Seventh-day Adventists Are Growing Churches, Gaining Members
More than one million joined in past year; member retention is up
By Mark A. Kellner, Adventist World News Editor, with reporting from Taashi Rowe and Ansel Oliver, Adventist News Network
More than 1 million people joined the Seventh-day Adventist Church in the 12 months ending June 30, world church executive secretary Matthew A. Bediako told leaders of the movement during the ninety-fifth Annual Council of the world church.
World church membership stood at 15,433,470 as of June 30, Bediako said, with the church having added 2,859 people daily during the reporting period.
Bediako reported there is now one Seventh-day Adventist for every 429 people on Earth.
The Adventist Church, Bediako noted, has “never been in such a favorable position to witness for the truth.” But, he added, “This should not lead us into an attitude of complacency and contentment. This is the time to be more alert and active than ever.”
“For the past five consecutive years, over 1 million individuals have joined the [Seventh-day Adventist] Church every year,” Bediako told the gathering. “During the period under review, July 1, 2006, to June 30, 2007, 1,044,315 [people] were added to the church through baptism and profession of faith. Although this is [a] 48,774 decrease from last year, we praise God for these precious souls.”
The membership figures showed a net increase of 681,448 people, after accounting for 362,867 whose names were removed from church membership rolls. In 2006, church leaders said some of these adjustments resulted from audits of local church membership, as well as from reports of members who have died. In the five-year period ending in 2006, according to a review of statistics provided by the church and reported by Adventist News Network last year, deaths have accounted for approximately 10 percent to 12 percent of annual membership losses.
At the same time, the attrition rate seems to be turning around, Bediako said.
“While we were reporting a ratio of accessions to losses [of] around 45.03 percent,” he said, “our records this year show a healthy figure of 24.21 percent. This is a remarkable change, and we praise God for that.”
MEMBERSHIP GAINS: During his annual report,
Adventist world church secretary Matthew A. Bediako
said positive church growth statistics should not
lull church members into complacency. “This is
the time to be more alert and active than ever,” he
told Annual Council delegates.
Bediako said that while “we are happy to see a new trend, … we cannot sing the doxology until we eliminate from our chart the los[t] and missing column. To achieve this goal, we need to exhibit in every church, institution, and on all levels of church administration, an unconditional love for one another. Let every individual who enters our church and institution feel welcome. We need to respect and accept one another.”
And Bert Haloviak, director of the church’s Office of Archives and Statistics, said this year’s membership growth rate—4.62 percent—is the highest since the 2002-2003 year, when the results of membership audits first showed up in the church’s books.
On the missionary front, Bediako reported that 96 new missionaries were sent out on full-term appointments in 2007, and 624 others returned to their assignments after furloughs and annual leaves. A total of 979 missionaries, “coming from everywhere and going to everywhere,” are in the field today, augmented by more than 1,600 Adventist volunteers on 12- and 24-month commitments.
Reports from Bediako and Vernon Parmenter, director of Adventist Volunteer Center, also emphasized the impact of lay member and pastoral outreach in many areas. Evangelistic campaigns in Africa, the Ukraine, Tartarstan, Indonesia, the Inter-America church region, and South America are all credited with adding to church membership rolls.
“I fully believe that the greatest days of accomplishment are still before us,” Bediako said. “Soon we shall see an increasing acceleration of the work on all fronts in the days to come. As a people, we have never been in such a favorable position to witness for the truth.”
He added, “Our church has gained a larger measure of respect than ever before. The publicity that has been given to the church’s worldwide activities has led many to ask what Adventists stand for. Many organizations, other religious denominations, and people in both high and low places of responsibility are ready to listen to our teachings and to follow the truth. It is, for all of us, a day of opportunity.”
Seventh-day Adventists are active in 203 of the world’s 207 nations and territories. Between 25 and 30 million people attend Adventist worship services weekly, a number larger than baptized membership because, as in many Protestant churches, the Seventh-day Adventist Church does not baptize infants.
Church income, mission offerings up
An increase in ordinary tithes and offerings lifted the Adventist Church’s financial bottom line by $10 million as of September 2007, compared to the same time last year.
Juan R. Prestol, undertreasurer for the world church, told delegates that as of September 30, 2007, the church’s financial statement reflects “a significant inflow of tithe received during the course of the year, and an increase in net assets.” Tithe for the 2006 calendar year totaled more than US$1.6 billion.
“Annually God’s faithful servants, in small and large amounts, return $1.6 to $1.7 billion a year, and every dollar of that is as important as the millions that come in,” said Robert E. Lemon, world church treasurer.
Conservative estimates of revenue through the end of 2007 will give the church enough resources to recommend additional funding for projects and programs around the world through a supplemental budget, normally voted at the executive committee’s Spring Meeting.
Returning tithe is a “sermon,” Lemon said. “You don’t give unless you believe God is the Creator.”
More than 300 Seventh-day Adventist Church leaders heard President Jan Paulsen’s Sabbath sermon, October 13, at the church’s world headquarters near Washington, D.C., U.S.A. Paulsen addressed leaders as part of Annual Council, the world church’s business meeting.Tithe is not the only place in which the church is seeing increases. Lemon reported that local offerings increased from 23 percent of tithe in 1950 to 36 percent of tithe in 2005.
One of the church’s biggest success stories is the turnaround in mission offerings, which, until recently, had declined by 36 percent since 1950. But for the past two years, mission offerings in North America have increased at a rate equal to or greater than an increase in tithe. Total mission offerings have increased from $51.2 million in 2005 to $55.4 million in 2006.
Lemon also presented a special report on an extraordinary amount of tithe the church’s world headquarters received earlier this year. Council delegates voted to receive it and have it used for the church’s worldwide work.
Lemon referred to the contribution as an “extraordinary” blessing and also as a “unique opportunity for advancement of His work.”
“The reality is, the way we intend to use these funds we will have a greater need than we’ve ever had,” Lemon said. “I think to miss this opportunity to move a half a generation ahead of what we would have been able to do is something the Lord will hold us accountable for if we don’t do it.
“Tithe is for support of the ministry and evangelism; it’s not for endowing and then just using the interest,” Lemon said in answer to a question from the floor. “The Lord, when He rewarded the widow for having fed the prophet, He didn’t fill up her flour barrel and oil every time she used it, but only replaced what she had used.
“We have consulted with many on this issue, and we want it clearly understood that there is no change in our position that tithe ... should be turned into the local conference through the local church,” Lemon said.
“It would have to be an extraordinary amount for us to consider this again.”
The council decided that proposals on how to administer the tithe would be submitted by regional world leaders and administrators at the church’s headquarters before being reviewed by the president’s council in January 2008.
Church leaders envision proposals will include funding for Internet and other mass media communication outreach, initiatives in large cities, and the church’s work in the 10/40 Window—a section of the globe in the eastern hemisphere between the 10 and 40 northern lines of latitude that is largely unreached by the gospel.
Church President Jan Paulsen urged leaders to use the funds for long-term projects. “These are not projects that should have a short-term life,” Paulsen said. “They may, in your planning and thinking, have no end except the second coming of Christ.”
Lemon praised church members for their faithfulness in returning tithe and urged continued commitment.
Delegates also unanimously approved the world church’s 2008 budget of more than $142 million, including a 3 percent increase in across-the-board appropriations for its 13 world divisions and General Conference institutions.
The budget includes the more than $35 million cost of operating the Adventist Church’s world headquarters, fixed at 2 percent of world tithe.
Paulsen Sounds Unity Theme
TRUST: During his Sabbath sermon, Jan Paulsen,
president of the Seventh-day Adventist world
church, encouraged leaders to trust each
“What you do as a leader in the church, do it with love for the Lord and with love for His people, do it with integrity, and keep your heart clean,” Pastor Jan Paulsen, world president of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, said in his October 13 Sabbath morning message to church leaders.
Paulsen, serving his second full term, issued a call for denominational unity: a united movement is a “shared trust for the sake of Christ and the unity of the church,” he declared.
“If the exercise of my freedom causes damage to you, then it was wrong and not in harmony with the will of Christ,” Paulsen said in explaining the words of the apostle Paul, as found in 1 Corinthians. Although Paul’s comments initially concerned food, Paulsen said this was “just the illustration. The real issue is: What should govern the decisions and actions we take? His answer clearly takes us to showing consideration and deferring to others.”
He added, “We are bonded in unity, and we have to trust each other to do right.”
In order to preserve unity, Paulsen said church leaders must resist the temptation to jump into matters beyond their jurisdiction: “The task elsewhere is not the responsibility you were chosen to handle—at least not just now. It is not for me to resolve. Others have been chosen for that role, and the extent to which they succeed or not they will have to answer to the Lord for, just as you and I will for ours.”
He added, “We cannot be fixers of things out there beyond our mandate. I have to trust others who are nearer to the matter and whose responsibility it is to take care of it.”
Although “people write to me about a great variety of things they want me to fix,” Paulsen said, “if there are issues really in need of fixing, it is not going to work for me to try to do it; I have to trust others to do it, as must you. I trust you,” he said to church leaders.
“Mavericks who act independently and by their own wisdom do not make good administrators in this church,” Paulsen declared.
Paulsen said the consistent message of Scripture, the writings of Ellen G. White, and from Adventist history is “that God wants this church to stay united. Let us make no mistake about this.” He admitted, “from time to time issues come up which test our commitment to unity.”
The world church leader also addressed several continuing issues that have sometimes seemed to challenge the global church’s unity.
On the continuing question of the role of women in ministry, Paulsen counseled what may be seen as a middle path: “I encourage young people, men and women, to follow the calling God has placed within them. To deny the calling God may have given them is often at the risk of their own spiritual life. If this is an employment issue which you need to fix in your part of the world, then let’s do that. We are going to need everyone—everyone—to finish our mission, and for God to usher in eternity,” he said.
In his comments, Paulsen also said that continuing controversy over the church’s definition of the nature of Christ will not, “on my watch,” cause a reevaluation by the church.
“I think there is a reason for why we have chosen generous language in describing our position as a church on the nature of Christ. The uniqueness of Jesus Christ (wholly God and wholly man—no one else matches the “only-begottenness” of that One) leads us to say that,” Paulsen said.
He added, “I have to tell you I just cannot imagine a post-modern person in Europe, a businessman in Asia or Latin America, any more than a farmer in Africa will care one iota whether Christ had the nature of man before the fall or after the fall. The realities of the world in which we live have other concerns which occupy us.”
Paulsen said such discussions often focus on the possibility of living a victorious Christian life. However, he added, such victory will not be attained by “settling the precise human nature of Christ; it will be by experiencing the ‘power of His resurrection.’