December 1, 2015 • • in News
CONSERVING CHURCH MEMBERSHIP GAIN
One of the most serious problems that we face in the Seventh-day Adventist Church today is how to conserve our membership. For the year 1954 in the North American Division, for every thousand received into the church by baptism and profession of faith, 360 were dropped for apostasy or as missing. This is a 36 percent loss. That is too great a loss! It is not easy for a person to accept this truth. It means an entire change in his life—his habits, his eating, his dressing, and his day of rest. It takes much effort, and much anxiety, patience, and prayer. We spend thousands of dollars on our public efforts in our endeavor to win souls. We open the front door of the church wide, but do not close the back door; and many are drifting out. Surely we ought to study this important problem and do something about it! N.F Brewer (1955).
In his report to the Inter-American Division (IAD) Executive Committee, Executive Secretary Elie Henry reported on the growth of the Seventh-day Adventist Church among its 24 unions or church regions. 1,046,766 new members were added from Jan. 2010 to Jun. 2015, but there was a drop of more than 690,000 members due to auditing of church books, which began across the territory in 2012.
The report was presented to more than 140 year-end committee members on October. 29, during week-long business meetings held in Miami, Florida.
The two different figures represent the steady evangelism growth in the IAD and the aggressive plan among leaders to keep books more accurate regarding local church membership.
IAD’s membership now stands at 3,606,078 (as of Jun. 2015), with 125 conferences and missions, and 21,179 churches and companies, said Dr. Henry.
Seventh-day Adventists around the world rejoice in the rapid membership growth of recent years. The Church views this as evidence of Holy Spirit-led movements and a fulfillment of Bible prophecy (Matthew 24:14, Revelation 14:6-7). Although the Seventh-day Adventist Church baptized over 5 million people from 2000 – 2005, membership losses during that time equaled nearly 1.4 million. Current indications are that annual membership losses, for reasons other than death, equal approximately 28% of membership accessions. Some membership loss occurs among recent converts, however, this tragic outcome is not limited to new members.
Members leave the Seventh-day Adventist fellowship for a variety of reasons. It is unrealistic to expect that the Church will reach a point where the membership retention rate is 100%.
This, however, should not excuse the Church from consciously creating and maintaining a nurturing environment for all members. Research on why members leave Seventh-day Adventist Church fellowship suggests that social and relational factors are much more significant than disagreement with denominational teachings. In fact, many who leave denominational fellowship remain supportive of Seventh-day Adventist beliefs and even maintain church practices for some time following their departure.
The reasons most frequently cited by persons who leave local church fellowship are found in the realm of relationships, the absence of a sense of belonging, and the lack of meaningful engagement in the local congregation and its mission. Therefore, the loss of members for these reasons should be preventable. Therefore, I further appeal to all of us to do all in our human power under God’s guidance, to give greater attention to church growth and sustenance.
Seventh-day Adventists understand that last-day events will be accompanied by multiplied thousands turning to God, seeking spiritual foundations for life, and identifying with a community of believers that holds fast to biblical teaching. Church members and leaders around the world continue to place a great emphasis on evangelism and church growth believing that even greater and more rapid membership growth lies just ahead.
To prepare the Church for this large influx of new members, to reclaim members who have left, and to prevent current membership losses, the General Conference Executive Committee voices an appeal for members and leaders everywhere to give renewed emphasis to the matter of membership retention and reclamation. This involves understanding the reasons for membership loss in each local church and focusing on how to develop the capacity of the church to attract, reclaim, retain, and engage its members in the mission of the church.
While the specific response to this appeal will vary from place to place and reflect cultural diversity that is so evident in the global Church family, certain specifics are universal. For example, an individual’s spiritual life must be fed through Bible study and prayer. We also know that to retain new members, the following factors are essential. If one of these factors is missing, the member is weakened, but may survive. If two factors are absent, they almost certainly will leave the fellowship of Church members.
- They must be able to articulate their beliefs.
- They must have friends within the congregation.
- They must engage in a personally-meaningful ministry.
Every member, whether or not recently baptized, should be able to experience an atmosphere in which to grow spiritually, to know a sense of belonging and identity, and to use their spiritual gifts in the advancement of mission. Creating such an environment requires more than a program. It necessitates the creation of a loving atmosphere with each member taking a personal interest in others.
Persons who join the Seventh-day Adventist Church come from widely varied backgrounds and experiences. All members are not at the same point of spiritual development. But all should find within church fellowship a place to continue their growth. Peter urges, “Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers a multitude of sins. Offer hospitality to one another, without grumbling. Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God’s grace in its various forms” 1Peter 4:8-10 (NIV).
The Lord is married to the backslider and calls him to return, promising to heal his backslidings. “Return, thou backsliding Israel, saith the Lord; and I will not cause mine anger to fall upon you: for I am merciful, saith the Lord, and I will not keep anger forever” (Jeremiah 3:12). “I will heal their backsliding, I will love them freely: for mine anger is turned away from him” (Hosea 14:4).
May God give us such a compelling burden for those who have once known this truth, but who have left their first love and strayed away, that we will not rest satisfied until they return to the fold.
Saint Lucia Mission of Seventh-day Adventists
November 10, 2015