A new series by longtime Adventist Review writer Monte Sahlin, Church Trends shares action-oriented information about the Adventist Church and the world in which it works.
Church and Culture—No. 2
The Seventh-day Adventist Church in North America stepped across a significant demographic threshold in 2008. For the first time there is no ethnic majority. Whites made up just 50 percent of the members, and people of color made up the other 50 percent.
The ethnic profile has been moving in this direction for three decades or longer. Surveys conducted for the North Ameri-can Division of the General Conference in 1980 and 1990 put the White majority at about two thirds, while surveys in 1997 through 1999 placed it at about 55 percent. Reports from the NAD Office of Human Relations (OHR) placed it at 53 percent in 2003 and 55 percent in 2005.
The U.S. Census has published projections showing that the same thing will be true for the overall population by the year 2042. It’s even closer in Canada. The Adventist Church is about three decades ahead of the curve on this demographic shift.
Until recently African-American congregations have maintained a faster overall growth rate than White congregations. This began in the mid-1940s with the formation of the regional conferences and has resulted in there being three times the percentage of Adventists among Blacks in the U.S. as among Whites. It’s not surprising that the Adventists most widely known by the general public today are African-Americans.
Another contributing factor has been the even faster growth of immigrant churches. Hundreds of new congregations have been planted by Adventists since the late 1970s through the present: Hispanic, Caribbean, Korean, Filipino, South Asian, etc.
The largest share of these new church members come from nations in Latin America and the Caribbean, where the percentage of Adventists in the general population is much higher than it is in the U.S. A 2004 survey indicates that 70 percent of the members of immigrant churches grew up with Adventist parents.
There is also a growing number of Adventist multicultural congregations—that is, none of the major ethnic categories constitute a majority among the members. These are the same congregations that attract most of the young adults in the Adventist Church—perhaps as many as one in five of our local churches. In many ways these are the churches of the future.
Many Adventist local churches in North America are becoming more diverse. Most have greater ethnic diversity than the general population of the community where they’re located, even if diversity is not pronounced in the congregation. This means that most congregations need to learn to see diversity as a strength and learn to use it in achieving Christ’s mission.
Dealing successfully with growing ethnic diversity requires creating an atmosphere in which people can talk honestly, ask questions openly, and learn to listen carefully. Adventist churches may target certain segments of the community as a matter of missional effectiveness, but they must also be open, welcoming, and inclusive fellowships that portray the reality of God’s love for all.
Tools and Resources
•Seventh-day Adventists in North America: A Demographic Profile (can be obtained from the Center for Creative Ministry at www.creativeministry.org or 800-272-4664).
•Additional updates can be found on the Web site produced by the Bradford-Cleveland-Brooks Leadership Center at Oakwood University: www.bcblc.org.
•The following books can be purchased at Adventist Book Centers (www.adventistbookcenter.com or 800-765-6955) or from other online booksellers:
1. Embracing Diversity: How to Understand and Reach People of All Cultures, by Leslie Pollard, a veteran pastor and educator
2. Make Us One: Celebrating Spiritual Unity in the Midst of Cultural Diversity, by Delbert Baker, a pastor and now president of Oakwood University
3. The God of Relationships, by Sakae Kubo, a member of the seminary faculty at Andrews University
Monte Sahlin is director of Research and Special Projects for the Ohio Conference and a senior consultant at the Center for Creative Ministry. Questions and suggestions can be sent to him at [email protected].