During a special report presented at the Spring Meetings held virtually on April 12, the General Conference of Seventh-day Advetnists (GC) unveiled its plan to reset the Church’s global mission focus. With a lack of emphasis on unreached territories and people groups over the past 50 years, the GC hopes that its new focus and matrix will help divisions and other Adventist institutions prioritize sending missionary families into areas where the gospel message is needed most.
Why do we need a new matrix?
“The largest allocation of our global budget—at 16.5%—is given to support the program administered by the International Personnel Resources and Services (IRPS). As faithful stewards of resources, we need to ask and answer questions that help us to maximize these resources used for mission,” said GC Chief Financial Officer, Paul H Douglas.
Douglas, alongside GC Executive Secretary and advisor to the Office of Adventist Mission and Institute of World Mission, Erton Köhler, and GC Associate Secretary, Karen Porter, justified the Church’s new matrix by sharing the changing focus of Adventist mission over the past 150 years, as well as statistics on evangelism, past and present.
“In 1909, the Church’s 100,000 members were already sending out an average of 100 new missionaries a year and supporting missionaries in 70 mission fields around the world. That’s 1 per 1000 members every year,” explained Douglas. “And almost all of them helped open work where the church was not yet established. By comparison today, the Church has less than three missionaries in service for every 10,000 members. And most of these missionaries have been sent into admin roles, rather than planting churches in unentered areas and reaching new people groups.”
Explaining this change in focus, Köhler added, “The success of [early] missionary efforts began to require leaders and replacements to spend more time administering what already existed. There is nothing wrong with that—it had to be done. But little by little the number of missionaries being sent to open new work was decreasing. The increasing administrative load required more policies, oversight and training of newly-elected leaders.”
As a result of increasing administrative requirements, the presentation highlighted how the Church has lost its focus on entering unreached territories with the gospel. By introducing their new matrix, the GC aims to redistribute resources and heighten this focus once more.
What will the new matrix entail?
The new matrix being rolled out by the GC will refocus resources to unreached and under-reached people groups, by recommending that divisions and Adventist institutions prioritize the use of primary Code 1 International Service Employee (ISE) budgets over the next 10 years based on the following criteria:
- Direct contact mission with the goal of creating new worshiping groups
- 10/40 window countries and people groups of non-Christian religions (as defined by the Church’s Annual Statistical Report
- Urban areas of more than 1 million population
- Postmodern/post Christian countries and religions
- Low Adventist-to-population ratio in countries/regions/people groups
- High impact equipping for direct contact mission
While budgets outside this new mission focus may continue where necessary, the goal is to have 35% of all primary Code 1 ISE budgets meet the new criteria by 2027, and 70% by 2032. In comparison, only 12-24% of all Code 1 budgets meet the proposed criteria currently. Based on this goal, there could be approximately 280 missionaries serving unreached people groups, territories, and regions in 10 years’ time.
“The timeline is stretched over 10 years, to give plenty of time for this transition,” assured Porter. “Percentages are for the whole world field, not for every division or institution. Some territories have more areas of unreached people groups than others. But as the world church total, by 2032, we hope to meet our goal with God’s help.”
How will divisions transition to the new matrix?
Put simply, divisions and institutions sending out ISEs will be required to look carefully at the new matrix criteria and ask if the position they are trying to fill fits the criteria. This may require asking questions, such as:
- Must this position be filled by an ISE, or can it be filled by a local person?
- What local resources could be used to fund this position as a Code 4 position?
- Is the missionary spirit of sacrifice being exercised in this situation?
To meet the new criteria, divisions and institutions can access resources offered by the GC in the form of advice and guidance, as well as funding. These include:
- Information on encroached people groups from every world territory, put together by Adventist Mission, and—
- A small pool of budgets that can be requested for new ISE positions that fit the new matrix criteria.
“There will be no sudden or short changes,” assured Köhler. “Divisions will have to plan over the next few months, and we plan to help with that.”
As a secondary consideration within the new matrix, the GC is urging divisions and institutions to send out more ISEs than they receive, where possible. “Moving in this direction is not simple, it will take time and strategic planning,” agreed Porter. “But we challenge you to go from being a receiving entity to a sending entity. Let us have a spirit of sacrifice as our early pioneers did to take the gospel to unentered areas and people groups.”
Global territories with a need for Adventist influences
Highlighting where the Adventist Church could make a practical difference when its funds are reallocated under the new matrix, Köhler shared examples of global territories where the gospel is difficult to share, or the population is unreached.
“The Middle East and North Africa Union (MENA) is just one of many territories in the world facing the same challenges and needing special support with more missionaries,” explained Mr Köhler. “In MENA, there are 11 cities of more than 1 million people with no churches or missionary workers—not even one Adventist member! In the same territory, we have seven countries on the Arabian Peninsula without one Adventist member. When we look at Libya, we have no organized workers in place. In Syria where Adventists have been banned for 50 years, we need to do something there. MENA can’t do it alone. They urgently need more missionaries.”
Continuing his examples, Köhler shared how the Adventist Church is severely underrepresented in heavily populated countries like India, and in non-Christian and post-Christian territories.
“If some regions decide to support us and return some ISE Code 1 budgets to the GC or replace Code 1 with Code 4 missionaries, by paying them with local funds, or organizing local mission projects, [we could] reach and support mission in these areas of need,” Köhler added.
GC president Ted N.C. Wilson agreed, “We have a new mission matrix that needs your full support. If we all decide to do it together, many areas of the world where we have minimal or no Adventist presence, no financial support and no missionaries in place, or large urban areas where we need special mission projects, will be reached, and impacted by establishing new worship groups.”
Finishing off the presentation, Douglas said, “We have to remember that our calling is to be fisherman—to catch fish, not only to care for aquariums. We must look at the broader picture and keep a strong focus on reaching the places and people groups that have not yet had a chance to hear what the rest of us are blessed to know.”