“I’m glad to be alive today!” G. T. Ng, executive secretary of the Seventh-day Adventist World Church, began the 2019 Secretary’s Report with an exclamation and a smile. He then continued by talking about the concept of Reflex Influence, a concept Ellen G. White mentioned six times in the last few years of the 19th century--significantly, a period of time during our church’s history when we experienced rapid missionary growth and serious financial challenges.
In 1900, White wrote, “The prosperity of home work depends largely, under God, on the reflex influence of the evangelistic work done in countries afar off” (Lt 134-1900.25).
“You may be wondering why we should talk about mission if there is no money for mission,” Ng acknowledged. “That’s a good question and I’m glad you asked.”
Ng then shared stories from a few churches around the world serving their communities in significant ways, even in a time of shrinking budgets.
“When I asked them where they got the money to do all of these things,” Ng shared, “they simply said, ‘Mission first; money follows.’ This is Reflex Influence. If we wait for the money, the mission will never be accomplished.”
The Mission Landscape of the Church
Gary Krause, director of Adventist Mission and an associate secretary for the Seventh-day Adventist World Church, began with ratios. In the year 2000, there was one Adventist for every 519 people on earth. In 2018, that number had grown to one Adventist for every 356 people.
There are currently 764 interdivision service employees, plus children, serving around the world. These employees serve in various capacities, including education, medical, media, administration, pastoral, and more. Additionally, 84 medical and dental school students from Loma Linda University are serving or preparing to serve around the world as deferred mission employees.
Since 2014, the number of Global Mission church plant projects around the world has steadily increased, from around 750 to just under 1,200 in 68 countries. In 2018, a new church was organized every 4.09 hours.
“Urban centers of influence have a goal of starting new groups of believers,” explained Krause. “As a side benefit they also help train leaders and church members, help grow existing churches, and promote wholistic mission.”
Finally, Krause spoke about Mission Unusual, an initiative to take a united mission approach to challenging areas of the world. The pilot program is taking place in Tokyo, a city with a population of 41 million, and only one Adventist church for every 741,295 people.
“The GC, in consultation and cooperation with the local field, has established culture-specific initiatives to move as a team to make a difference for Jesus in Tokyo,” Krause explained.
“It is my belief,” Krause said in closing, “that Mission Unusual will very soon become Mission Usual.”
Resources are available at urbancenters.org for anyone interested in learning more about establishing urban centers of influence. Mission stories, publications, videos, TV programs, and other resources can be found at AdventistMission.org
Adventist Volunteer Service
“There is no greater way to provide identity, mission, and leadership to young people than through a year or two of serving the Lord in one of the most difficult parts of the world,” began Elbert Kuhn, associate secretary of the Seventh-day Adventist World Church.
As of September 2019, Adventist Volunteer Services (AVS) has 1,962 volunteers in the field, an increase of 106 percent since the beginning of the quinquennium. They are serving on five continents, trained and sent from 31 universities and 52 schools of mission worldwide. In the North American Division in 2019, there were 362 mission trips with over 10,100 people directly supporting mission worldwide.
Kuhn suggested that within the next couple of years, at least one project per pastoral district be opened, in which young people can serve for a year or more.
The AVS volunteers are well-prepared, with college, masters and doctoral degrees. They are trained and willing to go, but few know of opportunities that exist worldwide, said Kuhn.
“An experience like this helps to deepen and ground their faith,” Kuhn said in closing. “The challenge of a service project develops leadership, changes priorities, and shapes character. Let’s help our young people save others, and in the process we will help them save themselves for the Kingdom of God.”
A Realistic Look at the Church
David Trim, director of the office of Archives, Statistics, and Research, started his presentation with a positive: “The numbers are not the point so much as the trend. And it’s heading in the right direction: we are growing.”
After appeals were made in the past for greater effort in membership review, global numbers are becoming more accurate but continue to be significantly overstated. However, accessions have begun to plateau, leveling off at around 1,400,000, and losses have increased alongside membership numbers, rising steadily over the last three years. Losses at year-end 2018 reached around 600,000.
“Church growth is an effective interplay of accessions and losses,” said Trim. “Sometimes we just want to look at the headline figure--the accessions--but the losses significantly undercut the gains.”
Accessions & Losses
In 1965 the church began to record not just total membership and baptisms but also losses. Since that time, 37.5 million people have become members of the Adventist Church. Of those, the number of those that are lost is at least 15 million, which maintains the church’s loss rate of 40 percent.
“We know that architecturally, culturally, and in regards to worship style, Adventist churches are all different,” Trim continued. “However, there are other differences of which we’re less aware, particularly that of resources available and the ways in which they are used. When we don’t understand those ideas, we can be impatient with other parts of the world.”
For example, the highest numbers of congregations per ordained pastor are in the Southern Africa-Indian Ocean Division (29.08), Southern Asia Division (24.27), the East-Central Africa Division (16.46), and the Inter-American Division (13.73). All other divisions have ratios under 11:1. Divisions with the highest number of members per pastor are Southern Africa-Indian Ocean Division (2,599), Southern Asia Division (1,612), East-Central Africa Division (1,429), and Inter-American Division (1,134). All others have ratios under 700:1.
“The point of this is not to say these pastors are doing well and those are doing badly,” Trim assured his listeners. “There are different situations at play here, and each church faces different challenges.”
For example, Trim continued, in some of these divisions, our churches are dealing with extremely post-modern, post-Christian populations. Others are contending with centuries-old, deeply entrenched, difficult-to-change religions such as Orthodoxy and Islam. Therefore, church growth is different and reflects the environment within which they operate.
Keeping the Balance
Trim also addressed the consistent increase in church administration numbers. While often “administrator” includes healthcare employees and teachers, who are not paid by tithe, for purposes of his presentation, Trim removed these categories.
The number of pastors in the church has increased by 85 percent since 1988. During that same time period, however, the number of administrators has increased by 300 percent.
“I don’t think anyone would disagree that we want to see the great preponderance of our funds put into the funding of missionaries, rather than administrators,” Trim said. “The number of accessions is plateauing and yet the number of administrators is growing. I’d ask that we evaluate the numbers and examine that balance. It might help us to see greater growth in the numbers of accessions.”
Trim ended with 1 Cor. 12:20-- “There are many parts; there is but one body.”
Fylvia Kline, manager of Vivid Faith, explained VividFaith, which helps users find various volunteer opportunities, inter-divisional employees openings, employment, remote work, freelance and contract positions, mission trips, community events, and local church projects.
“It’s a great way for you to partner not just with your church members to nurture their spiritual growth through service,” Kline said, “but a way to partner with your community outside of your church.”
VividFaith does not replace Adventist Volunteer Service or any other institution; they exist to partner with these organizations to provide a more effective, streamlined process to support and promote volunteerism.
“Selfless service--Christlikeness--is the very breath of Christian living,” Kline concluded. “It cannot be confined to one day a month or an annual mission trip; it must fuel our every day, every moment, every act, every thought, and every attitude. VividFaith can be a part of that.”