June 28, 2010

The Adventist Mission: A 50-Year Perspective

By bert Haloviak, Director
capT2010 1521 page22he first Seventh-day Adventist baptism didn’t take place until October 22, 1860. It couldn’t have happened much earlier because the name Seventh-day Adventist was not generally approved prior to October 1, 1860. Those initial seven baptized Seventh-day Adventists were entered as members of the Richmond, Iowa, Seventh-day Adventist Church. And they began a process of accepting the church covenant that has since been embraced by millions who have joined the Adventist community by baptism or profession of faith. In fact, between the time when baptismal statistics were first officially reported (1913) and the end of 2009 (the latest full year of baptismal reports), a total of 27,057,602 have joined the Seventh-day Adventist faith through baptism or profession of faith.

During this past quinquennium, a new record of baptisms for a five-year period was established, and offers the fullest evidence that the mission of the church has not strayed from its commission to “tell the world” about the marvels of the gospel we proclaim.

The 5,294,765 accessions during this quinquennium exceed the total baptized between 1913 and 1978. In other words, in the past five years, more people have accepted the truths proclaimed by Seventh-day Adventists than had accepted the message for the first 65 years since we began keeping baptismal statistics. Truly the spirit of evangelism is powerful within the Seventh-day Adventist Church as it builds upon the heritage established by our predecessors.

2010 1521 page22Looking back 50 years at the cycle of growth beginning in 1960, we welcomed into our fold, newly baptized members in the recently entered countries of the Central African Republic and Equatorial Guinea in the then Southern European Division. While we might not be overly impressed with the current total membership per country (the Central African Republic is 83rd in country membership and Equatorial Guinea ranks 130th), their overall statistical results are quite remarkable. Both countries, over the past half century, have reported remarkable growth rates, baptismal rates, and amazing retention rates that far exceed the overall denominational average. In addition to those countries, Seventh-day Adventists entered 25 other countries previously unentered during this half century of mission.

The Seventh-day Adventist Church began the past half century with 1,194,070 baptized members, and by the end of 2009 our membership was 16,307,880. Such themes as “Revival, Reform, Evangelism,” “One Thousand Days of Reaping,” “Harvest 90,” “Global Strategy/ Mission,” and “Tell the World” outline a history of 50 years that began with an average of 295 accessions a day and has reached 2,889 accessions per day (see Chart 1). And we should note that although our statistical tabulations ended at the end of 2009, our accessions continue at this elevated pace.

Quinquennial Accessions by Division
In 1966 General Conference secretary Walter R. Beach made exciting statistical observations in his report to the General Conference session. He noted that the then Trans-Africa Division had established a new record for accessions of more than 100,000 during the four years since the 1962 session. Today we reap the momentum generated by our predecessors. During this past quinquennium, eight of the 13 world divisions recorded more than 100,000 accessions. At that same 1966 session, Beach made yet another relevant statistical observation: in 1965 the Southern Asia Division baptized more than 3,000 members into church fellowship and that one year total equaled the entire Seventh-day Adventist membership in Southern Asia as late as 1930. What would he say today if he knew that in 2009 the Southern Asia Division baptized 59,610 new members? That is more than the total membership of that division in 1970.

2010 1521 page22Another first in our history during this quinquennium shows two of our world divisions with more than 1 million accessions. Both the Inter-American and the South American divisions baptized more members than the entire Seventh-day Adventist Church membership as late as 1955.

Just as dramatic are the baptismal results for 2006: the highest calendar year of baptisms in our entire church history, and the first time in our history that the average daily baptisms surpassed 3,000. In 2006 an average of 3,032 were baptized every day of the year. Chart 2 shows us the accessions for each of the divisions during 2005 to 2009, as well as the divisions where those baptized in 2006 live. Chart 3 gives us the 2005-2009 percentages of the total accessions by division. Expressed on a scale of 100, we can see that 40 of those baptized during the past quinquennium live in Latin America, and 34 within the African divisions. Eleven live in Southern Asia, six in Southern Asia-Pacific, about four in North America, and the remaining five live in the Euro-Africa, Euro-Asia, Northern Asia-Pacific, South Pacific, and Trans-European divisions. The location of our newest members surely emphasizes the worldwide nature of the gospel we proclaim.

Chart 4 enables us to see the divisional home of our entire membership at the end of 2009. Because of the members who were already part of the church prior to 2005, these percentages vary somewhat from the accessions between 2005-2009: Africa—36 percent; Latin America—32 percent; Southern Asia—9 percent; North American—7 percent; Southern Asia-Pacific—6 percent; Northern Asia-Pacific—4 percent; South Pacific— 3 percent; Euro-Africa, Euro-Asia, and Trans-European—each 1 percent.
(Chart 4 goes here)

World Population-to-Member Ratios
At the 1962 General Conference session, Secretary Beach informed the delegates about ratios. In the 30 years prior to 1962, 5,732 persons existed for every Seventh-day Adventist, yet by 1962 that ratio had cut by more than half to 2,154 to 1. The Australasian Division had the best ratio of 257 to 1, and North America maintained a 572 to 1 ratio.

2010 1521 page22We can now report that by the end of 2009 there was one Seventh-day Adventist for every 418 persons dwelling on our planet. Chart 5 gives ratios for each of the world divisions at the end of 2009, and Chart 6 notes various country ratios.

Some rather amazing transitions have occurred within the divisions during the past decade. At the time of the 2000 session, the South Pacific Division maintained the best density of Seventh-day Advent-ists to general population at one Seventh-day Advent- ist for every 88 persons of the general population. Now the Southern Africa-Indian Ocean Division, with a population of 159,164,000, has a ratio of one Seventh-day Adventist for every 64 persons. And the ratio for the Inter-American Division, with a population of 268,528,000, is 1 to 82. Those are rather remarkable ratios given the large populations within those territories. Indeed, the Southern Africa-Indian Ocean Division improved its ratio of Seventh-day Adventists to general population from 1 to 79 during the previous quinquennium to its current 1 to 64 ratio. And the South Pacific Division, with a ratio of 1 to 84, now ranks third among the divisions. Southern Asia exhibited an amazing improvement, going from a ratio of 1 to 1,392 reported at the last session to 1 to 812 at the end of 2009, and Northern Asia-Pacific moved from 1 to 2,918 to 1 to 2,500.

Selected country ratios with memberships of more than 100,000 likewise exhibited meaningful results during the past five years. Jamaica went from one Seventh-day Adventist per 13 general population to 1 in 11; and Zambia, Rwanda, Zimbabwe, and Papua New Guinea also showed relatively high densities of Seventh-day Adventists to general population. China has shown great improvement as well, moving from 1 to 4,027 to 1 to 3,577, a difference of 450 in the ratio.

And the Audits Continue . . .
The current church administration has encouraged its leaders to take church membership statistics very seriously. Gathering and reporting statistics are indeed administrative functions. Presidents, managers, and directors need and use statistics in their work. Statistics of growth improve morale. Statistics of status quo support calls for action. Statistics of decline alert leaders and members about issues to be faced. Each of these aspects depends upon the accuracy of the statistics rendered.

2010 1521 page22Following the 2000 General Conference session, most divisions began to look carefully at their church membership books. The resulting audits, which continue to this time, have greatly enhanced the credibility of our current world membership totals. At the same time, however, the diminishing of our church rolls through the auditing process has had a negative impact on our quinquennial growth rate as well as on our accession-to-loss ratios. Although our membership grew from 13,936,932 at the end of 2004 to 16,307,880 by the end of 2009, the resulting growth rate of 3.19 percent is the lowest within the 50-year period we have surveyed. 

Chart 7, “Membership Retention Analysis, 2005-2009,” depicts our losses division by division. While the overall ratio of accessions to losses is quite high because of the auditing, a number of positive results from the auditing can be seen by close analysis of some of the divisional results. For instance, the Southern Asia-Pacific Division vigorously undertook church membership audits from 2003 to 2005. Since that auditing process has been completed the division has led the world church for the past two years in growth rates of 7.31 percent and 7.01 percent and its accession-to-dropped-and-missing ratio is likewise among the best within the divisions. Chart 8 shows the loss-to-gain ratios for the church from 2000 to 2009 and the average loss-gain ratio for the past decade.

New Categories in Tithes and Offerings
2010 1521 page22At the 1958 Cleveland General Conference session, statistical secretary Henry Klaser rejoiced that Seventh-day Adventists had finally entered the billion-dollar category. By adding together all the tithes, foreign mission offerings, Sabbath school offerings, Ingathering, home mission offerings, offerings for Faith for Today and the Voice of Prophecy, and all local church funds and expense offerings from 1863 to the close of 1957 (94 years), he could report an amount of $1,075,095,762.14.

Compare that to the most recent reporting year of this quinquennium. The North American Division alone surpassed Klaser’s 94-year total by more than $432 million. While our office does not break down the total to the penny as did Klaser, we can affirm that during the past quinquennium we received tithe and offering reports from the divisions for $12,750,173,973. This means that on the average, every day during the past five years, Seventh-day Adventist members contributed $6,981,614 to spread the gospel message. In any one day of this past quinquennium, on the average, our members thus contributed more than that received by the church in its initial 36 years (from 1863 to 1899).

Audited Financial Statements and Fiscal Well-being
2010 1521 page22Even as growth rates, accessions, and church membership figures reflect the numerical expansion of the church, so do assets, liabilities, and net worth reflect the financial stability from which the work of the church is conducted. The figures exhibited in Chart 9 are drawn from information found in 1,683 financial statements for the fiscal year ending 2006. In 42 cases unaudited statements were used for these summaries, and in 988 cases current financial statements were unavailable; so the latest available data was used.

Information from Chart 9 reveals that at the close of fiscal year 2006, denominational assets reached $23.7 billion and represented a 37.1 percent increase over the audited statements available at our last General Conference session. The net worth of all denominational entities, excluding churches and primary schools, rose from slightly more than $10 billion last session to slightly more than $15 billion as currently reported.

We have briefly surveyed our past 50 years of mission history. We could have mentioned the innovative evangelistic tools developed by our predecessors: tools such as television ministry, airplane evangelism, Five-Day Plan evangelism, open-heart team evangelism, medical mission launches, orphanages, and other means of alleviating the suffering of the world while pointing toward a perfect kingdom of the future. As we develop the tools of the future, we recognize that we are the inheritors of the blessings that God has poured upon our predecessors and continues to give in the advancement of the kingdom.

*General statistics compiled by Kathleen Jones, assisted by Carole Proctor; financial statistics compiled by Gina John-Singh; Charts 1-7 developed by Carole Proctor, Chart 8 by Joshua Marcoe, and Chart 9 by Gina John-Singh.