June 27, 2010

Tell the World, Until All Have Heard

BY Matthew A. BediakoPresented Friday morning, June 25, 2010

capAs Jesus neared the end of His time on earth, He gave His disciples a number of signs to watch for. In Matthew 24 Jesus mentioned “wars and rumors of wars.”† He mentioned “famines, pestilences, and earthquakes.” He also drew their attention to “false prophets,” “lawlessness,” and loss of love. But all these signs are things to be endured in order to reach the end.

But when we get to verse 14, Jesus changes His pattern. He says, “And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in all the world as a witness to all the nations [multitudes], and then the end will come.”

This tells us that the most important sign of Jesus’ return is the light of the gospel going into all the world. Millions of people in our world today still do not know Jesus Christ personally.

This fact should spur us on to proclaim God’s grace, and to shout abroad the truth of His soon coming. We have been given this urgent commission. So “let us not grow weary while doing good, for in due season we shall reap if we do not lose heart” (Gal. 6:9).

Church Growth
While it is true that our mission is far from finished, it is important to reflect on how far we have come and the miracles the Lord has wrought.

2010 1520 page12 amp 29For our church pioneers, reaching more than 16 million members would have seemed like an impossible dream. Today, however, if we count the baptized, nonbaptized, and children (as most religions do) we have a worldwide Adventist family of 25 to 30 million!

During this past quinquennium, 5,294,765 precious souls joined the church through baptism and profession of faith. By the end of 2009 our membership stood at 16,307,880, with daily accessions of 2,889.

The year 2006 was the highest calendar year of baptisms in our entire church history, with 1,107,425 individuals accepting the three angels’ messages. It was also the first time in our history that the average number of daily baptisms surpassed 3,000; on average 3,032 souls were baptized every day that year.

Another first in our history during this quinquennium: two world divisions, Inter-American and South American, baptized more than a million people each.

By the end of 2009, there was one Seventh-day Adventist for every 418 persons dwelling on our planet.

Growing Pains
As the world has changed and as the church has grown, our organizational structures have also had to change. A major restructuring took place in Africa in 2003, which reorganized the Seventh-day Adventist Church on the continent into the West-Central Africa Division, the East-Central Africa Division, and the Southern Africa-Indian Ocean Division. We have seen tremendous growth in these three divisions during this quinquennium. One third of all Seventh-day Adventists now live on the African continent.

Also in 2003, the Central American Union was reorganized into three unions in the Inter-American Division. Since then, membership in that region has gone from 540,782 to 892,237, and further reorganization is required.

During this quinquennium, nine new union conferences were formed. Seven came from splitting or reorganizing existing unions and two were created by reorganizing a conference and a mission into unions. Four union missions became union conferences and two union conference territories were reorganized into unions of churches.

Membership Audits
As a church we have been very careful to audit our financial records. However, we haven’t always been so careful about auditing our membership records.

2010 1520 page12Not all problems with our membership count are because of calculation errors. Part of the problem is that people do not always transfer membership when they move. War often displaces people and destroys records. After they have left their countries of origin, many immigrants and/or refugees find it difficult or impossible to locate their previous membership records, so they join their new churches by profession of faith. But this means some of them may now be counted in the membership numbers of two divisions.

Because of these challenges, several divisions have undertaken extensive membership audits during this quinquennium. Each membership audit is a difficult process. Not only has it been a lot of work, but in each case it has meant reducing the number of members reported.

But in spite of the difficulties, the process has resulted in an amazing blessing: church growth! Seeing the actual number of members in divisions where audits have been done challenged us as a church and helped us refocus our energy on reaching the unreached, reclaiming lost members, and nurturing and discipling new members.

These membership audits also taught us a great deal about factors that impact member retention. We have found that members tend to leave the church for several reasons. One of them is the lack of church buildings and appropriate places to worship. Another is the lack of trained workers and lay leaders. The lack of Bibles and reading materials is yet another reason that new members do not stay in the church. And if new members don’t find a friendly atmosphere and warm fellowship among their new church family, they soon drift away.

Now as leaders have gone through this painful process of counting and reflecting, they have renewed their efforts—not only to bringing in new people, but to making sure we are keeping those who come.

Andrews University, Loma Linda University, and Griggs University offer a variety of extension programs in various parts of the world to train local leaders. The Adventist International Institute of Advanced Studies (AIIAS) in the Philippines has increased its program offerings, and has many online degrees, as well as on-campus programs. The Adventist University ?of Africa (AUA) now provides high-quality education at various locations throughout the continent so that leaders and members can more easily obtain advanced degrees without the cost and time involved in traveling halfway around the world.

And finally, church building programs are being carried on in many places, sponsored by Maranatha Volunteers International and ASI’s One-Day Church program.

We hope and pray to be able to retain new members through nurture and discipleship.

From Everywhere to Everywhere
The Seventh-day Adventist Church operates one of the largest cross-?-cultural mission programs in the world. It is impossible to count all the people who serve, but we know that during the past five years 5,066 have been sent out through the General Conference as official ambassadors of the church—1,300 have gone as paid missionaries (interdivision employees) and 3,766 have gone as volunteer missionaries through the General Conference’s Adventist Volunteer Service. They have come from 98 countries and gone to 123 countries. They left every division to work in every division.

Whether “missionaries” are paid a salary or whether they are volunteers, whether they are given a title or just quietly go about their work, whether they dedicate a few hours a week, a year, or their entire life, whether their ministry is in their community or halfway around the world, each one has joined in the mission movement of the church.

We thank each one—those who have gone and those who have stayed behind and supported those who were sent.

Are We Almost There?
While we have much to rejoice over, there’s still much to challenge us. While some parts of the world have one Adventist for every 100, every 50, or even every 10 people, there are massive areas where the picture is very different. The Southern Africa-Indian Ocean Division has one Adventist for every 63 people. The Trans-European Division, on the other hand, has one Adventist for every 5,707 people. There are 19 countries with fewer than 20 people for every Adventist and 67 countries with fewer than 100 people for every Adventist. But there are also 116 countries with more than 1,000 people for every Adventist, and seven of those countries have more than a million people per Adventist.

2010 1520 page12During the past 20 years, we entered five previously unentered countries. We have only 26 more to go! But at the rate we are going, it will take 104 more years to enter every country on this planet. And what does it mean to “enter” a country? Have we finished the work when we have only one tiny church meeting in a country teeming with millions of people?

Then there are the cities! This quinquennium marked a turning point in the history of the world. For the first time in history, more people live in cities than elsewhere. As a church we have done fairly well in many of the rural areas of the world, but very poorly in the sprawling urban centers.

Every day the Seventh-day Adventist Church baptizes just under 3,000 people around the world. But during that same 24-hour day, more than 51,000 babies are born in China alone—with 371,000 babies born around the world!

To look at it another way, imagine climbing to the top of the United Nations building in New York City. At its base we would have all the people of the world line up single file. We would give all the Seventh-day Advent-?ists a banner with our logo on it. Then we would tell everyone to walk past at a rate of one person per second. At that rate we’d see an Adventist walk past every seven minutes.

If we had all the people of Japan file by single file, one per second, we would see a Seventh-day Adventist every 2.3 hours.

If we had the people of Egypt file past one per second, 24 hours a day, we would see a Seventh-day Adventist only every 27 hours.

In North Korea, Syria, Saudi Arabia, and Yemen, there would be more than 230 days between each Adventist.

From a human perspective, it seems we are a long way from finishing the work. Yet the signs tell us it is nearly time for Jesus to come.

Today we stand, so to speak, at the edge of the Jordan River. We long to go into the Promised Land, but there’s still much to do.

Yet our work isn’t to measure the depth of the water. Our work—just like that of the Israelites standing on the banks of the Jordan thousands of years ago—is to obey the command to go forward.

As we step into the Jordan, as we move forward trusting in the One who gave the command, we will see the waters part. The work will be finished, and Jesus will come!

Even so, come, Lord Jesus!

*There may be minor discrepancies between this written report and the one ?presented orally by the secretary.
†Bible texts in this report are from the New King James Version. Copyright © 1979, 1980, 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Matthew A. Bediako is the Secretary of the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists.