General Conference (GC) leaders, directors and staff are busy finalizing preparations for the upcoming 61st General Conference Session, which will be held from June 6-11 in the Americas Center in St. Louis, Missouri. Thousands of people are expected to attend this year, although not all of those will participate in making decisions that affect the future of the Adventist Church.
While Session is famous for its networking opportunities, world-class music, worship experience and exhibition hall, at its core the event is a business meeting, where delegates select new GC leaders and vote on critical decisions that may affect the Church’s fundamental beliefs, Church Manual, or any other matters referred to the Session by the GC executive committee.
To conduct such business this year, 2672 delegates have been selected and are expected to attend Session. Of this total, approximately 567 are expected to join online, thanks to this year’s first-ever hybrid structure. Clearly, delegates play a crucial role in how Session operates—but how are they selected, and how is transparency and fairness maintained throughout this selection process?
HOW ARE DELEGATES SELECTED?
The rules outlining delegate selection are contained in the Constitution and Bylaws of the General Conference, a document that defines the purpose and operation of Session. You can download and read that document here, however this complex process will be outlined in a more simple, step-by-step explanation below.
1. Understanding church structure
To understand how delegates are selected, it’s important to have a basic grasp of how the global church is structured. Put simply, church members belong to congregations, which are the smallest component of the structure. A group of congregations within a specific territory forms a conference or mission, or in some cases a union of churches. From there, a group of conferences is organized into a union conference or union mission. Multiple unions are then organized into the 13 world divisions, which make up the General Conference.
The term “mission” when attached to a conference or union indicates that this entity is in a stage of development that has not reached financial sustainability or does not meet other organizational requirements outlined in the General Conference Working Policy.
2. Types of delegates
Having a basic understanding of the global Church structure, it’s now important to know the different categories of delegate and their characteristics. The Constitution and Bylaws states that delegates may fall into two categories: “regular delegates” or “delegates at large”.
Put simply, regular delegates represent the church down to a local level, and are selected from the missions, conferences and unions. In contrast, delegates at large hold a position at the GC, its divisions or institutions.
i. Delegates at Large—Delegates at large are individuals who are employed by and represent the GC or its institutions and divisions—including directors and associate directors of GC ministry departments, all members of the GC Executive Committee, as well as employees selected by the GC and Division Executive Committees.
ii. Regular Delegates—Regular delegates refer to individuals who represent the General Conference’s “member units”—in other words, unions, conferences and missions. Regular delegates are appointed by their respective Division Committee and may be Adventist laypeople, teachers, pastors or other church employees.
Regardless of their status, all delegates are entitled to vote. Page 12 of the Delegate Information Brochure 2022 states that, “All delegates, whether regular or at-large, are entitled to full participation in the business of the Session in-person or by means of an electronic conference or similar communications.”
3. Number of delegates
The Constitution and Bylaws outline specific guidelines on how many delegates are allowed to attend Session at each level of the global Church structure. This year, 1684 attendees will be regular delegates, while 988 will be delegates at large.
Of this total allocation, some delegates have been selected based on set numbers, while others were chosen as a proportion of global membership. Let’s look at regular delegates first:
i. Regular Delegates
All union conferences are allotted two regular delegates, in addition to their president (who is a delegate at large). All union missions get one regular delegate, in addition to their president (who is a delegate at large). Unions of churches conferences are allotted one in addition to their president (who is a delegate at-large). Union of churches missions are represented by its president (who is a delegate at-large). Local conferences are allotted two delegates. Local missions are entitled to one delegate.
The Church’s 13 divisions are then collectively allotted 400 regular delegates, which are assigned based on each division’s proportional membership within the world body. This is calculated based on membership statistics as of December 31 of the second year before Session.
ii. Delegates at Large
Outside of this selection, all other representatives are considered delegates at large. Many individuals who hold positions at the GC or Division level are automatically considered a delegate at large, and won’t undergo the GC executive committee’s selection process.
Automatic delegates at large include the 345-member GC executive committee (which includes GC department directors), as well as associate directors of all GC departments. Outside of this automatic allotment, 300 other delegates must be selected by the GC executive committee, and may be comprised of GC employees, laypersons and pastors.
In addition to this, every division executive committee sends 20 delegates at large. The GC executive committee also sends 20 GC appointed staff (outside of those automatically included via their position) as delegates at large.
4. How are delegates selected?
Ultimately, there are two types of committees responsible for selecting delegates. These are the GC executive committee and the 13 division executive committees. According to GC undersecretary Hensley Moorooven, the delegate selection process begins up to two years prior to each Session.
“As per the Constitution and Bylaws, we need to look at the membership of each entity two years prior to Session commencing. For example, to prepare for GC Session in 2020, we referred to the number of missions, conferences and unions within each division as of December 31, 2018. This is the first part of the work,” he says.
“We in the secretariat then use those figures as a basis to calculate the quota of delegates for each division,” he continues. “I can safely say, based on past experiences, that within nine months to a year of these stats being calculated, we start receiving recommended delegate names from each Division.”
Rather than the GC Executive committee having to select more than 2000 delegates from across the globe, each division sends in recommendations for both its regular delegates and delegates at large. These names are then voted on by the GC executive committee.
5. Ensuring fairness and transparency
Ensuring that delegates constitute an average representation of worldwide Adventist membership is crucial to ensuring that the decisions made at Session are reasonably objective and reflect the desires of Adventists across countries, cultures and values. So how is this ensured, especially with the hybrid format of Session this year?
Firstly, the Constitution and Bylaws specifically state that:
“Division administrations shall consult with unions to ensure that the entire division delegation shall be comprised of Seventh-day Adventists in regular standing, at least 50 per cent of whom shall be laypersons, pastors, teachers, and non-administrative employees, of both genders, and representing a range of age groups and nationalities. The majority of the above 50 per cent shall be laypersons.”
To ensure these requirements are met, Moorooven explains, “It is the desk of the undersecretary who ascertains the accuracy of this information. We are intentional, we follow up, and we ask questions. Whenever we get a name from a local mission or conference, we question it and make sure that who they are recommending meets the requirements. And we try to teach the same principle to the subsidiary organizations.”
In addition to this, the Constitution and Bylaws outline that for decisions to be passed, there must be quorum at every Session. This requires that at least one third of total delegates be present at the opening meeting. While quorum is expected this year, this is complicated by the fact that many are joining online and may experience a faulty internet connection or other issues that prevent their voice being heard.
“Our administration at the GC is doing everything possible to ensure that we don’t have two categories of delegates; that we don’t favor those who are on-site and ignore those on Zoom. No, there is only one category of delegate. We are being very intentional about this,” says Moorooven.
While Session is a global event that many Adventist laypeople may struggle to understand or may never attend in person, great care is taken to ensure fairness and transparency throughout the delegate selection and voting process, so that decisions reflect the average view of Adventists in local churches across the globe.
To learn more about how Session functions, you can read our article about how world Church leaders are voted in here.
If you aren’t a delegate this year, but would still like to attend Session either in-person or online, you are very welcome. For more information, head to gcsession.org/