Now that 92 percent of the 18.8 million Seventh-day Adventists live in the Global South, where are the mission fields today? In the secular north? In the 10/40 window? In countries like Somalia and Yemen that have few if any Christians?
Missions were the topic of the day for the General Conference Executive Committee, and presentations were made about the Global Mission Centers that are offering new ways to reach Buddhists, Hindus, Secular/Postmoderns, Muslims, Jews, and Urbanites. Many population percentages were shared. Two-thirds (69%) of the world’s population is not Christian. That was a major number. What are we going to do to reach the 69 percent? One in 14 people worldwide is a Buddhist. Islam is the fastest-growing major religion worldwide. Hinduism is the world’s third-largest religion.
General Conference Secretary GT Ng noted that most of our converts come from a Christian background. He said, “We need a greater degree of intentionality to embark on cross-cultural mission. There will always be insufficient funds and personnel to engage in global mission. We, therefore, need a new paradigm that has the goal of aligning every available resource with mission.”
But it was the report on the major losses of church membership over the past 50 years that took the question of mission to a different level. What about the mission field in our own homes and churches?
In a report on retention and reclamation, director of the General Conference Department of Archives, Statistics and Research David Trim reported on the number of members who have been dropped from church membership rolls or are missing. “We have 50 years of data on this now,“ he said. In that time period we baptized 33,202,016. Of those we lost 13,026,925.” Doing the math, he said we lose 4 in 10.
Recent quantitative and qualitative studies have been done on these losses. The complete reports on these studies are available on the Archives web site. He noted several things such as that, of those surveyed about why they left the church, 40% said that after they left no one contacted them. Also, 58% said that under the right circumstances, perhaps they would consider coming back.
This was the one topic of the day on which there was actual discussion by the delegates. Robert Folkenberg, Jr. came to the microphone and described a plan that is being used in some areas in the Northern Asia Pacific Division. Churches there are going through their old baptismal records. They make a list of all the people that were baptized ten years ago and invite them to a birthday party celebrating their baptism. This has proven to be a good way to make contact with people who may not have been in the church in some time.
Paul Ratsara described a Fishers of Men program that is in place in South Africa. There newly baptized members are placed in a special class for three months, and they are encouraged to win a soul during that period of time to provide friendship, also a congress is held where only the newly baptized and the elders are invited.
A pastor from the Trans-European Division talked about the spiritual mentoring process they have adopted for newly baptized members.
It was noted that the Strategic Plan with its elements of Reaching Up, Reaching Out, and Reaching In with God has specific programs in place to support members in reaching up to God through the Bible and Spirit of Prophecy reading program, and that the Global Mission and other evangelistic programs facilitate reaching across to our neighbors, but that we are in need of a plan to prompt reaching in, to be in touch with our own members.
It seems there are many mission fields calling for attention both at home and elsewhere in the world. “What is your response to this overwhelming challenge?” President Wilson asked the delegates. “We can’t do it, but God can.”
Bonnie Dwyer is Editor of Spectrum Magazine.
This article has been edited to correct the number of people the church is losing to 4 in 10.
If you respond to this article, please:
Make sure your comments are germane to the topic; be concise in your reply; demonstrate respect for people and ideas whether you agree or disagree with them; and limit yourself to one comment per article, unless the author of the article directly engages you in further conversation. Comments that meet these criteria are welcome on the Spectrum Website. Comments that fail to meet these criteria will be removed.