The North American Division Year-end Meeting began Thursday afternoon with a message of inclusion from Division President Daniel R. Jackson. The “Collaboration 2.0” meeting spans six days - October 27 through November 1, 2016.
After orienting new executive committee members President Jackson welcomed a group of young delegates under 30, student leaders from Adventist college campuses throughout the North American Division (NAD).
Of the fourteen student leaders who will have voice and vote, two were appointed to serve as interveners with authority to call for times of prayer if committee members "begin creating more heat than light” during deliberations.
Student body leaders from North American Division colleges and universities - committee members with voice and vote.
In the president's report, Jackson returned often to the refrain “All are needed; all are wanted.” The inclusive message set the tone for the week.
Jackson emphasized the importance of mission, saying that the role of leaders in NAD is to facilitate outward-focused mission. The mission of the division is “to reach the North American Division and the world with the distinctive, Christ-centered, Seventh-day Adventist message of hope and wholeness.”
The president told the audience that Jesus is the center of Adventist mission, saying “If you don’t preach Jesus, you’re wasting your time.”
Jackson took a moment to recognize newly-inaugurated president of Andrews University Andrea Luxton. The audience responded with hearty applause.
Noting that the North American Division was founded in 1991 (Dan Jackson is its 4th president), Jackson said that the move out of the General Conference building into a new headquarters is part of the division’s growing up. “We must not be afraid to keep developing,” he said. He stated that it is the division’s goal to develop a culture of safe, open dialogue with room for all.
The North American Division has set itself a goal of planting at least 200 new congregations each year. So far this year, 203 have been planted already, Jackson reported.
He raised the topic of women pastors, a topic that has generated significant discussion in the Adventist Church of late. Telling delegates that their views on women’s ordination “are between God and you,” he stated emphatically, “if you have heard we are in a state of rebellion, that is simply not true.” He noted that the division plans to bring more women into pastoral ministry and pointed out that the move is solidly within General Conference working policy.
Jackson called for prayer on behalf of pastors, young people, Adventist education, and appealed to young people to lead the movement.
Talking about Adventist education, Jackson stated that within the last 10-15 years, the NAD has lost some 250 schools, and that some 20,000 young people no longer attend Adventist schools. Adventist education needs to be made more affordable, he said.
Jackson ended his remarks with a statement from Ellen White’s Acts of the Apostles: “The church is the repository of the riches of the grace of Christ and through the church will eventually be manifested, even to the principalities and powers in the Heavenly places, the final and the full display of God” (page 1).
Executive Secretary G. Alexander Bryant followed Jackson with a report that focused on membership statistics. The report brought some troubling news, but Bryant had an encouraging message to follow the tough numerical analysis.
As of September 30, 2016, NAD is comprised of 1,231,006 members, 5,493 churches and 858 companies. In 2015, net growth for the division was 17,031 members (1.42%), which is slightly higher than the five-year net-growth average. The Pacific Union Conference continues to lead all NAD unions in membership.
Women make up more than half the membership of the North American Division, Bryant said--52.6%, approximately. The membership disparity by gender is wide when members of unknown gender are factored in. Men make up only 40.5% of membership whose gender is known, with 6.9% of members’ gendership unknown.
Seventh-day Adventists in North America are older than the populations of both the United States and Canada by large margins (see graphic below).
Graphic: Ages of Seventh-day Adventists in North America compared with populations of U.S. and Canada.
Bryant provided an age breakdown of members who have left the Adventist Church. Over the last eight years, 33.4% of members have left. Those under 50 are leaving in greatest numbers, led by those in their 30s. Those over 60 are both the largest cohort of North American Adventist and the least likely to leave the denomination.
When asked why they left the Adventist Church, the largest group (28% who responded) cited no particular reason--they simply “drifted away.” The second largest group cited lack of compassion for those who are hurting (25%).
Among those who quit attending services, 40% said no one contacted them to inquire why they were no longer attending. Bryant repeated the number several times.
Over the last four years, 36,222 men have been baptized into the Adventist Church in North America. During that same time, women baptized totalled 57,294 (62% of those whose gender was known).
Bryant skipped over many of the slides in his presentation, but some of the things he omitted because of time merited consideration. For instance, Adventist congregations have far lower incomes than congregations of all faiths in North America. On average, Adventist congregations bring in $50,000 a year, where for congregations of all faiths, the yearly average is $151,000. For Adventist congregations, the number is down from 2008, when the average was $60,000.
Nearing the end of his prepared remarks, Bryant shared a YouTube video of an elderly woman who has been a longsuffering and longtime fan of the Chicago Cubs, who are currently playing in Major League Baseball's World Series. She talked about her years of sticking with the Cubs when their performances, year after year, were miserably disappointing. "If people could hang with the Cubs all those years, I can hang with the church," Bryant said. "I still believe the Seventh-day Adventist Church is God's Church," Bryant said to loud applause.
For Bryant’s full presentation, this link provides download of his PowerPoint slides.
Jared Wright is Managing Editor of SpectrumMagazine.org.
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