October 9, 2017

Adventist Membership Grows Substantially but Challenges Remain

Adventist Review Staff

Seventh-day Adventist membership around the world is growing at an increased rate, said Office of Archives, Statistics, and Research (ASTR) director David Trim, in the opening presentation of the Secretariat’s report. He was the first of several speakers from the world church’s Office of the Secretariat, during the Oct. 8 session of the church’s Executive Committee (EC) in Silver Spring, Maryland, United States.

Trim’s presentation, which highlighted statistical trends, announced that as of Jun. 30, 2017, the Adventist Church had 20,343,814 baptized members around the world. He explained that the increase includes the fact that an auditing process, which attempts to account for members who left the church, has slowed after several years of steady implementation in most regions of the world. Members’ mortality rates are also lower, he said.

The membership auditing process, however, must go on, said Trim. “Knowing the real numbers helps us to be good stewards, and assists us in our strategic planning,” he said. Membership auditing “is a vital tool in pastoral ministry.”

Trim also shared with EC members that member loss rate is quite high—39 percent or 2 out of each 5 new members. “Let me remind you that members do not usually leave because of theological differences but because they go through a crisis in life or experience conflict in the church community,” he said. “They might feel unmissed, uncared for, unimportant, and after a few years, they just slip through the cracks.”

Despite losses, Trim said that total accessions are going up, as many places around the world are experiencing missional success. “A person is baptized into the Adventist Church every 23 seconds,” said Trim. “For the last two years, baptisms have averaged over 3,000 a day.” And the number of new churches is growing—one of the best indicators to fuel steady growth.

Trim displayed figures that show that while in 1991, there was one Adventist member per 758 inhabitants, as of 2016, that figure has gone down to one member per 371 people. Another way of seeing it? In 1991, there were 13 members per 10,000 inhabitants, while currently there are 27. “It has more than doubled in a quarter of a century,” he said.

A great challenge remains, said Trim, in what is known as the “10/40 Window,” a geographical comprehensive region comprising 69 nations where most of the population is not Christian. “While around 40 percent of the world population lives in that region, there are less than 3 million Adventist members there,” said Trim. “It means just 10 members per 10,000 inhabitants.”

Trim closed by reminding EC members that counting is always a means, not an end in itself. “It helps us to know how we are doing, and to know where to go,” he said. “But if we use numbers to define ourselves, they will harm us.”

Mission to the World

Adventist Mission director Gary Krause stepped to the podium following Trim to share what he entitled “Mission Landscape 2017.” He told EC members that missionaries serving in regions other than their own currently number 814 adults plus their families. Most travel from North America to serve in another church region, he said. A plan to send dental and medical professionals around the world currently has 62 missionaries serving, plus another 31 preparing to do so.

Under the umbrella of Adventist Mission is also the Institute of World Mission (IWM), which provides cross-cultural training for missionaries serving overseas. IWM also offers a re-entry training for missionaries returning to their home countries, and is planning a cross-cultural workshop and a trip for missionary kids in 2018.

Adventist Volunteer Services, also part of Adventist Mission, currently has 1,200 intra-division volunteers, 411 of them from the North America Division and 270 from the South American Division—the two leading regions which have placed international volunteers. Adventist Mission’s mandate also includes creating mission awareness, as well as resources that can be downloaded in many different languages.

Global Mission Pioneers, people who travel to serve and plant churches in often isolated areas with no Adventist presence, total up over 2,000 in 130 countries, said Krause. And last year, his office allocated USD $2.3 million to 687 church planting projects around the world.

Krause said that they are tapping into the latest methods and technologies to serve people better.

“Thanks to a new Global Mission Strategic Priority System, which maps the world areas with greater needs in terms of Adventist presence, we’ll be able to reward projects in cities and high priority areas,” he said.

Part of those projects include establishing “Life Hope Centers,” places where local church members and missionaries can serve the surrounding community with various services. “Last year we allocated USD $5.5 million to Life Hope Centers,” he said. “And the requests have skyrocketed.” Many of those “centers of influence” have already opened in several continents, and many more are in the works.

Lessons from History

In the last part of the Secretariat’s report, world church Executive Secretary G. T. Ng shared a presentation focused on several defections and crises throughout Adventist history.

“There is no such thing as plain sailing,” said Ng in discussing events such as the 1888 theological debate and the Kellogg crisis in early 20th century. “There are ups and downs.”

Ng said he believes those past experiences inform the present, as they demonstrate how God’s guidance somehow outdid human disturbances and helped the church to move on even before each crisis subsided.

“While the church is far from perfect, inspired counsel tells us that there will not be the coming out of another church,” Ng emphasized. “Mission must go on.”

World church president Ted N.C. Wilson said he valued Ng’s contribution. “There is a lot of truth in what has been said,” he concluded.

After a couple of concerned comments and requests for clarifications about Ng’s presentation from EC members, the Secretariat’s report was overwhelmingly approved.

To view the Annual Council proceedings continuing tomorrow, Monday October 9, please click HERE.