The 2021 North American Division Year-End Meeting began on Thursday afternoon, October 28, at the division’s headquarters in Columbia, Maryland. This annual business meeting, which is being conducted virtually on Zoom for the second year in a row, with livestreaming on the NAD website and various other social-media platforms, will provide the opportunity for almost 300 executive committee members to receive reports, amend policies, strategize, and fellowship online with church leaders and laypersons who are dedicated to sharing with others Christ and the Adventist faith.
Leaders hope this year’s theme, “Together in Mission: I Will Go,” will inspire delegates to beseech the Lord for the Holy Spirit’s power and leading as they work to help hasten Jesus’ second coming.
This theme echoes the mission of the Seventh-day Adventist Church in North America, which is “To reach the North American Division and the world with the distinctive, Christ-centered, Seventh-day Adventist message of hope and wholeness.”
“In spite of the challenges we have faced — we’ve had COVID-19, we’ve had the Delta variant of COVID-19, we’ve had racial injustice and inequality, we’ve had economic fallout, we’ve had all these things happening — God has continued to bless His church, and the mission of the church has gone forward,” G. Alexander Bryant, president of the North American Division (NAD), said as he opened his report after thanking the NAD staff, church members, pastors, educators, and leaders of conferences, unions, and the division for their dedication and service.
“We see so many things happening,” he continued, laying the groundwork for delegates and viewers to contemplate God’s will and workings and where His people fit in His plan.
“We thank God for the people of the North American Division — for their faithfulness in working for the Lord, their faithfulness in service, their faithfulness in time, and their faithful [giving]. During a pandemic when church [buildings] have closed, we see an unprecedented tithe gain,” Bryant added, alluding to the figures that Randy Robinson, NAD treasurer, will share in his report next week. “What is God saying to us? What message is God sending to His children and to His people in the times that we’re living in today?”
“I [will] spend a few moments talking about what has been happening across the North American Division during the last year,” Bryant continued. “I will share the tip of the iceberg of what God has been doing, how God has been using people, and how people have been responding to the call of God to do His work and His mission — even during a pandemic.”
A Year of Support
Part of Bryant’s report included a six-minute video highlighting the ways Adventist members and organizations have given support to their communities through food distribution, disaster relief, student-led community service projects, shoe donation and distribution, help for the homeless, free health and dental clinics, mental health outreach, hybrid (online and in-person) educational options, and online worship opportunities (including Sabbath School training and programming).
Bryant talked about how the church and its members have adapted and become more agile and flexible in the past year. “And God has blessed us richly. He is still working!” he said, citing the faithful support of the members as well as the adjustments churches and schools have made in the face of the pandemic.
Bryant specifically addressed the growth in Adventist schools, sharing the increase in students, based on opening school-year reports, through high school. In the NAD’s early childhood program, student numbers increased by 1,295 with 158 centers and 4,347 students; in pre-K through eighth grade, numbers increased by 3,801 with 37,809 students; and in high school, numbers increased by 583 with 11,672 students.
Pushing Out of Our Comfort Zone
“Is God pushing His church to get in an uncomfortable place?” Bryant asked before he moved on to briefly address church membership. “When we’re in comfortable spots, it’s easy for us to think the work is ours. But when we’re in uncomfortable places that we cannot predict or cannot control, we tend to lean on the Lord a little bit more. The question I ask us today, North America: Is God trying to say something to us? Is He pushing us out of our comfort zone into a place that we must depend upon Him to do His work?”
“The Seventh-day Adventist Church, when you stop and look at it and study and understand its history and origin, it’s easy to see that it was built for this moment,” he said. “It was designed with a message and a mission for the times that we’re living in. It’s no mistake that God has called you and me to serve Him at this moment.”
Leveraging Our Membership to Grow
Bryant briefly referred to membership statistics in North America, as Kyoshin Ahn, NAD executive secretary, will detail later in the year-end meeting. He stated that the division has 1.2 million members on the books, while 50 and 65 percent actively attend and participate. “That’s around 500,000 to 750,000 people, depending on what number is used,” he said, as he began to reiterate the notion of exponential growth — a goal Bryant first shared as president in 2020.
“That’s a powerful number of people and a powerful group to lead. And yet, we’ve hung around the 1 million membership mark for about a decade. We’ve experienced incremental growth — and you can do incremental growth in your sleep,” he stated. “But exponential growth multiplies as it adds. I believe God wants to move us to an exponential movement where everyone is involved in the ministry and the mission of the church.” To facilitate this exponential growth, with the Holy Spirit’s help and guidance, Bryant again shared the NAD’s strategic focus, which refers to key ways the church can use media, and the concepts of multiply and mentorship, to achieve this growth.
Media, Multiply, and Mentorship
The NAD Executive Committee voted in February 2021 to focus on the three areas of media, multiply, and mentorship. Continuing to unpack what this may look like in terms of the church membership and leadership working together, Bryant said, “We need to look for ways that we can intersect in those areas in a way that we can leverage each other’s strengths to do more together.”
He talked about the focus on media and how the NAD needs to explore opportunities to network and collaborate across all organizations to maximize and expand media utilization, including traditional media and video, online media, and social media. “This is an area where we can allow our youth and young adults to help lead the way,” he said. “They use media like breathing. They do it intuitively.”
Bryant then broadened the net, saying that many have Facebook and other social media accounts, but that “we spend a lot of time sending pictures of what we ate yesterday. What if we could leverage that — all of those social media posts — into making an impact together for Christ? We would like to train and equip 10,000 digital missionaries to be part of this … to help maximize the strength of the network that we have.”
The second focus Bryant addressed is multiply, the focus designated by the NAD Ministerial Association for 2022 and adopted across the division. “We said we wanted to ask the Lord to add 50,000 disciples to North America in the year 2022,” Bryant shared. “We typically add around 35, 37, sometimes 40. But we said, ‘Let’s challenge ourselves. Let’s challenge the Lord.’ We want to add these disciples to help grow the kingdom of God and spread the message of God and [the] impact of Christ in our communities.”
Opportunities to grow exist in the example of Jesus’ ministry, he said, such as praying and building relationships, educating, helping, healing, proclaiming, and revitalizing and planting churches. “All of this is the ministry of Christ. How can we multiply that ministry? How can we multiply its impact and its influence in our communities? How can my union, conference, local church, and school … exponentially grow their impact and influence in the community and the sphere of service in which it stands? [Those are] the question[s] we must ask ourselves,” Bryant said.
Mentorship was the final focus of Bryant’s presentation. He shared details about the church’s aging leadership. He shared that of the administrators who are eligible for retirement now — presidents, secretaries, and treasurers — 40 percent currently serving are eligible for retirement. Those figures shift dramatically when one looks at the next five years, with 61 percent becoming eligible to retire; specifically, 78 percent of presidents will become retirement eligible.
Transitions in leadership, from the local conference to the division, are already taking place. At the division, two of the three executive officers were voted in last year. Five of the six vice presidents in the NAD were voted in April 2021. Bryant shared more about transitions in the division office, in unions, and finally shared that out of 59 conferences, 25 have new presidents since this time last year.
Bryant also explained that Adventist Retirement reported seven years ago that in 10 years, 50 percent of NAD pastors would be eligible to retire. “We have approximately 4,000 pastors. We don’t have enough people in the pipeline in our schools to replace 2,000 pastors if they were to retire at their eligibility years,” he said.
“We need to collaborate with [our] entities to create an intentional leadership-development plan for leaders. How can we be more intentional in developing leaders for not only tomorrow but for today? How can we take the current generation of young people and young adults and help prepare them for leadership?” Bryant asked. “We have to be more intentional and more active because the shift has already begun. We need to have people prepared — so one focus is mentorship development.”
A Step Further
Bryant expressed the desire for the NAD to take “the three Ms” and move beyond rhetoric, applying these focuses to impact several metropolitan centers in the division. “We can take our sharpened strategic focus and collaborative approach with other entities to the cities,” he said. “What if we took all of our media ministries and made sure they’re online there? And we [connected] with our hospitals? What if we sent student missionaries, in addition to Thailand and Korea, to Chicago and Los Angeles and New York?” he pondered.
“That’s the opportunity before us. We have 50 percent of the population in our entire division in the 20 largest cities in our division,” Bryant said, adding that the ratios of Adventist presence in those cities mean that we are overwhelmed. “A new approach is needed.”
“The Bible says they were all with one accord in one place where they were working together in mission, filled with the Holy Spirit. When the Holy Spirit fell on those disciples, remember, they didn’t have buildings; they didn’t have bank accounts; they didn’t have anything. But when they received the Holy Spirit, they set the world on fire. That’s the gift that God says you and I most need in order to do the work that He has assigned us to do,” Bryant expressed. “This combination of working together and being filled with the Holy Spirit led to the explosive growth of the early Christian church, and they experienced exponential growth. Our greatest need is the need of the Holy Spirit, working together in mission.”
Bryant drew his report to a close with words of encouragement. “With all my heart, I believe God has called us for this moment. I don’t believe everything that’s converging on the world today is coincidental,” he said. “It’s a part of the unfolding of God’s plan, and God has placed you and me at this moment, at this intersection of society with the gospel because God is about to wrap things up.”
“God can move in a pandemic, and there’s nothing that can stop God’s church when we rally together and do God’s work; when we’re flexible, agile, and we say, by God’s grace, we’re going to figure it out,” Bryant concluded. “God will bless His people, and God has blessed His people. God wants to do more, and I amasking for God to do more.… God is trying to push us in a certain direction. That’s the moment we’re in right now, and it is my prayer, executive committee in North American Division, that we rise to the challenge. We work together in mission. We pray for God’s Holy Spirit. And we watch God do the miraculous.”