March 2, 2022

North American Division eHuddle Discusses Tips to Reach, Reclaim, and Retain

Evangelism and leadership think tank highlights the importance of disciple-making.

Becky St. Clair, for North American Division News

The seventh annual North American Division (NAD) eHuddle took place online February 15-16, 2022. Defined by Jose Cortes Jr., associate director for evangelism at the NAD, as “an evangelism and leadership think tank,” eHuddle is an opportunity for pastors, laypastors, and elders to gather as a collective mind and regroup about what “evangelism” means to the church in the current environment.

“We’re called to reach, reclaim, and retain the people of North America with Jesus’ mission and message of compassion, hope, and wholeness,” Cortes stated at the start of the event.

Each day saw more than 120 participants on Zoom, and thousands more on YouTube and Facebook, where it was simultaneously streamed. Each segment of the conference featured several presenters from various parts of the division, all sharing observations, tips, and convictions on the topic of disciple-making. 

The first segment on Tuesday was focused on creating a culture of baptism within one’s church. Jacob Serns, pastor of the Benbrook Church in Texas, suggested churches schedule baptismal Sabbaths, even if there isn’t yet anyone to baptize. “Move forward in faith,” he urged. 

The overarching theme of the first segment of presenters was to continually and regularly place opportunities for baptism in front of people and to embrace opportunities to talk about it.

“Creating a baptism culture is a cumulative work,” Debleaire Snell, pastor at Oakwood University Church in Alabama, said. “It isn’t done overnight or as the result of one presentation or seminar. It is a steady drip, wearing a hole in the most solid surface.”

The second segment of presentations on Tuesday centered on the appeal — how to make it effective, natural, and engaging. Carlton Byrd, president of Southwest Region Conference, urged pastors to claim “holy boldness” and not be afraid to make an appeal every time they speak.

“Every Sabbath is an evangelism meeting,” Heber Lopez, pastor of West Palm Beach Spanish Church in Florida, stated.

In today’s climate it was apropos to include a segment on making effective appeals in the virtual world. James Doggette Jr., lead pastor at two churches in Orlando, offered “Ten Tips in Ten Minutes” on how to lead an impactful online revival, including collaboration, leveraging connections, and organizing a digital discipleship team.

“Just because you’re not in a building doesn’t mean you can’t do an altar call,” Doggette said, suggesting that online evangelists utilize text services for appeal responses. 

Kyoshin Ahn, executive secretary for the NAD, shared results from a recent U.S. survey to gauge how familiar the average American is with the Adventist Church. He then compared the results to Gallup Poll results from the 1970s and 1980s and noted that not much has changed since then.

Further reporting was provided by Alan Parker, professor of religion at Southern Adventist University, who conducted a recent survey among former young adult Adventists.

“Seventy percent of young people ages 18-35 decide not to be part of the church,” he said. “This is not a lost sheep; this is a lost flock.”

He then presented ways church leaders can help prevent this, based on survey results. Most consistent feedback included allowing space for questioning; doing better at explaining Adventist beliefs so young adults can process their faith; and increasing compassion and acceptance so young people from all walks of life feel there is a place for them in the church.

The second day of the event focused on baptism, including discussion on the order of the process. 

“In Matthew 28, Jesus says, ‘Go and make disciples, baptizing them and teaching them,’” Elizabeth Talbot, speaker/director of Jesus 101, pointed out. “He chose this order for a reason.”

Richie Halversen, evangelism director for the Southern Union, commented that “if it was up to our complicated process, people would have told John the Baptist he baptized Jesus too soon.”

Using the example of Philip and the eunuch, Halversen pointed out that in every instance of a decision being made for Christ in the book of Acts, there is an immediate request for baptism. 

“Philip didn’t put the eunuch through a series of tests or insist on a Bible study program first,” Halversen said. “He got in the river and baptized the man. We’re not inspectors, contemplators, or debaters; we’re called to be the Holy Spirit’s facilitators. I, for one, want to get out of the way so others can get in the water.”

Other presenters were John Boston from the NAD Evangelism Institute and Roger Hernandez, ministerial director for the Southern Union, who talked through steps on leading people to baptism. These included letting God’s word speak, expressing urgency, and relinquishing control.

Participant polls were taken at the end of each segment on both days. Results revealed:

  • The top three most effective methods for reaching a church’s community appear to be small group evangelism (39%), personal Bible studies (20%), and Sabbatical evangelism (16%).
  • The top three most effective types of appeals are altar calls (37%), decision cards in the pews (31%), and meeting with people after the service (17%). 
  • When asked what they thought were the requirements for baptism, 89% of respondents said, “Accept Jesus as Savior and Lord;” while 11% said, “Have knowledge of Adventist fundamental beliefs;” and 0% said, “Live up to Adventist standards.”

A comparably large discussion arose around the topic of baptizing children. According to a poll taken during this segment, 92% feel comfortable baptizing children, but defining the “proper age” to be baptized ranged from 7-12 years of age, to “when the child is willing and ready.”

“The Bible doesn’t put an age on baptism, so who are we to do so?” Halversen said in response to the question posed. “Parents often want to be part of this decision, but we have to listen to the kids. If we make all their decisions for them, they’re not going to be secure in their faith as adults, because we’ve been living their life of faith for them.”

eHuddle 2022 concluded with a homily by NAD president G. Alexander Bryant. He spoke on the story in John 21 when the disciples have spent all night fishing with no results, and Jesus appears on the shore and tells them to cast their nets on the other side of the boat. 

“They shouldn’t have been able to catch anything on that side of the ship during that time of day, but Jesus said to do it, and it yielded results,” Bryant pointed out. “It wasn’t conventional or comfortable or popular, but it was where Jesus was, and as long as we cast our nets where Jesus is, that’s the right side of the ship.”

The original version of this story was posted on the North American Division news site.