Seventh-day Adventist Church leaders in the Inter-American Division (IAD) territory want to make sure that when a new believer joins one of its 21,000 congregations, he or she will be spiritually nurtured, discipled, and become actively involved in the life of the church.
The message was loud and clear during a special retention conference held for ministers, evangelists, and active members, as thousands of evangelistic campaigns were wrapping up across the territory last week. The five-hour conference event was streamed live over the internet from the Central Adventist Church in Santa Clara, Minatitlán, Mexico, and focused on best practices in retention and conservation of members.
“It is the responsibility of each one of us to work with those who come to Christ for salvation so that they can feel stronger in the faith,” said Israel Leito, president of the church in Inter-America as the event began. “The end of evangelistic campaigns is not baptism; it is the whole life of the Christian from that moment on.”
Leito reflected on Isaiah 49 challenging ministers and leaders not to bypass the process of consolidating and actively engaging members to become agents for the conservation of members in their local congregations. “Consolidation [of members] never ends.”
Conserving is part of the spiritual transformation process after baptism, explained Pastor Balvin Braham, assistant to the IAD president for evangelism and organizer of the conference. “We want to be sure that people understand the dynamics when they are baptized,” added Braham. “The destination is not the church; the destination is the kingdom of God and that they will remain committed until Jesus comes.”
Loss of Membership
The IAD has seen a loss of over 2 million members from 1965 to 2016, according to statistics presented by David Trim, director of the Office of Archives, Statistics and Research at the Adventist world church. The number of losses reflects those who have dropped in membership and those who are missing on the church books, stated Dr. Trim during his presentation.
Over the course of 52 years, the church in the IAD has had more than 6 million members, and over 2 million of those have left, accounting for a loss of 34 percent, explained Trim. The number of losses undermines the number of accessions.
The church globally has lost 14 million members during the past 52 years, a loss of 40 percent worldwide, stated Trim. “That means two out of five members will leave the church worldwide.”
“After baptism comes membership and during that process of membership is where the nurturing takes place.”
“My concern is not about statistics,” said Trim. “Everyone of the numbers is a person; everyone is a soul that Jesus died to save and gave to us to take care of.”
The alarming figures have forced the church to look at why people leave the church, said Trim. “By working out why they left, we can work on how we can retain them,” he added, as he presented several findings from two recent surveys the world church shared.
“If we want the church to grow, we need to keep our members as well as bring new ones in,” Trim said.
Spiritual Growth of Members
Professor of Biblical Language and Literature at Howard University, Bertram Melbourne, referred to the early church experience in the New Testament to demonstrate how members were discipled, retained, and engaged in sharing the gospel.
“After baptism comes membership and during that process of membership is where the nurturing takes place,” said Melbourne. That nurturing is followed by service, discipleship and the use of their spiritual gifts, he explained.
“Checking in on the spiritual growth of new members in a loving, nurturing small group or church can be very effective, added Melbourne. “Nurture new members, by being as gentle as a mother.”
The IAD will continue to focus on following through with an extensive discipleship program and conservation of members, top church leaders said.
Conference speakers answered questions during a Q&A session at the end of the live program. Leaders closed with a special prayer for the retention of members and guidance for pastors and leaders in finding the lost or missing members in local congregations across the territory.