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A Meeting of Minds


Bringing together Adventist academics and church administrators for the Summit on Nurture and Retention produced a fascinating mix of presentations and conversations. With recent membership surveys in nine of the world divisions, there was data to inform program reports. Graduate student Katelyn Ruiz talked about nonverbal behavior in a case study of the welcoming program at a local church.

General Conference Communications Director Williams Costa described the use of music to attract and support former Adventists. Music was also at the heart of Petr Cincala’s presentation on the iY generation in Europe. Reconnecting programs in New Guinea, discipleship cycles in South America where the lost rate is only 20%, to the challenges for Russia where the church continues to lose about 70% of its members, in presentation after presentation new ways to think about retention were expressed.

However, when Teru Fukui, personal ministries director for the North Asia Pacific Division, came to the microphone and began by saying how sad he was, confessing that he did not have a big story to tell, he took everyone by surprise. “We need a lot of prayer,” he began, saying that his division had a retention rate of about 30%. The words confession, humiliation, repentance flashed on the screen. Personally tasked with reversing this situation he said his scheme is to launch a pilot project with a goal of increasing the retention rate by 10-20%. One difficulty is that members do not want audits of their church records. They think that losing membership is disgraceful, and people don’t want to move their personal church membership, even if they themselves have moved. There is an assumption that you cannot move the record, but society is fluid. There is also a lack of discipleship, he said. In addition to earnest prayer, he said his plan begins with message delivery—to constantly tell the membership not to leave the church. A program of spiritual guardians will be established, and members will be asked to write a covenant about staying.

After three days of reports, the group that had at times swelled to over 100, was beginning to diminish leading to jokes about the summit’s retention. But a core group of 50 persevered to the last when a statement was brought forth from a writing group. The one-page document concluded:

“We therefore affirm that an urgent necessity for the Seventh-day Adventist church must be building loving and Christ-like relationships within the local church. We recommit ourselves to God’s vision of mission, which is founded on discipling, believing that this will enable us better to fulfill the prophetic mission of the Remnant Church.”

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