BY SANDRA A. BLACKMER, news editor of Adventist World
pre-taped video message from North American Division (NAD) president Don Schneider welcomed the more than 300 Executive Committee members from the nine unions and 58 conferences throughout the United States, Canada, and Bermuda to the division’s 2006 Year-end Meetings. The session was held October 26-29 at NAD headquarters in Silver Spring, Maryland.
Schneider, who was recovering from brain surgery performed just days before the session began and therefore unable to attend, used a video message to greet the church leaders and set the tone for the meetings.
“We’re going to spend time on some policies, but that won’t be nearly so important as the time we spend talking about the mission of Jesus—to go and make disciples,” Schneider said. “We’re here to remind ourselves of this goal. We’re here to focus on telling people about the Jesus we love, the Jesus who loves us.”
In his absence, NAD executive secretary Roscoe J. Howard presided over the session.
It’s All About Evangelism
South Tulsa Adventist Fellowship pastor Bill McClendon led the emphasis on evangelism during an hour-and-a-half presentation on the first afternoon of the session. McClendon recounted the experience of exceptional growth in his Oklahoma congregation, where evangelism grew membership from a core group of five families, or 15 adults, to the current 500 people who attend each Sabbath. He credits the results to a clear focus on mission.
“Our sole purpose was to reach the lost,” McClendon said, referring to the fellowship’s early beginnings six years ago. “We were passionate about staying focused on our mission.”
McClendon joined the Adventist Church in 1983 through a series of evangelistic meetings, but soon began questioning why church members were not actively seeking to share the gospel message with their community.
“People would say to me, ‘Don’t be so idealistic; don’t be so frustrated’” when things are not done as you think they should be, he explained. He then began to wonder what a church truly committed to the Adventist mission and message would be like, and eventually decided to initiate a new church plant. But the plan was not without challenges.
“Church planting was so rare that most churches didn’t know how to deal with it,” he said. But the efforts paid off. According to McClendon, the South Tulsa Adventist Fellowship has not only realized more than 450 baptisms and reclaimed at least 35 inactive Adventists, but it also now owns a 33,000-square foot building on more than 50 acres valued at $3.5 million. The group also launched a second plant, or campus, on October 7 and is planning for a Spanish church plant in January.
Identifying the key to the fellowship’s success, McClendon explained, “We know our purpose. Everybody knows why we’re there.”
He added, “Evangelism is the primary activity of the church, and therefore deserves more time, money, and effort than any other activity. . . . Evangelism is not a program, it’s a lifestyle; it’s who we are and what we do.”
McClendon described the traditional NAD church model as being centered on the church itself, but “churches that are growing have an evangelism-centered model,” he said. “Unfortunately, this is not happening in this division.
“Much evangelism equals much growth, and little evangelism equals little growth,” he added. “We need a perpetual cycle of evangelism.”
McClendon described his church’s practice of holding five evangelistic series each year, at a cost of about $20,000 per series. All the funds are used for advertising, he explained. He noted, though, that church members are not required to participate in every series. “That’s too much to expect,” he said. “I don’t need all the members to attend every meeting. They commit to one series a year.” He recommended that churches begin with two evangelism events a year.
McClendon also emphasized a combined public and personal evangelism approach, which includes church parking lot shuttles, name recognition, and social opportunities. “One of the most important things we do is to have fun with people,” he said.
One of the unique ministries provided by the fellowship was highlighted—a moving service for individuals who are attending meetings and have that need. Sometimes an unmarried woman living with a boyfriend decides there should be a separation, he explained, so “we have a big truck and 12 men ready to move that guy out of the house.” They also hold weddings, birthday parties, baby showers, and other celebrations for new members or meeting attendees.
The presentation sparked several questions by committee members, including how this type of paradigm shift can be initiated.
“Many pastors are not enjoying ministry the way they are being required to do it,” McClendon answered. “Give them the freedom to do evangelism.” He added that pastors need an accountability process, “not to get rid of pastors but to help them to be effective.”
Miracle Temple Grows Prayer Meeting From 13 to 200
Baltimore’s Miracle Temple Church senior pastor Fredrick Russell shared with Year-end Meeting attendees on Friday morning the journey his church has taken from a weekly prayer meeting attendance of 13 people to the 200-plus who currently meet each week.
After a trip to the Brooklyn Tabernacle Church in New York, at which more than 2,000 people were meeting each week for prayer meeting, Russell said the Lord gave him a “vision” for the Miracle Temple. He told his congregation one Sabbath that “this church will never be the same again because we’re going to shift the focus from Sabbath morning to Wednesday morning and evening”—and an explosion in both attendance and evangelism resulted.
“We began to focus on prayer,” he said. “We brought every major thing happening in the church into prayer meeting,” and within the next four years the members, who initially were struggling to pay their monthly bills, raised more than $1 million for capital projects and evangelism. “God began to do miracles in the Miracle Temple Church,” he declared.
One church initiative was to “raise the level” of participation expectation of the members by requesting each member to be involved in two church ministries—one in-house and one outreach. This resulted in an increase from about 25 to some 70 church ministries, including an expansion in media outreach.
“In the Adventist Church there is a high level of expectation set to get into the church, but once you’re a member, you can just sit in the pew and die,” Russell said.
Referring to the cost of new ministries, Russell noted, “Money is never the issue. If God gives the vision, He gives the PROvision.
“We understand that all has been done by the grace of God,” he concluded.
Secretary’s Report Addresses the “Good” and the “Bad”
“There is some good news and there are some concerns, and we’ll look at both this morning,” said NAD executive secretary Roscoe J. Howard as he began his multimedia secretary’s report on Friday morning of the session.
According to Howard, Adventist Church membership in North America has reached 1,030,361. Between July 1, 2005, and June 30, 2006, more than 37,000 people became members of the church through baptism and profession of faith, accounting for a 3.4 percent accession rate within the total worldwide church. One out of every 322 North Americans is a Seventh-day Adventist, he added.
“We’ve joined the million-member mark,” Howard noted. He explained, however, that the rate of membership growth has been declining since 1971. “The trend does not look good,” he said.
“The fastest growing union per capita is the Southwestern Union, and the Southern Union has the largest number of baptisms,” he added.
Howard declared that “we continue to be challenged by member retention,” and that in 2005, more than 27,000 members were dropped, were missing, or died. “So while 37,334 people became members, our net increase in membership is 9,829,” he said.
Breaking down the church membership numbers, Howard noted that 62 percent are female, and more than half are under the age of 35—some 525,000. Describing the high percentage of young adults as “good news,” Howard then challenged the church leaders to “find ways of making church relevant to young people; we have to think outside the box to do this,” he said.
According to Howard, 1,547 new church plants have been established since 1995; 157 of those were in 2005. The highest number was planted by the Southern Union.
Statistics presented also illustrate an ethnically diverse church:
· Caucasians 540,056
· African-American 320,138
· Hispanic 110,904
· Asian 37,643
· Native American 5,014
· Other 10,529
“We have to be sure that when we make policies that we remember they are for a diverse church,” Howard said, then added, “I believe that if we are truly converted every day, that a lot of the tensions we experience with race, gender, and age will disappear.”
Other challenges of the church described by Howard include congregationalism, biblical literacy, and structural reform.
Regarding church structure, he asked, “How will the church in the twenty-first century fit the structure that was born in the 1800s?”
Howard then described what he called an analysis of ways to foster church growth. Emphasizing the need for the church to grow strategically, he said, “We need to be interested not only in the people overseas but in the people where we live; we need to be concerned about the communities in which we live.” He added that the church must also focus on unity, collaboration, stewardship, revival, and the concept of initiating a “NAD think tank.”
“We should get the best minds from across the division together and discuss these problems the church is experiencing,” he concluded.
One delegate from the floor pointed out a need for statistics to reflect individual church attendance and growth more fully, rather than just the overall division numbers. Howard responded that a weekly church attendance poll conducted in the Mid-America Union in 1997-2001, when Howard was executive secretary of that region, indicated that 47 percent of the Adventist Church membership attend church each Sabbath. He explained, however, that such initiatives must be conducted by local conferences and unions, and then reported to the division.
The committee members voted to accept the report.
Tithe and Offerings at Record Highs, says Treasurer
A 9.5 percent increase in tithe for the year ending December 31, 2005, compared to the previous year, “was an unexpected blessing,” said Juan R. Prestol, treasurer of the North American Division, as he presented his report to the church leaders. “Local conferences in North America received a total of $834,926,654,” he said, but then explained that the increase covered 53 rather than 52 Sabbaths. “Without the extra Sabbath, the increase would be about 7.5 percent.”
Regarding total giving from the North American members, Prestol noted, “Every week about $30 million is received, which is significant.” He added that this number, which is 5 percent of what he termed “disposable personal income,” is an approximation calculated by the division treasury but based on estimates of and actual giving throughout the division.
According to Prestol, 18 local conferences reported tithe increases of 9.5 percent and above, and five conferences were below the U.S. consumer price index of 3.4 percent for the same time period. The increase in Canada was 12.3 percent. Average tithe per capita in the division was almost US$836.
“Mission offerings have experienced a significant turnaround since 2004,” declared Prestol as he told church leaders of a 4.1 percent increase through December 31, 2005, over the same period the previous year, and a current year increase of 8.2 percent as of September 30, 2006.
“North America provided 57 percent of the total world tithe and mission offerings combined in 2005,” he said. “The Lord has provided this territory with resources that have been a blessing not only in our region but also throughout the world. . . . I want to thank the Lord for that.”
He added, however, that “the shift in tithe will not provide the dream solution that many think it will. We need to strive [to continue to improve].”
Prestol also listed “significant technology efforts” by the division during the past year:
- Adventist Accounting Program, which is being used by the division office as well as unions, conferences, and other Adventist entities;
- Online giving;
- eAdventist.net (NAD membership program used by local church clerks);
- Adventist Church Connect and Adventist School Connect (Web sites developed by NAD).
Prestol then showed a DVD called Gifts of Heaven—Friends of God, which explains how tithe is distributed from the local churches and conferences through the division and the General Conference. This resource is intended for showing in local congregations and is available in Spanish, French, Portuguese, and English. It can be obtained through the General Conference Stewardship Department.
“We want to do everything possible to provide the tools that make the church efficient in service to hasten the return of Jesus,” said Prestol.
Several committee members expressed gratitude for the “good work of the Treasury Department” as well as the evangelism programs conferences and unions have been able to offer because of extra funds returned from the division.
In a separate action, the 2007 budget was also accepted and voted by the committee members. To access a copy of the budget, click here
Report From Adventist Colleges
Presidents from 10 of the 14 Adventist colleges in the North American Division participated in a panel discussion on Friday afternoon. Facilitated by Union College president David Smith,the panel focused on issues such as student outreach and evangelism, parent/student/faculty commitment, Adventist Christian lifestyle standards, and tuition costs.
The discussion ended with a request from Smith for all church leaders there who had ever attended an Adventist college to stand. Almost all stood up.
“We believe we make a difference in the future of the Adventist Church,” said Smith. “Thank you for helping me to demonstrate that.”
Presiding afternoon session chair Roscoe Howard added a personal testimony: “I’m just so thankful to the Lord for what He has done for my life through Adventist education,” he said. “The devil is devouring our young people, and we need to do what we can to root them and ground them in the faith. And one way to do that is to provide them with a Christian education.”
“My ministry is to share God every day in the workplace,” declared church layperson and businessman Herbert Larsen, Jr., in his Friday evening devotional message.
Larsen, a Canadian from British Columbia who was raised as a Seventh-day Adventist, began his talk by describing his quest for “a personal relationship with Jesus and finally coming to know Him as a personal Friend and Savior. . . . I finally understood what it means to have Jesus in my life.” He said he then began sharing “what he had” with his business associates, and “my life exploded. My life is relevant. My life is power-packed.”
Larsen’s key to spiritual success is simple: “I tell people to spend an hour a day with the Bible, and their lives will be changed. . . . That is where the power is.” He added that “they want it so desperately, it’s unbelievable. Every soul I talk to is an absolute candidate [to become a follower of Jesus]. They are desperate for salvation, and you and I are the light of the world.”
Larsen challenged the committee members to step out from what he called “our comfortable world” to witness to others. “The Holy Spirit is anxious to work, and you and I have to step out of the box. . . . You have something, and they want it,” he said.
Ministering in the Streets
AD Adult Ministries director J. Alfred Johnson led out Sabbath morning with a multi-generational theme organized by various NAD department staff.
Dave Gemmel, associate director, and Paul Kim, media producer, of the division’s Church Resource Center, opened the program with a video featuring street interviews by college students asking people if they believe in the biblical story of Creation. A puppet presentation, under the direction of Phyllis Washington, Children’s Ministries director, and Troy Hicks, director of a church-sponsored youth ministry headquartered in Munising, Michigan, called Lake Effects, portrayed the theme “The Fallen and Hope for the Fallen.”
Ex-graffiti artist Manny Cruz, now associate director of NAD Youth Ministries, showed a DVD depicting his street artist ministry and described how this 10-year-old venture “brings the message of hope to the streets” as young adult volunteers clean up buildings defaced by graffiti. When granted permission by city officials and building owners, the youth often repaint the buildings with a positive or even a Christian message.
“Thousands have come to the Lord through this ministry,” Cruz said.
Pearson Recovers His “Black” Voice
Breath of Life director/speaker Walter L. Pearson, Jr., shared his testimony on Sabbath morning of how God has led in his recovery from the stroke he suffered in February 2006.
“I promised God that if He raised me up and gave me a voice I would thank Him publicly, and I thank you for giving me that opportunity,” Pearson said. “I want to tell you today that God is powerful and God is merciful, and I want to praise His name.”
Pearson, who continues to recover, added, “I don’t have my black preaching voice back yet, but it’s on the way.”
Pearson has served as director/speaker of Breath of Life since 1997. Formerly, he was associate director for evangelism and church growth at the General Conference Ministerial Department, and the first African-American to serve as an associate director of the Ellen G. White Estate.
Southern Adventist University’s School of Theology dean, Ron Clouzet, presented the Sabbath morning message titled “Tell the World: What’s the Message?” in which he emphasized the importance of personal faithfulness and a close relationship with Jesus.
“All the talk about Jesus is only talk unless we’re connected to Him,” Clouzet declared. “We need to tell of a Christ who is alive in our hearts . . . or no one we tell will be changed.” He also asked, “How faithful are we to tell our world about Jesus,” and described those whom we need to reach as “our families, our neighbors, our coworkers, flight seatmates, and gas attendants.”
Clouzet ended the service with a call for attendees to commit their lives to “telling the world about Jesus.”
NAD Communication Leaves “No Church Behind”
Fred M. Kinsey, assistant to the NAD president for communication, announced that the Internet strategy to provide a Web site free of charge to all North American Adventist churches that did not have one—which was presented at last year’s session—has been realized. “As of December 2005, almost overnight,” said Kinsey, “more than 5,000 Adventist churches in the division had a Web presence.”
Describing the Web sites as “very limited in nature,” Kinsey said churches that wanted more extensive Web capabilities were initially encouraged to use outside fee-based vendors. Realizing, however, that “the Internet will be the most significant communication change in the history of humankind,” division leaders decided to enhance the interactive capabilities of the church-owned sites, using AdventSource as its Web support organization.
“It is vitally important that every church in North America that is interested in sharing the love of the Lord have a presence on the Web and that none be left behind,” Kinsey said.
Devotional messages and other articles relating to spiritual issues, video resources, and online giving are part of the new content material. Test sites for online tithe and offering giving are also currently in place, and plans are to offer this service soon for all interested NAD churches. Kinsey added that although the division is striving to provide the same service for churches in Canada, legal issues are slowing down the process.
The NAD Communication Department is also providing free Web sites to all conferences as well as Adventist schools, and is working on a method to allow parents to pay school tuition online.
Executive Committee Members Vote HisHands Program
“The ‘HisHands’ initiative is simple,” said Jose V. Rojas, director of NAD Adventist Volunteer Ministries, when describing the initiative newly voted at the Church’s Annual Council held earlier in October and being supported by the North American Division. Rojas then listed what he called “three basic premises” of the program:
1. Calling on local churches to sponsor a missionary for at least a year. “These are not just overseas missionaries but missionaries within North America,” Rojas explained. “Mission is not just overseas but across the street as well.”
2. To receive a missionary such as a HisHands missionary pastor (which formerly was termed a taskforce worker). “We need to go back to mission,” Rojas said. “That onsite person’s role is a missionary.”
3. So more church members have the opportunity to be missionaries in the field. “What this will mean for this field, only God will show us,” Rojas declared.
For more information about the NAD HisHands program, click here.
Nominating Committee Elects Ministerial Director
Ron Clouzet, dean of the School of Theology at Southern Adventist University, was appointed Ministerial secretary of the North American Division, succeeding Russell Burrill, who is retiring June 30. Clouzet previously served several years as a pastor in California and later as a theology professor at Southern.
Several church policies and guidelines were discussed and voted on Sunday morning of the session. Among those that generated discussion was proposed youth camp wage scale guidelines recommended by the NAD Camp Committee. No wage scale guidelines currently exist for youth camp personnel.
One concern expressed from the floor was that setting these guidelines would impose an additional financial burden on conference budgets. It was then noted that wage scales exist for most other conference employees, such as teachers, pastors, and custodial workers, and that establishing similar guidelines for camp workers would underscore the professionalism of their responsibilities. Another delegate suggested the idea of allowing individual unions to set their own wage scale guidelines. NAD secretary Roscoe J. Howard, however, chairing the business session, responded that “we want to keep policies on a division level or else this becomes like congregationalism.”
It was voted to adopt the guidelines.
A policy that entitles Adventist Church employees who become disabled to continue to be eligible for church health benefits for 18 months after they are no longer able to work was also voted by the church leaders, with the request that a study committee be formed to review this policy and bring further recommendations back to the Year-end Committee in 2007.
NAD Office of Volunteer Ministries
director Jose V. Rojas presented a policy revision that strengthens insurance protection for what he described as the “quickly growing ministry of volunteers in communities across our field and around the world.
“In 1995 we had an average of 4,000 short-term missionaries coming out of North America to the world. Last year we had over 40,000. This is a tenfold increase,” Rojas said. “This [increase] has forced us . . . to relook at our policies, to restructure ourselves, to manage the traffic in an expeditious manner but at the same time provide support and protection for our volunteers and for our workers who give of their time to go overseas.”
Rojas emphasized that those involved in mission—individuals, school groups, and church groups—must contact Adventist Risk Management or their other insurance carriers to verify adequate insurance coverage before venturing to regions outside of North America.
“Many of our groups going out from North America to the world still to this day think that their academy [or church] insurance covers them. But when you leave our field, you are not covered,” he declared.
Rojas added that mission groups “should not even request” permission to travel to any country that the State Department has deemed potentially unsafe and placed on their watch list. “We can’t countenance the notion of a tragedy occurring and a parent saying to us later, ‘You sent my child to a country that was on the State Department watch list?’ This is a firm policy,” he said.
Hope Channel Celebrates Third Anniversary
Hope Channel director Brad Thorp shared world developments of the Adventist-owned station during his Sunday morning presentation to the attendees. The media ministry, which is celebrating its third birthday in October, has grown from two channels to six, from two languages to eight, and from four satellites to eight, said Thorp. He added that Hope Channel now has more than 400 cable contracts and some 70 television stations; about 1,600 television station projects are also currently in process.
Thorp also announced that “late last week we got news that it was voted by the Taiwan Conference, particularly for the Chinese Union Mission, that they are launching the Chinese Hope Channel.” He added that it was still in the “embryonic stage” but “by the grace of God we will provide Internet as well as direct satellite broadcasts to more than 1 billion people” in that region.
Thorp described a new technical development that will enhance the station’s ministry to non-Adventists. According to Thorp, thousands of satellite dishes that are being sold by other Christian networks will now also include the Hope Channel. “This will open us up to a much larger audience,” he said.
Thorp emphasized to the church leaders that broadcasting on Hope Channel is a right, not a privilege, “because it is your channel,” and solicited their assistance in getting Hope Channel into Adventist homes and every Adventist Church institution.
The first NAD World Youth Prayer Conference will be held in Dallas, Texas, on February 28–March 4. Up to 50,000 youth and young adults are expected to attend. The focus of the conference is to provide youth with a witnessing template they can take home and use in their local churches and communities. For more information, click here.
The NAD has developed a simple outreach initiative called “Seven in Seven
,” which encourages every church member in North America to give seven pieces of Adventist Church literature to seven people in 2007. According to church leaders, if every member participated, 7 million pieces of literature would be distributed.
NAD Year-end Meetings 2007 will be held November 1-6 at the church’s world headquarters in Silver Spring, Maryland.
To view the videos of Don Schneider shown during the session, click here.