Silver Spring, Maryland, United States | Sam Neves, associate director, Seventh-day Adventist World Church

The second global summit focusing on Seventh-day Adventist Church membership retention is revealing the rate and reasons members leave their local church. Since 1965, 39% of new members have left the Adventist church. More than 160 leaders from every continent mourned these figures and vowed to reverse them.

The event extended from April 5 to April 7, 2019 at the global headquarters of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, located in Silver Spring, Maryland, United States. Over 30 speakers and many discussions resulted in a series of resolutions from the various world fields.

Geoffrey Mbwana, General Conference (GC) vice-president responsible for Nurture and Retention, imagined if his daughter had drifted away from home. “My job, routine and any other activity would cease and I would use all my resources until I found her and brought her back.”

After an insightful presentation of the numbers, David Trim, director of the Office of Archives, Statistics and Research, appealed to Adventist leaders: “These are not numbers, they are people and they are our families.”

Emphasis was also given to the importance of accurate membership data. “How can we care for members when we don’t notice what is happening in their lives”, said Gerson Santos, GC associate secretary. 

Much was said about discipleship rather than membership as the best strategy for nurture and retention. Industrial models of evangelism take people through a process that ends in membership. Suggestions were made for a shift toward an agricultural model of discipleship where the church creates the environment that leads to fully committed disciples of Jesus Christ.

This agricultural framework known as GROW was presented by Jim Howard, GC associate director of the Sabbath School and Personal Ministries Department. The framework involves the following 5 stages:

    1. PREPARE the soil of the heart with friendship and service.
    2. PLANT the seed with spiritual conversations or with literature and media.
    3. CULTIVATE spiritual interest with ongoing Bible studies.
    4. HARVEST decisions with appeals to follow Christ and be baptized.
    5. PRESERVE the harvest with ongoing discipleship of new members.

The data presented by Trim revealed that members haven’t left because they don’t believe in the church anymore. They left because they couldn’t fit in, they weren’t loved. Most of them still follow what is happening in the church and would consider coming back if invited. Trim continued:

“There are millions of lapsed and former Seventh-day Adventists worldwide. They already believe much of what we believe. They are waiting for us to reach out to them and to love them with the love of the Shepherd and the Father of Luke 15.”