May 20, 2009

14CN: Baptism Not the End of the Road, Adventist Church Leader Says

Baptism Not the End of the Road,
Adventist Church Leader says
Ng on honesty in the numbers; church growth statistics
BY MEGAN BRAUNER, Editorial Assistant, Adventist News Network
capThough better known among colleagues for delivering announcements in church business meetings with humor, G.T. Ng has a message on church growth that couldn't be more serious.
During his travels around the world, Ng, an associate secretary for the Seventh-day Adventist Church, has a particular presentation he likes to deliver. The first slide reads, "Infanticide: Destiny of Newborns." A picture of a smiling mother holding her child flashes on the conference room screen.
"Before baptism, we shower [new church member] candidates with love and attention," Ng reads. "After baptism, most new babes in Christ are left to sink or swim."
For someone like Ng, the sinkers and the swimmers are startlingly obvious. His job responsibilities include analyzing church membership and tithing data for several of the church's world regions and sharing his findings.


FAITHFULLY NUMBERING THE FAITHFUL: G.T. Ng, an associate secretary of the General Conference, oversees records tracking membership growth for several world church regions. During his travels, Ng emphasizes the importance of maintaining relationships with new church members and preventing new member loss. [photo: Megan Brauner/ANN

For example, he shows membership records for the years 2001 to 2005. He won't say where the records are from, but it's a subsection of the world church that functions with funds provided by the church, or a "union mission." Areas that support themselves are referred to as "union conferences."

In 2002, the region's number of church members shot up. In 2003, however, the same area lost over 13,000 members.
"If I see drastic drops or spikes, I ask why," Ng says. In this instance, the union mission had "cleaned books" the previous year - removing members who transferred, asked for their names to be removed, or no longer practiced the Adventist faith.
The process of updating books is finally catching on in the 21st century Adventist Church. The majority of church regions have completed audits in the past ten years, including most of Asia, Africa, South America and Europe.
India is one country that hasn't done a church membership audit, at least not recently, Ng says. And India is his next destination. During his trip in June, he will speak with local church leaders from three unions about the importance of cleaning up membership records, as well as teaching the best methods for going about it.
"Most areas see this as the right thing to do," Ng says. He says he hopes to see all of the church regions participating.
Asking for such membership audits is a touchy subject, Ng admits. "Many see the loss of membership as a loss of face," he says, but adds that facing reality is more important. Whether through apathy or deliberate neglect, church members have caused the spiritual deaths of many new believers, and a membership audit shows clearly how many members have gone. And as Ng's presentations show, the loss of membership can be high.
Undersecretary for the world church Larry Evans says that focusing too much on a single aspect of growth, like increase of membership, has played a part in the loss of new members. In the current administrative model, pastors and administrators only receive credit for new members added.
"I think we need to ask not only how many are we baptizing, but how many are we reclaiming," Evans says. "We are only talking about one side, we are only talking about evangelism."
At the end of all his presentations, Ng concludes with this thought: Jesus did not intend baptism to be the end of outreach efforts. Many church members confuse adding new members with making disciples - the process of nurturing and development that should continue after a person joins the church, Ng says.
"Going, baptizing and teaching contribute to the accomplishing of the commission, they are not the end in themselves."