South Korea has the lowest birth rates in the industrialized world. The 2022 Birth and Death Statistics, released by Statistics Korea, state that the South Korean fertility rate is 0.78 percent (249,000 births a year). This rapidly aging population impacts not only the country but also the Seventh-day Adventist Church. The situation is even more frustrating in rural areas, where the population is on the verge of disappearing. There are even warnings that at this rate, cities will disappear altogether within a few decades.
However, even in the midst of this dire change, the mission of evangelizing must continue. With that said, are there any examples of countries in the developed world that have achieved missionary fruit and revival despite aging and urbanization, and if so, how did they do it?
The Northern Asia-Pacific Division’s News & Views recently spoke with Erton Köhler, executive secretary of the General Conference, and Gary Krause, director of Adventist Missions for the General Conference.
"The population [in Brazil] is facing a major change in the birth rate, but the church is growing," Köhler said. “There are now 1.7 million Seventh-day Adventists in Brazil." Köhler explained that the Seventh-day Adventist Church has been able to grow so visibly in Brazil, a Catholic country, for a number of reasons:
“The church in Brazil has a strong commitment to communicating with society, including both high-tech media and traditional printed materials. It has remained faithful and invested heavily in projects to reach new generations, especially while the majority of the population has become disinterested and distant from religion.
“We have developed a variety of programs to engage our members in Bible study. If we are proactive, creative, and mission-focused, the power of the Holy Spirit will open doors and make the church stronger in the face of population decline and other challenges. We need to think big and innovate. But we must not forget that mission, especially, is a 'miracle.' When our hands are in the hands of Christ, He will open the door to revival in unexpected ways.”
Krause highlighted the Mission Unusual Tokyo project, on which the Japan Union Conference is working to establish a global mission center in partnership with the GC and NSD. It is focusing on preaching the three angels' messages to unbelievers.
Church planting missionaries have been sent to Tokyo to learn the local language and culture to equip them to share the Gospel, and then through thorough discipleship, they are developing God's workers and planting churches throughout the city.
"While the 'Mission Unusual Tokyo' project is not yet seeing tangible results, it is in the early stages of addressing the challenges of aging, urbanization, and secularization in the developed world, with a focus on starting new groups of believers in this huge city,” Krause said. “God calls us to be faithful to our own lives and missions. We may not see the baptism numbers we want to see, but our evangelistic mission belongs to God."
The original version of this story was posted on the Northern Asia-Pacific Division website.