our schools and not all are fair, but we should be prepared to hear what they are trying to say. I was impressed by the many respondents who took time to write lengthy and careful statements. There is widespread concern about lack of discipline and absence of spiritual commitment in particular.

5. The choices of the students are also reflective of the state of {39} our brotherhood theologically and materially. We are becoming an increasingly fragmented people in terms of theological loyalties and we have the economic resources to follow our inclinations. A Vancouver youth leader wrote to me:

Among Mennonite Brethren it is not hard to note a large range of “denominational loyalty” in the church, all the way from strict neutrality (such as held by Christians who come to this church because (a) it is Christian, and (b) it is geographically convenient) to those with very strong Mennonite roots and associated loyalty to the “conference.” It is no surprise to me that when young people from such a range of families choose a post-secondary Christian school, some choose schools not connected with the conference. Personally, I am glad that this is so.


The number of students from Canadian Mennonite Brethren churches who attend the three Canadian Mennonite Brethren Bible Institutes (Bethany, Columbia, Winkler) and the Bible College (Winnipeg) provide the larger context for my conclusions. They permit at least a rough sense of the ratio of those who do and do not attend our own schools. These figures have been received from the schools (Sept., 1978) and are therefore complete.

1. It is not enough simply to have Bible institutes or a Bible college; we must know what we want to be, and be it. Furthermore, we must communicate that vision to our students and our church communities. If we expect students to make choices between our own schools and the schools many of them are choosing, they must know what we want to be.

2. I would suggest, furthermore, that our three Bible institutes should not attempt too hard to be like each other. It seems to me that there is a distinct advantage in each of our schools creating its own identity. Students choose Bible schools for different reasons; and we would be helped, I am quite certain, if we could reflect that diversity of interest through the identity each of our schools chooses.

3. We should be encouraged by the fact that such a large number {40} of our young people want Bible training. If we include all those in Bible studies, both within our own schools and the many schools we have cited here, the number might well exceed eight hundred. This is something to encourage us.

4. Nevertheless, the fact that so many choose to study in non-conference schools can only be a prelude to an increasing fragmentation of our theological and mission focus and should be a matter of concern to us all.

Our schools began as part of a vision and they will continue if we have a vision of a mission they can fulfill. The Anabaptist movement was nurtured upon a vision of the Christian life as a life of discipleship, of the church as a brotherhood, of an ethic of love and non-resistance, and of a strong commitment to evangelize. Mennonite Brethren sought to regain that vision and it has motivated us to this point. It contains all the elements needed for strong, continued progress if we move boldly forward.

Schools Our Students Have Chosen*

* This survey was taken Sept., 1978.
Harold Jantz is editor of the Mennonite Brethren Herald. This research was undertaken by request and presented to the Mennonite Brethren Inter-Educational Consultation, October 27, 1978.

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