, North American Division
The North American Division added fewer new church members in 2013 compared with the previous year, continuing a gradual decline for the fourth year in a row, division executive secretary G. Alex Bryant said in an annual report.
The report, presented on the first full day of the division’s year-end meetings on Friday, painted a picture of real challenges that have kept the growth of the church relatively stagnant in the U.S., Canada, Bermuda, and Micronesia.
The division had 1,184,395 members as of the end of 2013, a net increase of 17,541 people from 2012, according to figures provided by the General Conference’s Office of Archives, Statistics and Research.
But the growth rate for new members slipped to 3.19 percent, down from 3.41 percent in 2012, 3.51 percent in 2011, and 3.63 percent in 2010. The growth rate in 2009 was 4.19 percent.
The net growth rate also dropped to 1.50 percent in 2013 from 1.77 percent in 2012.
Bryant, in presenting the figures, said the North American Division was not immune from a worldwide Adventist Church trend that has seen nearly 32 million people baptized in the past 30 years but more than 11 million people leave the church. Those figures were announced at the Adventist world church’s Annual Council meetings in mid-October.
Bryant devoted a portion of his presentation to two global surveys of why members leave the church that was conducted by the Office of Archives, Statistics and Research and released at the Annual Council. The surveys polled a mix of members who had left the church and members who had left and later returned.
The surveys found that the largest portion, 28 percent, or respondents said they had “no big issue; I just drifted away” from the church. Another 25 percent of respondents cited a lack of compassion, while 19 percent said a personal moral failure was the reason for leaving. Eighteen percent said they did not feel as if they fit in, and 14 percent said the church had “too much focus on minor issues.”
“Former members were more concerned with hypocrisy in the church than they were about worship style and theology,” Bryant said. "When was the last time we argued about that?”
Just 5 percent said they left because they disagreed with Adventist doctrine, and a mere 3 percent complained that “the worship was not very spiritual.”
The surveys, one of 925 respondents, the second of 785, had a margin of error of 3 percentage points each, according to the Office of Archives, Statistics and Research.
Ahead of the discussion of the membership figures, division president Daniel R. Jackson opened the Friday session with a message of hope to 175 delegates gathered at the division’s headquarters in Silver Spring, Maryland.
"The ultimate goal for the Seventh-day Adventist Church in North America (also called the North American Division) is Jesus and His soon return," Jackson said.
“Jesus is everything! He is the reason for our existence and our focal point,” he said, adding, “It is not a crime to preach about Jesus in our churches.”
Jackson reiterated the division’s mission statement: “To Reach the North American territory and the world with the distinctive message of Hope and Wholeness.” Delegates received the statement with resounding "Amens."
Drawing laughs from delegates, Jackson pointed out that the North American Division “is a division where the sun never sets. The division where the fun never sets.”
Among the delegates for the first time were student association body presidents from all North American Division universities and colleges. The students have full speaking and voting rights at the meeting.
Jackson noted that recent discussions about the ordination of women to the ministry have caused debates at various levels of the church. But as Christians, he continued, church members are called to discuss issues with the understanding and compassion modeled by Christ.
“I don’t think it’s part of our mission to start attacking each other just because we don’t agree,” Jackson said. “I’m not saying for a moment that we don’t have the right to disagree, but God has given us the responsibility to share His love.”
Jackson asked that division church members seek “higher ground” in discussions about ordination ahead of the General Conference session in San Antonio, Texas, in July 2015.
Also Friday, Jackson said the division was beginning plans to move its headquarters from the building housing the Adventist world church’s headquarters because the division needed to “grow up.”
The division is looking to move “because that’s the natural progression for an organization that has been tied by the apron strings to Mommy and Daddy for too long,” Jackson said. He was referring to the fact that North America, while called a division since 1910, was not a fully functioning division until 1990.
Jackson also highlighted a recently launched campaign called “Pray One Million” that asks church members in the North American Division to pray for one person for one minute each day. Thus, members will have prayed 1 million hours by the opening of the General Conference session.
“The time has come, brethren, that we rise above, that we reach out to higher ground, that while we have our conversations we not lose sight of what God really wants us to be focusing on,” Jackson said. “I want to urge you to participate with me in the Pray One Million initiative.”
Meanwhile, Elden Ramirez, director for Volunteer Ministries, said that 52 percent of missionaries worldwide came from the North American Division in 2013 and that nearly 52,000 volunteers have been sent from North America in the first three quarters of this year.
“What’s exciting is that there were 10,000 more volunteers than last year. That’s 10,000 more people making a difference in this world,” Ramirez said.
“But we’re not done yet,” he added. “There are still positions that need to be filled, and we are hopeful that by the end of this year we will be able to fill every volunteer position around the world.”
Read more about the survey on member retention in the report for 2014 Annual Council titled, "Nurture, Retention & Disciple-ship: An Integral Part of Evangelism and Witness" by David Trim, director of the Office of Archives, Statistics and Research (PDF)