On the second day of the 2019 North American Division (NAD) Year-End Meetings, executive secretary G. Alexander Bryant started the secretary’s report by quoting Isaiah 40:31, telling the executive committee that whatever challenges come, even when “we scratch our heads and ask, ‘What are we going to do,’ we’re going to stand on the promises of God.”
After thanking the secretariat team, Bryant went straight into membership figures. He shared that the NAD membership stands at 1,257,913 as of December 2018, with 5,606 churches and 865 companies. Five years ago, Bryant said, the NAD had about 6,000 church congregations, and “now we’re closing in on seven thousand. We are thankful for our church planting initiative.”
According to research shared by Bryant, Christianity, in terms of numerical growth in the NAD region (Canada and the United States), is stagnant. But the Adventist Church has seen steady growth. He said, “To still be moving in a positive direction is a blessing of the Lord in our territory. With the exception of a couple of areas, there’s still been steady growth, about two to three percent.” Overall growth is the largest in the Southern Union Conference, while the Southwestern Union Conference is the fastest growing in the division. The Guam-Micronesia Mission is also showing steady growth.
Bryant shared that the NAD had its most significant recent growth in 2009, the designated Year of Evangelism. He said he is excited about 2022, the year when the NAD Ministerial Association’s division-wide initiative “Multiply” will commence. “Even though different unions designate a year of evangelism or a focus, there’s something special that happens when we do that corporately,” Bryant said. “We’re looking with great anticipation on what God is going to do in the year 2022. Because when we start talking about it and doing it and putting the focus on it, we see amazing things happen.”
Bryant also shared membership losses. “This is the one that always breaks my heart every time I look at it, and I’m going to keep showing it until we see these numbers change,” he said. From 2013 to 2018, the total loss of membership from deaths, missing members, and those dropped from church membership was 123,593. With 214,621 accessions in the same time frame, from baptisms and professions of faith, there is a net gain of 91,028. With the gains and losses as they have been trending, Bryant said, “We will lose as many people as we gain. And so we need to find a way. We have a segment on nurturing retention that we’re going to have a conversation about. We need to find a way to stop that bleeding in the church.”
Office of Volunteer Missions
Ernest Hernandez, director of the Office of Volunteer Missions, gave the volunteer missions report. He shared that there are 50,839 in missionary service from the NAD, which includes group and individual deployments.
In regard to the number, Bryant mentioned that in a recent survey, 50 conferences reported that they were doing mission work outside the division. These are numbers from the local field and are not represented in the division figures.
The key to success, Hernandez said, is organized mission work. He shared two examples, the Pennsylvania and Chesapeake conferences. Pennsylvania incorporated an organized, five-year approach to mission work within the conference, where the region was broken into sections, with more than 8,500 missionaries, with specific goals about reaching out. Upon analysis, the conference had record tithing, record baptisms — and unprecedented membership growth of 6 percent.
According to Hernandez, the Chesapeake Conference made a major, concerted effort in Belize, building churches, libraries, and water reservoirs. Results included 35 new churches and the establishment of a new conference. Another outcome is that Chesapeake's missionary work has helped make Adventism the dominant faith in that country (at a 5-1 resident-to-church-member ratio).
“That is the power of organized missions,” Hernandez said. “We have missionaries in seventy to ninety countries of the world, about half the planet.”
In conclusion, Hernandez revealed details about the GO Ambassadors initiative, which will utilize returning missionaries to tell their stories. This would include visits to college campuses and churches, the One Year in the Life of Missions vlog, and the Mission Trip Connector — all used to promote missions.
Carolyn Forrest and Brian Ford each shared information from their respective departments within secretariat. Forrest, associate secretary and director of NAD Human Relations, Interdivision/International Service Employee Resources, and Archives and Statistics, talked about the increase in diversity and inclusion in the division with video reports from most of the nine unions comprising the NAD. She also shared a report from the human relations advisory.
Brian Ford, assistant director of eAdventist, the entity that maintains the official church membership list, among other responsibilities, divulged that eAdventist analyzes membership and can provide data on membership for unions and conferences in regard to growth, gender, and age, as it has birthdates for at least 70 percent of the membership in the division.
Holy Spirit Power
Bryant concluded his report with a story about a pastor who bought a fire-engine-red 1966 Chevrolet Chevelle. The pastor went through Memphis, Tennessee, to get to Oakwood University in Huntsville, Alabama, with a group of students. On this journey, a 1960 Volkswagen Beetle pulled up beside him at a traffic light. The pastor pulled off, but the VW beat him to the next light. The pastor thought, How dare you disrespect the Chevelle! At the next light, the VW beat him again. Indignant and upset, the pastor forgot he had the kids and that he was a pastor. I’m gonna beat this guy to the next light. He again found himself trailing the VW.
The VW driver pulled over, and so did the pastor. The pastor was embarrassed, and the other guy laughed. The driver took the pastor around to the back of VW, lifted the lid, and the pastor saw that the driver had retrofitted the VW with a Porsche 911 engine.
“We may look like a VW on the outside, but according to the promise of God, we’ve got Holy Spirit Porsche power on the inside,” Bryant exclaimed. “I don’t know how God is going to do it, but the NAD will finish God’s work in the division with a blaze of fire because we’ve got Holy Spirit power. We may not look like the mega-church Chevelle across town with all the equipment and everything they have. Still, we’ve got Holy Spirit power on the inside, in this territory, in the United States, in Canada, in Bermuda, in Guam. And with the Holy Ghost power, the latter days will be greater than the former days.”