Baptisms grew significantly in 2020, but the challenge is still great for 2021. Focus on mission is what should propel Adventists. (Photo Courtesy of the South American Division)

General Conference

Double Focus on Mission

Despite the pandemic, nearly 165,000 were baptized in 2020 in South America

Brazil | Felipe Lemos

Data from the executive secretariat of the Seventh-day Adventist Church in South America show an advance in net growth and in the number of baptisms in 2020, compared to 2019. The growth was lower compared to previous years, but reflects the reality of a worldwide pandemic crisis. The Adventist South American News Agency (ASN) discussed this data with the president of the Adventist Church for eight South American countries, pastor Erton Köhler.

The year 2020 ended, according to data from the Secretariat, with 164,421 baptisms in eight countries that comprise the territory of the South American Division of the Adventist Church. And, also, with a net growth of 1.68 percent in relation to 2019. The numbers showed a reduction when compared to the previous year, but we must remember that we live in a year of pandemic. 

How do you evaluate these numbers?

The growth of the Church in 2020, with all the disorders caused by the pandemic, is a true miracle. At the height of the crisis, we thought that we would have few people baptized during the year. But God opened doors, we renewed our focus on the mission and, thanks to a group of courageous and careful pastors and volunteer leaders, we reached more than 164,000 lives for Jesus. It was a result 30 percent lower than 2019, but considering the pandemic, it was very positive.

A highlight was the rebaptism of 26,703 people. The crisis has awakened many sleeping hearts that have returned to the Lord. These figures show that we received many new converts in the church, on days of closed churches or services with reduced presence. We need to intensify discipleship and personal care for each one of them so that they remain faithful and grow spiritually. Our constant challenge is to balance the care of those who are inside while strengthening the search for those who are still outside.

How, in 2021, still in a pandemic context, the Seventh-day Adventist Church in South America should continue to reach more people in the face of scenarios that cause much apprehension and insecurity. 

We want to continue to be a voice of hope, presenting a positive biblical and prophetic message that will lead to Jesus and strengthen trust in him. We continue to guide the church in basic contamination prevention care, while investing in strategies and training for the use of our digital communication channels and also Novo Tempo, with its Bible School. It has been a great source of new stakeholders.

But the focus is not only on digital. The main emphasis is on personal testimony. In days of fear and insecurity we need to show interest in people and their needs, telling them about our experience of life with Jesus. This is one of the strongest and most current ways of reaching and winning hearts. To help in this process we have just launched a new biblical course Jesus, Restorer of Life. He was prepared to go beyond teaching and create bonds of discipleship and a stronger connection with Jesus and the church.

Likewise, how does the Church intend to move forward with greater care and concern to further engage members--especially young people, teenagers and children, age groups where there is usually a greater number of people leaving the church and abandoning faith in God?

This is one of our biggest challenges. We have been offering virtual services for almost a year now. In many places, churches reopened with security protocols, but many preferred to continue virtually. Children's classes have not yet returned to being present in most places. Undoubtedly, virtual media offer many opportunities for preaching and teaching, but they deplete fellowship. We are working to use tech efficiently without depleting touch. In other words, being strong in the virtual without weakening personal care.

Often, weak engagement or loss of spiritual commitment is directly related to the church's disconnection, or lack of support or care. When there is interest and personal care, it is easier to identify spiritual difficulties and help to strengthen the commitment to Christ. As a church, we have strongly encouraged visits and meetings of small communities (small groups and units of the Sabbath School).

In some places this can happen in person, but in others it can only happen in person. The most important thing is to value personal care. We also encourage the use of virtual communication platforms, where the church program can have more interaction and people are identified and served, depending less on the more general model of social networks. Each region has also sought to improve the quality of its services, producing a more dynamic program that speaks to digital minds. This does not damage the message, but simply adjusts the liturgy and changes how we present the Word.

A very interesting factor is also the growth of people studying the Bible and giving studies. The 2020 annual balance showed that more than 820,000 received studies through an individual initiative or Bible schools. I understand that the church will continue to strengthen this area, right?

Our missionaries have reinvented themselves in the pandemic and have not missed opportunities. This army of biblical instructors, the majority of whom were virtual, was instrumental in winning over 164,000 people in 2020. We are working to strengthen the traditional model of biblical studies and classes, providing new tools for this. But there is a special investment in virtual media, due to the “new normal.”

In addition to projects and materials, we want to increase the number of interested and virtual Bible instructors connected to the Novo Tempo Digital Bible School. To this end, we are placing in associations and missions people responsible for promoting this new form of mission, in addition to coordinating service to interested parties and training new biblical instructors.

What message do you leave for members and supporters who, at a time of pandemic, have many doubts and uncertainties about the future?

We need to remember that Christ is the life of the church, the Bible its food, but the mission is its oxygen. It is essential to keep the church's heart beating in tune with Christ, knowing his will and depending on his care. But we also need to share the Bible with depth and relevance amid a confusion of ideas and ideologies, with people lost and desperate for not knowing where else to turn.

But the pandemic cannot lack oxygen. Therefore, we need to move forward with both feet on the mission accelerator, as a remnant people who have been called to prepare people for the encounter with the Lord. If we balance the three emphases - Christ, the Word and the mission - we will continue to be relevant and blessed by the Lord.

This article was originally published on the South American Division’s Portuguese news site