History was written in Rwanda as 100,135 people were baptized into the Adventist Church after an evangelistic campaign, sponsored by Total Member Involvement, ended in May 2016. Another 10,000 were baptized in the following months, bringing the total to 110,000 new converts.
At the core of this unprecedented effort was a 2,227-site evangelistic campaign that ran from May 13-28 of that year. The huge influx of new Adventists presented both a massive blessing and an enormous challenge to the Adventist Church in Rwanda and around the world.
How could Adventists best nurture their new brothers and sisters in the faith?
The key to answering that question was the Total Member Involvement (TMI) strategy that fueled the Rwanda evangelistic effort well before any preaching began last year.
The message from the outset was loud and clear: Total Member Involvement means everyone in church was responsible for reaching their neighbors for Christ. The motto for Rwanda’s campaign was "Each one, reach one, lose none, disciple all.”
"All church members were requested to be involved in this evangelism, unlike in the past whereby some people thought that evangelism is only for pastors and church elders. But at this time all levels of the church were involved," said Onesphore Yadusoneye, acting director for communication for the Seventh-day Adventist Church in Rwanda.
Church members visited their neighbors’ homes, many of them bringing materials like the World Bible School Discovery Lessons so they could learn about the Bible. Adventist Community Services, supported by local church members, constructed or restored homes for those in dire need of housing. Goats, sheep and cows were distributed to the community. Numerous free health clinics were organized by the Church to touch communities with the healing ministry of Christ.
The message was clear: "We care."
By the time evangelists started preaching, church members developed warm relationships with their neighbors, and hearts were ready to hear God's word. These same relationships illustrated how friendships could be maintained and grown with tens of thousands of new members well after the evangelistic campaign ended.
“The percentage of new converts who are still actively engaged in the church is more than 95% because of the strategies the Church in Rwanda put in place to maintain them,” said Yadusoneye.
Adventists in Rwanda have made a serious effort to involve their new members in existing church families. New members are recruited into church choirs, as well as activities run by the Adventist Youth and Women's Ministries departments among others.
New members are also asked by churches to host special Sabbath services. To help develop their leadership skills, they are often asked to conduct Sabbath School programs.
To help educate new brothers and sisters, Adventist churches in Rwanda assign elders to teach them Biblical doctrine and to help model Christian living.
The biggest challenge when it comes to these new members is physically accommodating the membership growth.
"We do not have enough churches for them. This is why in some places people are worshipping under trees, others in rented houses and others under temporary shelters," said Yadusoneye.
In a classic "good problem to have,” more church buildings and more pastors are desperately needed.
Hesron R. Byilingiro, president of the Adventist Church in Rwanda, stressed the urgent need for support in building new churches in a June 8, 2016, Adventist Review article: “I want to appeal to everybody who is part of the family of God to support us in any way fit.”
In the same Adventist Review article, Duane McKey, who oversees the world church’s TMI program, echoed this sentiment by saying that after the record-setting baptism, "the best thing that the world church can do to help guarantee retention is to help provide new members with church homes.”