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Search Institute: Purpose, Adherents and History


Search Institute focuses on acquiring psychology based research on youth and applying that research to change society. The goal is to set the standard requirements for raising and teaching children and youth to become active members of Society. The Institute originally targeted religious groups, but now works with religious as well as a myriad of secular and government organizations, all with the goal of setting the acceptable and required standards.

"Search Institute was founded in 1958 by Dr. Merton P. Strommen as an applied social science research organization focused on the healthy development of young people. The institute originally focused on research regarding youth in religious settings; this mission has evolved to a broad focus on the healthy development of all children and youth in multiple settings in community and society. Dr. Strommen was succeeded in 1985 by current president Dr. Peter L. Benson...With major corporate support from Lutheran Brotherhood, a financial services organization that serves Lutherans, their institutions, and their communities, the institute launched in 1996 the Healthy Communities • Healthy Youth initiative. From 1997 to 2000, Search Institute partnered with The Colorado Trust to launch Assets for Colorado Youth, which sought to mobilize the citizens and organizations of Colorado for asset building. In October 2000, Assets for Colorado Youth became an independent, Colorado-based, nonprofit organization..."

"Search Institute is a 501(c)3 not-for-profit organization. It is supported by grants and contracts from foundations, corporations, and government agencies, proceeds from the sales of products and services, and tax-deductible contributions from individuals and organizations. The institute’s annual budget is approximately $9 million." 

Search Institute's Funders :

Main contributors included: The Kansas Health Foundation ; Lutheran Brotherhood; The Donald W. Reynolds Foundation is a national philanthropic organization founded in 1954 by the late media entrepreneur for whom it is named. Reynolds was the founder and principal owner of the Donrey Media Group.

Other and Including Current Funders:

Annie E. Casey Foundation; Best Buy; The Colorado Trust ; General Mills; Jostens Our Town Foundation; The Lilly Endowment; The McKnight Foundation; National Association of Partners in Education; National Mentoring Partnership; Otto Bremer Foundation; RGK Foundation; The Stewardship Foundation; 3M; The Thrive Foundation for Youth; William T. Grant Foundation; Pillsbury; Reliastar; Time Warner/Paragon Cable. 

The Search Institute Mission includes the following:


Search Institute is an independent, nonprofit, nonsectarian organization whose mission is to advance the well-being of adolescents and children by generating knowledge and promoting its application. To accomplish this mission, the institute generates, synthesizes, and communicates new knowledge, convenes organizational and community leaders, and works with state and national organizations. 

At the heart of the institute’s work is the framework of 40 developmental assets, which are positive experiences, relationships, opportunities, and personal qualities that young people need to grow up healthy, caring, and responsible. Created in 1990, the framework is grounded in research on child and adolescent development, risk prevention, and resiliency. Surveys of more than 1 million 6th - 12th-grade youth in communities across the United States consistently show that young people who experience more of these assets are more likely to make healthy choices and avoid a wide range of high-risk behaviors."

The 40 Developmental Assets Survey is composed of 156 questions, including questions which probe personal information and “ask about your parents." The survey is administered to students in the public schools and in church youth groups with the collected data tabulated at Search’s Minnesota Headquarters. Washington state, and many more, are utilizing the Search Developmental Asset Surveys in the public schools in co-operation with the state's WA Family Policy Council and its related Community Health and Safety Networks at the local level. These agencies were set up as part of GOALS 2000 / Educate America [Public Law 103-227, 1994]. They will serve to facilitate the Community Partnership Program -- 'promoting the development of an integrated system of service delivery to children' by facilitating linkages and cooperation among (lists community shareholders' including): churches, synagogues and other religious institutions'" 

Paul Fleischmann, executive director of the National Network of Youth Ministries, and other heads of  many other religious organizations, are on Search Institute's board which oversees church-related youth development. Fleischmann is also a member of The Call, D.C. Board of Directors. The Project which Fleichmann is involved in is called: Uniting Congregations for Youth Development, which has a National Advisory Committee.  

Some of the many members include UN affiliated groups to ecumenical organizations.

Bart Campolo 
Director, Kingdom Works 
Philadelphia, PA 

Jonathan Cohen Director, Jr./Sr. High School Youth 
Programming Union of American Hebrew Congregations 
Warwick, NY 

Shannon Daley-Harris 
Director, Religious Affairs Children's Defense Fund (which works with the UN)
Washington, DC

Kenda Creasy Dean 
Youth Ministry Institute Princeton Theological Seminary (a member of ATS)
Princeton, NJ

Tom Everson 
Director, Religious Education Boy's Town 
Boy's Town, NE 

Paul Fleischmann 
Executive Director National Network of Youth Ministries  http://YouthWorkers.Net/
San Diego, CA 

Jules Gutin 
Assistant Director Department of Youth Activities United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism 

Joe Leonard 
Associate Director of the Commission on Family
Ministries and Human Sexuality National Council of Churches 

James Melton 
Coordinator of Youth Ministry Outreach National Baptist

Gordon Raley 
Executive Director National Collaboration for Youth 
Washington, DC

Leonard Wenke 
Director National Federation for Catholic Youth Ministry 
Washington, DC

According to Search History: 

 ".... 1983, Dr. Strommen was awarded Fellow status in the American Psychological Association, following his selection by Division 36 to receive the William James Award for career achievements in the psychology of religion. ...Lutheran Youth Research, as the organization was originally known, initially focused on research regarding Lutheran youth and was subsidized by the Lutheran youth departments. The original statement of purpose was as follows: 

The purpose of this corporation shall be to conduct religious research, with special reference to youth; publish findings; train students in such research, its interpretation and use; and provide services based upon the research... 

In the mid-1960s, Mert shared half of his time with the Religious Education Association, an interfaith agency. This helped to further broaden the mission to include all religious institutions and introduced the organization to the full spectrum of religious organizations in the country. As the mission began to broaden beyond Lutheran youth, the organization shifted to the name Church Youth Research in 1967. "...Doors opened when the organization entered the marketplace of research and was no longer solely identified with religious institutions. The institute gained credibility and support from the U.S. government on youth projects of national concern and interest. 

In 1969, the organization became Youth Research Center, a reflection of its broader
reach. This development required a revision of the original statement of purpose: 

The purpose of this corporation is to carry out research with special reference to the concerns of religious institutions; to test the effectiveness of educational approaches which help young people grow up more meaningfully in a fast-changing world; and to interpret the needs and potential of youth, through home, church, school, synagogue, and community. 

In 1977, the name Search Institute was adopted. The reason for the change related
again to the broadening mission of the organization. The institute was being asked to do studies for colleges and seminaries -high-powered institutions of the church that tended not to be impressed with the title Youth Research Center. The organization's commitment to youth issues remained.

In 1997, Search Institute embarked on a three-year strategic plan and adopted its
current mission statement: 

Search Institute is an independent, nonprofit, nonsectarian organization whose mission is to advance the well-being of adolescents and children by generating knowledge and promoting its application. Search Institute conducts research and evaluation, develops publications and practical tools, and provides training and technical assistance. The institute collaborates with others to promote long-term organizational and cultural change that supports the healthy development of all children and adolescents. 

Note re The Williams James Award, "...The Council on Spiritual Practices ( offers the William James Awards for masters' theses and doctoral dissertations focusing on empirical studies of primary religious experience and its consequences...The awards are offered to encourage the scientific investigation of the phenomenology, determinants, and facilitation of primary religious or spiritual experiences. Equally of interest are their consequences, individual and social. Primary religious experiences are those involving direct perception of the sacred, also called unitive, peak, and mystical experiences..."

William James, a psychologist and mystic, is discussed in our articles The 'god" In Every Man & also Pentecostal Tongues and The "Inner Ecstasy"

A review of their History reveals the many changes and directions of Search Institute, showing involvement with government and government agencies, secular organizations and ecumenical religious groups. The data collected from children and youth contains personal and private family information. Some of the Highlights include:

"1958-1967 Years of Growth" (condensed)
.... 1959 ...The survey is administered to a random sample of youth and adults (2,000 of each) from 191 participating congregations. 

Data from the study are printed out on tape at the University of Minnesota; data are transferred to 50,000 Hollerith cards with assistance from Lutheran Brotherhood. The data are analyzed using card sorts and the results are shared in eight reports authored by Merton Strommen. 

Youth directors of the six church bodies form a policy group to govern the release of the data nationally and further the use of the Lutheran Youth Survey in congregations.

1960 ....Lutheran Brotherhood provides unprecedented use of computer equipment, paper, and cards.... 

1961 ...First book is published: What Youth Are Thinking, by Gordon Smedsrud. 

1962 ....Survey service is now available to congregations. 

1963 ...LYR begins to explore the possibility of other denominations using the youth survey. 

Thomas Nelson and Sons Publishers proposes a series of books for Christian youth to be called the Youth Forum Series, which results in a five-year contract. 

Merton Strommen's first book, Profiles of Church Youth, is published. 

1964 ...LYR's mission begins to broaden to other denominational groups. The emergence of this ecumenical approach makes LYR aware of the need to move away from the Lutheran youth departments' subsidy and secure foundation grants. 

The Religious Education Association (REA) in New York proposes that Merton Strommen share time with them as research director for a period of about three years, which he accepts. 

...Youth Counseling Seminars are introduced to train pastors in the counseling use of individual profiles derived from the Lutheran Youth Survey. 

1965 ...First three books in the Youth Forum Series are published by Thomas Nelson and Sons. Royalty income is realized. 

...Merton Strommen completes a paper establishing the relationship between Christian theology and psychological measurement. The paper serves as a means of clarifying how the work of LYR could relate to the church and its mission, and becomes an important reference...

Merton Strommen continues to divide time between LYR and REA, which provides him the opportunity to vastly broaden contacts and expand LYR's mission far beyond 

1966 ...Lilly Endowment provides $50,000 for the Youth Ministry project. Elmer Witt becomes co-director of the project with Merton Strommen. 

Merton Strommen begins examining the historical relationship between the psychological and sociological study of religion for the publication Review of Research in Religious Development. 

1967 ...LYR changes its name to Church Youth Research (CYR) to reflect the interdenominational aspect of its work. 

CYR develops a new computer program that allows reports for the congregational survey service to be computer-generated instead of handwritten, saving an enormous amount of professional time and money.... 

1968-1984 Feast and Famine 

1968... Hopes for funding rest on a proposal submitted to the National Institute of Mental Health for the Clergy-Youth Counseling Project. Proposal is approved, with funding to begin April 1, 1969. ...

CYR receives invitation from Notre Dame to develop research center in religious education. 

1969 ...The funds from the National Institute of Mental Health are delayed... 

CYR moves beyond the Lutheran church for board members and welcomes two businessmen, George Dayton and Herbert Bissell. To reflect the change, CYR becomes Youth Research Center (YRC). ...

Youth Forum Series by now has sold 200,000 copies. 

1970 ...A Study of Generations, funded by Lutheran Brotherhood, begins with seminarians traveling to 320 congregations to collect data. 

...Co/Mes, an organization affiliated with Achievement Motivation Systems in Chicago, offers to buy YRC and hire all of its staff. YRC rejects the offer. 

Six new titles are added to the Youth Forum Series. 

1971 ...Research on Religious Development: A Comprehensive Handbook is published; monumental because it brings together for the first time the results of 75 years of research in religion. 

1972 ...A Study of Generations is published; called an "assured classic" by Time magazine. 

1973 ...Three paperbacks are published, based on information from A Study of Generations. 

Lutheran Brotherhood increases the length of its computer grants from two years to five years. 

1974 ...Five Cries of Youth is published; significant because it presents data that refutes the position of national youth leaders who have bought in to Margaret Mead's thesis of a "generation gap." 

Two major projects are under way: Readiness for Ministry for the Association of Theological Schools, funded by the Lilly Endowment; and the Lutheran Seminarian project, a parallel study on ministry. A third study, of the 18 colleges of the Lutheran Church in America (LCA), is launched. 

The Lilly Endowment's rejection of a much-hoped-for national training center for youth work professionals is a major disappointment. 

1975 ...Youth Survey is modified to a shorter version called Becoming the Gift. 

1976  ...Readiness for Ministry project is successfully completed. Lilly Endowment awards additional funds to introduce the program to Association of Theological Schools seminaries over a six-year period. 

National Institute of Mental Health awards grant for three-year study, Effecting Utilization: Experimental Use of Consultants. 

1977 ...The continued broadening of YRC's mission leads to a name change: Search Institute. 

Approval is granted for a study of the beliefs and values of members of Congress, funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities. 

1979 ...Search Institute Board of Directors adopts committee structure: executive, corporate development and finance, and research. 

Ten Faces of Ministry, based on a survey of 5,000 Lutherans, is published. 

1980 ...Ministry in America, based on a survey of 47 denominations, is released; reviewed in Time magazine. 

1981 ...Lilly Endowment awards grant of $273,000 for the Study of Early Adolescents and Their Parents. 

Peter Benson carries out the study Religion on Capitol Hill, which receives excellent coverage in Psychology Today. 

Competition for grants increases; Search Institute Associates are formed to raise money for the organization. 

1982 ...Religion on Capitol Hill: Myths and Realities is published. 

Relationship with WQED public television in Pittsburgh is explored; television programming and a National Center for Youth, Their Families, & Society are envisioned. 

Search Institute forms two boards: one to continue the tradition of serving as an advisory group to professional staff and one to assume a governance role with responsibility for seeking unrestricted funds. 

1983 ...Findings from the Study of Early Adolescents and Their Parents are presented at the Early Adolescence Invitational Conference in Nashville. 

Merton Strommen is awarded Fellow status in the American Psychological
following his selection by Division 36 to receive the William James Award for career achievements in the psychology of religion. 

Between 1983 and 1990, Search Institute conducts several national studies for the
National Catholic Educational Association; leads to publication of several reports that influence educational policy, teacher training, and staff development in Catholic schools. 

Planned change process called Vision-to-Action is developed by Shelby Andress and Merton Strommen. 

Board members secure line of credit to meet payroll. Negotiations begin with Vesper Society, a nonprofit health, education, and service organization headquartered in San Leandro, California, to explore a possible merger to help stabilize financial conditions. 

Note: The Vesper Society, which created  the Center for Healthy Communities,  "... is a charitable organization focusing on leadership, international programs--especially in Central America--and health. Our mission is to create opportunities for individuals, groups and institutions to apply moral and ethical values in decision-making. The vision of Vesper Society, a faith-based organization, is a compassionate world which protects human dignity and enhances human potential."

An Overview" shows their project that united the health community into alliance with religious communities. "...Health and Faith Monthly Networking Meetings (a.k.a. the Brown Bag Lunches) Beginning in January 1996 the Center convened and facilitated monthly community networking meetings. The meetings had a mix of speakers and presenters from both the faith and the health communities...Since the majority of participants were familiar with Christian traditions, efforts were made to provide information about other traditions such as Judaism, Muslim, Native American, Christian Science and native African spirituality...Faith Directory Database. In the summer of 1995 the Center began compiling a database of faith communities in Alameda County as part of its preparation for the Building Healthy Communities Conference. What the Center discovered was that there was not an existing database of congregations that included all traditions. It turned out to be a significant project."

The Vesper Society International Programs, states, "...Vesper functions as a convenor and catalyst, bringing key people together for in-depth dialogue or problem-solving. The following are conferences that Vesper sponsored or co-sponsored from 1990 to the present, dealing with issues of civil society, peace and democracy...' Projects have included partnership/sponsorship with: World Bank, MacArthur Foundation, Inter-American Foundation, Government of The Netherlands, FICONG; Economic Development Institute of the World Bank; Arias Foundation, German Academies; Coalition for the Presidio, Pacific Center, German Academies; Columbia Foundation, General Service Foundation, Compton Foundation, United Nations..."

Vesper Society shows it's resources and links, "...with similar missions and methods, many of which we have co-sponsored or partnered in successful projects."

Those resources include, 

The Arias Foundation for Peace and Human Progress deals with human rights, global peace and reconciliation, international code of conduct, etc. >

The Carter Center (A nonpartisan public policy institute dedicated to fighting disease, poverty, conflict, and oppression. Founded by former President Jimmy Carter and his wife, Rosalynn.) >

The Center for The Common Good >

Civicus (An international alliance dedicated to strengthening citizen action and civil society throughout the world) >

Independent Sector >

The Interfaith Center at the Presidio (A place where religious values and wisdom can contribute to emerging dialogues at the new Golden Gate National Recreation Area.) New Age, environmental and ecumenical >

Search Institute  >

World Council of Churches (An international Christian organization built upon the foundation of ecumenical collaboration) >

1984 ...Partnership with WQED results in the public television program "Chemical People," which rallies people across the country in a fight against drug abuse. 

Idea of a National Center for Youth, Their Families, & Society begins to sour due to a lack of visibility and funds. 

Search Institute launches a five-year human sexuality project, directed by John Forliti. 
The Office of Adolescent Pregnancy Programs is the project funder; Vesper Society awards funds to develop video and curriculum materials. 

1985-1998 A New Era 

1985 ...Search Institute establishes a formal relationship with Vesper Society, San Leandro, California. Search Institute Board of Directors adopts new structure of dual board representation with Vesper Society. 

Five Cries of Parents, written by Merton and Irene Strommen, is published. 

Source newsletter is launched to address major issues facing children, adolescents, and families. 

1986 ...Values & Choices, a video-assisted sexuality curriculum for 7th- and 8th-grade students in public schools, is produced and distributed nationally; receives the Certificate of Merit at the 1986 International Film Festival in Chicago. 

1987 ...The Quicksilver Years: The Hopes and Fears of Young Adolescents is published; examines the beliefs, attitudes, values, and behaviors of 5th- to 9th-grade youth. 

1988 ...A landmark study begins: Effective Christian Education: A National Study of Protestant Congregations, funded by the Lilly Endowment. 

1989 ...Grant from the National Institute of Mental Health launches the largest United States study on adoptive families. 

Valuegenesis, a major study of adolescence and youth of the Seventh-Day Adventist Church, is launched. 

Search Institute enters a long-term partnership with Lutheran Brotherhood to help design and implement RespecTeen, a nationwide effort to promote positive youth development. 

Search Institute begins studying youth using its survey titled Search Institute Profiles of Student Life: Attitudes and Behaviors through Lutheran Brotherhood's RespecTeen program. In the first year, 125 reports are generated. 

1990 ...The Troubled Journey: A Portrait of 6th-12th Grade Youth is published, introducing the concept of developmental assets -30 building blocks of healthy development, linked to both the prevention of multiple high-risk behaviors and the promotion of school success, caring, and a variety of other thriving indicators. 

Merton Strommen is awarded the Philip R.A. May Award by the Society for
Knowledge Utilization and Planned Change. 

1991 ...Peter Benson receives the William James award for career contributions to the psychology of religion from the American Psychological Association. 

Values & Choices sexuality education curriculum is updated; video is left unchanged due to costs. 

1992 ...Search Institute co-authors a report with the Minnesota Department of Education titled Promising Prevention Strategies: A Look at What Works. 

New mission statement is adopted; focuses Search Institute on adolescent

1993 ...Five-year project to provide resources and training to promote congregational effectiveness is launched in partnership with The Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod and Lutheran Brotherhood. 

....The Teaching Church, Rethinking Christian Education, Transforming Christian Education, and Youth in Protestant Churches are published, based on Effective Christian Education: A National Study of Protestant Congregations. 

1994 ...Affiliation with Vesper Society ends, reflecting Search Institute's growing financial stability. 

What Kids Need to Succeed: Proven, Practical Ways to Raise Good Kids, by
Peter Benson, Judy Galbraith, and Pamela Espeland, is published by Free Spirit Publishing. 

Search Institute has 23 full-time employees with an annual budget of $2.5 million. 

1995 ...The Healthy Communities - Healthy Youth (HC - HY) initiative is born, based on the framework of 30 developmental assets; Search Institute assists 35 communities in five states in organizing initiatives to build assets for youth. 

Search Institute and Lutheran Brotherhood establish a long-term partnership to expand Search Institute's Healthy Communities - Healthy Youth initiative nationwide. 

Search Institute acquires resources, training materials, and a 10,000-volume library from the former Center for Early Adolescence (CEA) at the University of North Carolina. Peter Scales, the center's director of national initiatives, joins Search Institute as senior fellow. 

Uniting Congregations for Youth Development (UCYD) is launched, with a four-year grant from DeWitt Wallace-Reader's Digest Fund, to develop resources and training on positive youth development for religious youth workers. [Reader's Digest is owned and controlled by Laurence Rockefeller and family See: Skeletons in the Closet]

Congregations at Crossroads: A National Study of Adults and Youth in The
Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod is published. 

National Youth Leadership Council subcontracts with Search Institute for the Middle School Service-Learning Impact Study. 

1996 ...Healthy Communities - Healthy Youth is launched nationally; 170 communities mobilize under the HC - HY umbrella. 

.... The SearchInstitute Profiles of Student Life: Attitudes and Behaviors survey is redesigned and in use for the 1996-1997 school year. 

Two reports describing the urgency and challenge of building assets are published: Developmental Assets Among Minneapolis Youth and Developmental Assets Among Albuquerque Youth. 

Starting Out Right: Development Assets for Children is published; establishes an asset framework for infants, toddlers and preschoolers, and elementary-age children. 

Search Institute launches Assets: The Magazine of Ideas for Healthy Communities & Healthy Youth, a national, full-color, quarterly magazine offering ideas, resources, and strategies for creating asset-rich communities. 

Web site is created. 

YMCA of the USA contracts with Search Institute to prepare Making the Case: The Impact of Youth Development Programs, a report that examines the literature on youth development programs and the impact of specific program types; report is distributed to YMCA branches throughout the country. 

Search Institute completes the external evaluation of the Generator Schools project, a four-year study of schools across the country dedicated to integrating service-learning throughout their curriculum. 

1997 ...Search Institute releases new data on the 40 assets, gathered from surveys of nearly 100,000 youth in 213 communities. 

Search Institute staff grows to 56 with an annual budget of nearly $7 million. 

All Kids Are Our Kids: What Communities Must Do to Raise Caring and
Responsible Children and Adolescents, by Peter Benson, is published by

Publication sales reach $1 million. 

The foundational book for the Uniting Congregations for Youth Development (UCYD) initiative, Building Assets in Congregations: A Practical Guide for Helping Youth Grow Up Healthy, is published. 

National leaders join together for The Presidents' Summit for America's Future, a three-day kick-off event for the America's Promise initiative, on April 27, 1997.
Search Institute helps define the goals of the summit, develops the information booklet distributed to all summit participants, and participates in the kick-off event. 

1998 ...More than 300 communities are mobilized under the Healthy Communities - Healthy Youth umbrella. 

Shema: Listening to Jewish Youth, a study of Jewish young people's involvement in secular and Jewish-sponsored activities, is published. 

Search Institute and America's Promise join forces to provide a new survey, The Survey of Student Resources and Assets, to measure the five fundamental resources of America's Promise and the 40 developmental assets. The Search Institute Profiles of Student Life: Attitudes and Behaviors survey, which measures the 40 assets, continues to be administered by schools and communities across the country. [America's Promise is Collen Powell's]

The Search Institute National Council on the Role of Community in Child and Adolescent Development is formed; first meeting is held in Aspen, Colorado. 

What Teens Need to Succeed: Proven, Practical Ways to Shape Your Own
Future, by Peter Benson, Judy Galbraith, and Pamela Espeland, is published by Free Spirit Publishing. 

Developmental Assets: A Synthesis of the Scientific Research on Adolescent
Development is published, offering a comprehensive review of more than 800 scientific articles and reports related to developmental assets. 

Search Institute has 70 staff members with an annual budget of $10 million..."

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Copyright . All articles are the sole property of and Vicky Dillen. All Scripture King James Version unless otherwise stated.

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