Search Institute is unique among child and youth development research institutions not only for its consistent commitment to understanding and valuing the spiritual and religious domain of individual and community life but also in its emphasis on ensuring that the knowledge generated is both useful and accessible to leaders, practitioners, and parents.
Headquartered in Minneapolis, Minnesota, Search Institute is an independent, nonprofit organization with a mission to provide leadership, knowledge, and resources to promote healthy children, youth, and communities. Within this broad learning and application mission, the institute has developed and maintained a rich history of exploring and strengthening the understanding of religious and spiritual development among children and adolescents and of strengthening the people and places that influence young people's lives. Founded in 1958 by Dr. Merton P. Strommen as the Church Youth Research Center, the institute pioneered national, survey-based studies of adolescents affiliated with Protestant denominations. These portraits shaped educational and Christian youth ministry programs in thousands of congregations. These efforts became some of the earliest attempts in the United States to use the social sciences as tools for learning and improvement in religious organizations.
The innovativeness, quality, and usefulness to practitioners and leaders of these early research efforts soon led to broadened interest in the organization's work among youth-serving organizations, schools, and colleges, and the name was changed to Youth Research Center (1969) and then to Search Institute (1977). Dr. Peter L. Benson became president of Search Institute in 1985, after previously serving for 7 years as the institute's research director.
In 1990, the institute premiered the concept of developmental assets-a framework of positive relationships, opportunities, experiences, and personal qualities that help young people thrive and avoid risky behaviors. This line of inquiry catapulted the institute to international prominence and is now one part of a multifaceted program of theory and research. In addition to this broad research agenda, Search Institute has particular expertise in the scientific study of religion and spirituality, religious institutions, and religious youth work. Early work focused primarily in Protestant Christian denominations and congregations, but it has expanded to include all faith traditions through an intentional interfaith focus. A notable study was done in 1990 with 11,000 youth and adults in six Protestant denominations in the United States, which premiered Search Institute's Faith Maturity Scale (Benson & Eklin, 1990; Roehlkepartain, 1993).
These two strands of work-developmental assets and religious and spiritual development-have been linked through a number of initiatives focused on equipping congregations of all faiths to play an important role in youth development. These have included field research (Roehlkepartain, 2003), practical tools (e.g., Roehlkepartain ), training, and an online self-study survey for congregations (Search Institute, 2003).
With support from the John Templeton Foundation, in 2003 the institute launched a major initiative on the science and theology of spiritual development in childhood and adolescence. This initiative seeks to map the state of spiritual development in childhood and adolescence around the world, then to stimulate new research and dialogue that will not only advance knowledge and understanding, but also improve practice in families, congregations, and other settings. An early contribution of this initiative is The Handbook of Spiritual Development in Childhood and Adolescence (Roehlkepartain, King, Wagener, & Benson, in preparation).
Because of its commitment to making research relevant to practitioners, the institute sponsors an annual conference of practitioners that focuses on asset building in communities, offers a comprehensive line of practical resources, makes training and technical assistance available to a wide range of communities and organizations, and forms alliances with state-level networks and national organizations.