Silver Spring, Maryland | Lauren Davis

The Seventh-day Adventist World Church is growing steadily.  But while membership jumped 1. 6 percent in a recent six-month period, potential growth continues to suffer because of substantial membership loss over the past 50 years. 

David Trim, director of the Office of Archives, Statistics, and Research for the Seventh-day Adventist Church, shared rising Church numbers and his latest retention and reclamation report during Sunday’s Annual Council business session.  

As of June 30, 2015, membership was close to 18.8 million, up from almost 18.5 million on December 31, 2014, Trim said.  In these six months, congregations, which include both churches and companies, also increased to 149,850 from 148,023. Churches are emerging at an extraordinary rate, Trim said. “We praise God for church planters around the world who are largely responsible for the increase in number of church members.”

A lack of member retention, though, remains a serious concern. “The losses undercut the many, many accessions we have,” Trim said. From 1965 to the end of 2014, the number of baptized members totaled over 33 million. Of those, over 13 million left the church--virtually four of every 10 members, he said.

This loss doubly impacts church growth. Potential numbers are not only cut by those who leave, but also by those who were never won, Trim said. If they had remained, these 13.2 million members could have helped bring in an additional 1.2 million to join them.

In two global research studies, former members reported several factors that prompted their leave. Some members drifted away, while others noticed a lack of compassion, experienced a personal moral failure or felt they didn’t fit in.  Many people experienced a stressful life event--moving to a different state, marriage, divorce or a death in the family--in the year before they stopped attending. Forty percent of those surveyed said no one from church contacted them after they left.

The figures show local churches may not have been friendly, loving or supportive enough, Trim said. The most cited event that triggered former member decisions to leave is perceived hypocrisy by church members, he said. The majority of all who were surveyed, 63 percent, said they were young adults when they stopped attending.

Very few former members, though, are hostile toward the church. A total of 58 percent say that under certain circumstances, they would be open to reconnecting with Adventism, Trim said. 

Retention is a recurring topic at church meetings, said Michael Ryan, former general vice president of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, who spoke on the floor. “Somehow or another we need to come together and become a different type of church that reaches out to people and let’s them know that they belong to us!” he said.

After an open discussion on this issue, where church leaders shared ideas and methods, Ted Wilson, president of the Seventh-day Adventist World Church, closed Sunday’s business session reminding delegates of small steps all can take. “If we learned more names of the young people in our churches and just said hello to them on Sabbath morning by name, they might feel more wanted,” Wilson said. “If we simply extended an encouraging note or a hand to someone who’s discouraged, we would keep more people.”