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July 1980 · Vol. 9 No. 3 · pp. 20–23 

The Schools Students Choose: Part 2. Why Young People Choose Mennonite Brethren Schools

Harold Jantz

In the July 1979 issue of Direction I summarized a report made to the Mennonite Brethren Inter-Educational Consultation on why some Canadian Mennonite Brethren Youth chose to attend non-Mennonite Brethren post-secondary Bible schools. This report summarizes a subsequent survey I made to discover why our youth chose Mennonite Brethren schools.

The schools included in the survey were Columbia Bible Institute, Clearbrook, B.C., Bethany Bible Institute, Hepburn, Sask., Winkler Bible Institute, Winkler, Man., Laval Bible Institute, Ste. Rose, Quebec, the Mennonite Brethren Bible College, Winnipeg, and the Mennonite Brethren Biblical Seminary, Fresno. Of 205 questionnaires sent out, 159 were returned (78%). The six schools had a total enrollment of 842 during the 1979/80 school year. Of these, 538 were Mennonite Brethren. The questionnaire was sent out early in the school year using the same questions and procedure as were used the previous year.

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

First, the most frequently mentioned sources of information were the word of mouth recommendations of students or of friends who had attended the schools (47%). Also cited were the endorsements of pastors and other church leaders (34%), parents and relatives (24%), and brothers and sisters (23%).

A second source of information was from the schools themselves. Choir tours and deputation visits were listed by 17% of the students. School literature (6%), retreats at the schools (5%), and advertising {21} (4%) were also mentioned. Faculty contact became somewhat important as one moves to the higher levels of schools—and particularly in relation to the Seminary.

A third set of factors had to do with living close to the school (9%) or general awareness of it (5%).

The responses highlight the very significant informational role that students already in the schools and families play in informing potential students and directing them toward our schools. Though often minimized, the role of churches and church leaders is very important, especially since what schools say about themselves does not seem to be a very important source of information. If this is the case, it is especially important that youth leaders, pastors, and Sunday school teachers have good information and do careful positive work in presenting our schools.


1. At the top of the list was their desire for Mennonite distinctives and an Anabaptist framework (38%). I came “for an Anabaptist Theological perspective,” said one. Another expected “exposure to the doctrine that I had never seen in Sunday school.”

2. The opportunity to live in a warm Christian community attracted students: “I was really overcome by the sense of unity among the students and staff.” Of the MBBC respondents, 42% stated in one way or other that they wanted to live in a Christian setting while also taking university courses.

3. The desire to study the Bible was given by 23% of the students (30% of the Seminary students made some reference to Biblical studies).

4. A strong music program was cited by 21%. In some schools the percentage was much higher (39% at MBBC).

5. A number of responses were associated with particular schools. The Bible College’s association with the University of Winnipeg was mentioned by 58% of the students. This should be coupled with the 42% recorded in number 2 above. A significant minority also approved of the “Neither fundamentalist nor liberal” stance of the College which offered “a challenge to question the accepted and thus create firm beliefs.” {22}

6. A significant percentage (28%) of the students at Columbia Bible Institute chose it because it has become identified with fewer rules and less tight discipline than our other schools. As one noted, “This seemed to imply a lot of trust and responsibility towards a student.”

7. Sports programs have some influence in drawing students to our Bible institutes, though for the three western schools only 15 percent listed it as a factor.

8. A few students at every school (with one exception) noted low costs as an attractive feature.

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

1. A very large percentage of our students are coming to us because they want a Mennonite Brethren (Mennonite) perspective; specifically they want to know what following Christ as part of a fellowship of committed disciples means. The study made it clear that they are aware of other options. Nearly half (47%) stated that they had chosen between a conference and a non-conference school.

2. The students associate particular identities with the different schools in our conference. That should be an encouragement to the schools to sharpen the identity they have chosen and seek to convey it in the most positive manner possible. Certain programs (like music at some schools) have special attraction for some.

3. Smallness should not frighten us. Many students, especially students who have earlier attended large schools, are drawn to our schools.

4. We should give attention to the many expressions which indicate that our students are concerned for an encounter with Christ and his Word in the setting of a Christian community. Their responses indictate that they do not want the “solitary, individualistic Christianity” which is so dominant in much of North American evangelicalism.


Our survey of students in Mennonite Brethren schools is very encouraging. Over five hundred Mennonite Brethren students are studying in these six schools. In addition, we may have as many as 300 in non-conference Bible schools. {23}

Also encouraging is the fact that our youth are very positive about their experiences in our schools. Of the 159 respondents, 139 stated that they were receiving what they were looking for. Only 7 said they were not, and 11 said they were receiving more than expected. Of these, 107 referred to their course expectations, 64 spoke of personal growth, and 57 spoke of the contribution being made by the Christian community.

The responses from our students indicate strongly that we will not gain by modelling our schools after the kind of Bible training that can be received from a number of well-known non-denominational Bible schools and colleges. They want teaching with the special dimension that operating within a conference setting provides: close to the church, biblical, informed by the Mennonite vision, surrounded by music, oriented towards missions and service, and always pushing young people to make the faith their own.

Some Mennonite Brethren are questioning whether conference schools are worth keeping. That must be so, since so many young people are going to schools other than our own. But the young people who are choosing Mennonite Brethren schools are saying they are worth keeping. These schools may be the best instrument we as a conference possess for transmitting the teaching and goals which we believe to be important. The growing percentage of our young people in non-conference schools—despite the good that they may receive there—can only signal greater fragmentation for us. A farsighted vision for the brotherhood means we will do our utmost to strengthen and support our schools. They are a key part of our mission.

Harold Jantz is editor of the Mennonite Brethren Herald.

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