October 23, 2013

Major Survey to Inform Adventist Church’s Next Strategic Plan

Seventh-day Adventist leaders are making initial recommendations for a global strategic plan based on the results of an unprecedented survey of the opinions, attitudes, and spiritual life patterns of church members worldwide. Survey results will guide members of the church’s Strategic Planning Committee as it identifies areas of concern, ranks priorities, and seeks opportunities for growth through 2020.

“The church regularly engages in strategic planning to carefully position the organization to best pursue its mission,” said Mike Ryan, chair and director of the Strategic Planning Committee and a general vice president of the Adventist world church. “Data collection and analysis are crucial steps in this process,” he said.

In 2011 top church officials voted to establish an ongoing budget for Adventist research. Since then 11 research teams have conducted five major surveys. Seven teams worked on a survey of church members, eventually receiving completed surveys from 22,500 Adventists from nine world church divisions. Other research included a survey of more than 4,000 pastors from all 13 divisions. Including both survey and interview-based research, the study polled a total of 38,000 Adventists worldwide.

“That gives us a lot of rich data to work with,” said David Trim, secretary of the Strategic Planning Committee and director of the Office of Archives, Statistics, and Research for the Adventist world church, which oversaw the research project. “Some of the results might come as a surprise, but [division presidents] already know the nature of the research,” Trim said.

Indeed, division leadership has been instrumental in the research process, Trim said. As well as supporting the work of the research teams, each division was asked to submit an appraisal of the strategic issues it rates most important, both for the world church and its own territory. Each department at Adventist world church headquarters submitted a similar appraisal.

But strategic planning doesn’t end with survey results, or even the best interpretation of those results, church leaders said. “Strategic planning must go far beyond decision-making based on the best orator—the most eloquent speaker. It must be built upon a solid biblical basis, the best research and information, and, most important, the guidance of the Holy Spirit as we choose a direction and begin to expend the resources of the church,” Ryan said.

Comprehensive strategic planning, church officials said, should also have a practical side and lead to measurable results.

“Encouraging more Bible reading and prayer will probably be in every Adventist strategic plan until the world ends, but strategic planning doesn’t stop at identifying areas of concern,” Trim said. “It’s also asking, ‘What can be done to effect positive change?’ and identifying key performance indicators so that in five years we can go back and measure our progress.”

G. T. Ng, a committee member and executive secretary of the Adventist world church, said that any strategic plan should propel the mission of the church forward. “We know that strategic planning is important, but it must be a servant to mission,” Ng said. “Planning is valid only when it helps the church fulfill the purpose for which it was established.”
A revised draft of the 2015 to 2020 strategic plan went to delegates of the 2014 Annual Council for approval.