BY EDWIN MANUEL GARCIA, Adventist News Network
The Seventh-day Adventist Church continues to enjoy dramatic growth in Southern Asia, Latin America and sub-Saharan Africa, which has pushed worldwide membership to nearly 18 million.
The growth includes more than 1.1 million baptisms last year, with the largest number of converts worshiping in the East-Central Africa Division.
“On any given day, 3,052 people join the church. Every hour 127 people are baptized. Every minute, two individuals are baptized, and we praise God for that,” G. T. Ng, General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists executive secretary, told church leaders during his report at the 2013 Annual Council in Silver Spring, Maryland.
Ng’s report heavily emphasized statistics based on trends that emerged several years ago: Nations in the northern hemisphere are experiencing slow growth, yet the Adventist population is booming in much of the southern hemisphere.
The overwhelming majority of Adventists are to be found there: some 6.6 million members live in Africa, 5.8 million are in Latin America, and 3.4 million are in Asia.
In addition to reporting on church membership at the division level, Ng also identified the top 10 unions that are growing, plateauing and declining within those divisions.
The fastest growing unions from 2003 to 2012 were in India, Bangladesh, Zambia, Uganda, south Central America, Zimbabwe, Malawi and Pakistan.
The top plateauing unions – defined as having membership growth rate of less than 12 percent in a 10-year period – included Southern Germany, Poland, Japan, Hungary, Switzerland, New Zealand, Austria, Portugal and Australia. Three unions in North America also made the “plateauing” list: Pacific, Lake and North Pacific unions.
While North America is considered slow growing, it still provides the single-largest amount of tithe, at $933 million. The next-closest tithe-producing division is South America, with more than $500 million.
The 15 fastest declining unions are in Euro-Asia, Trans-European and Inter-European divisions – not surprising given the population loss in the Eastern European nations setback by a major economic crisis and high unemployment in and around the former Soviet Union.
“There’s been a huge exodus of Seventh-day Adventist membership… to other countries,” Ng said.
One of the brightest spots in rising membership in 2012 occurred in the Southern Asia-Pacific Division, which reported the fastest growth rate, at 7 percent.
Southern Asia-Pacific president Alberto C. Gulfan Jr. told ANN that most of the growth is occurring in the Philippines, which is undergoing a neighborhood-based evangelism campaign that is being credited for some of the 80,000 baptisms since 2011.
The care-group ministry program, called Integrated Evangelism Lifestyle, consists of an Adventist family praying for a family in their neighborhood, and inviting the family to a weekly study of health principles, family life matters and, later, Bible study.
“It’s catching fire,” Gulfan said. “We are seeing that in south Philippines, where the growth is fastest and largest. It’s because they have strongly implemented the program of the Integrated Evangelism Lifestyle.”
On the other end of the growth spectrum was the South Pacific Division, which reported a membership decline of about 5 percent.
Division president Barry Oliver said the loss was expected because a comprehensive audit removed many members from church records: “The growth rate suffered simply because we caught up on all the statistics to make them more accurate,” he noted.
While in the global church structure, Australia is considered a slow-growth region, Adventism, it turns out, is the fastest growing denomination in the country, according to the government’s census.
Oliver said he expects membership to grow as a result “Beyond,” an Australian-produced DVD series designed for secular individuals.
Ng’s report also included updates from entities under the Secretariat, including Adventist Mission; Archives, Statistics and Research; Adventist Volunteers; and the Office of Global Membership Software, which is in the process of implementing a universal, Internet-based system to report church membership in a consistent manner around the world.
The director of the office, Sherri Ingram-Hudgins, said that tens of thousands of churches submit membership statistics and transfers in many different ways: Some church workers still produce documents for their conference in handwriting, fax, email and traditional mail.
Eventually, she said, all churches will be equipped and workers trained to use a consistent web-based platform called Adventist Church Management System, which will streamline the reporting and recording process.
“When they report their baptisms and transfers,” Ingram-Hudgins said, “the information will flow seamlessly to the parent organization, the conferences or the missions.”