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General Conference

Strategic Plan Encourages Member Growth and Retention

We have a responsibility to protect and nurture youth and new believers.

Silver Spring, Maryland, United States | Beth Thomas for ANN

Throughout scripture, Jesus identifies Himself as a faithful shepherd. He also calls His disciples to accept their role as shepherds under His direction, caring for and protecting the flock of believers. It is in this context that Jesus makes a very serious appeal to His followers to seek sheep that have strayed from the fold. 

 “What do you think?” Jesus said. “If a man has a hundred sheep, and one of them goes astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine and go to the mountains to seek the one that is straying?”

Using a common-sense illustration, Jesus demonstrates that a shepherd will not be content with a flock of ninety-nine when one is missing. Of course, the shepherd is primarily concerned with his own economic success. Jesus, however, is addressing the success of His church in their obligation to seek and reclaim those who strayed from the safety of the flock, and to work actively to minimize the loss of people for whom Christ died.

Objective 6 of the Church’s strategic plan is to “increase accession, retention, reclamation, and participation of children, youth, and young adults.” The purpose of this objective is not only to encourage growth, but to keep those won to the faith within the fold as faithful under-shepherds of Christ. 

Of course, there are times when those who once walked with Christ stray away from Him and His church. Even Christ Himself faced this during His earthly ministry (John 6:66). However, we should actively work to minimize this by cultivating a spiritual community that fosters spiritual growth, being aware of and attending to each other’s needs, and keeping the embers of truth and Christian fellowship alive.

One of the primary concerns with Objective 6 is increased involvement. Key progress indicators (KPI’s) include a wide variety of member involvement, both in the local church as well as community outreach ministry. Within church walls, that should include mentoring and nurturing new members and young people through active discipleship programs, designed to help people grow into mature members of Christ’s body. 

Inside the home, this looks like family members regularly participating together in worship that places Christ-centered faith and service at the center of the family circle. And for all of those who desire to follow Jesus, it includes an understanding of our personal obligation to Christ through whole-person stewardship—our time, spiritual gifts, tithes, and offerings. (KPI’s 6.1, 6.3, 6.4, 6.5)

Churches and denominational institutions who desire to win, retain, and reclaim members will also be aware of the needs within the church and its surrounding community. Churches should actively foster community within the church, as well as preventing threats to spiritual unity. 

Church leaders on all levels must seek and promote Christ-centered approaches to conflict resolution that reconcile individuals to each other and to Him. All churches and denominational institutions should make a commitment to zero tolerance toward physical, emotional, and sexual abuse, and make protection of the vulnerable a priority. This practical aspect of unity and community in the church should never be minimized or overlooked. (KPI 6.2)

A critical aspect of meeting human needs in our globalized world includes awareness of and respect for people of different cultural backgrounds. Churches with multi-ethnic memberships should be aware of their need to communicate patiently, kindly and sensitively with each other, and not make assumptions or jump to conclusions prematurely. 

Willingness to understand and appreciate a brother or sister’s perspective shows respect for all members of Christ’s family. Intercultural awareness should also create sensitivity to overlooked people of different cultural backgrounds in a church or institution’s territory. This includes the willingness and ability to minister to those with special needs, such as refugee communities that need assistance after fleeing unstable or war-torn areas. Doing so directly addresses Christ’s challenge to acknowledge and care for “the least of his brothers (Matt. 25:40, NKJV)” as well as Ellen White’s challenge to labor in fields “that have never been worked” (Christian Service, p. 199). (KPI’s 6.6, 6.7)

Finally, administrative KPI 6.8 specifically applies to institutions who have the capability to monitor trends of accession and loss across whole territories, particularly as it relates to young adults, youth, and children who grow up in the church. This KPI desires to reverse the drift of losing our young people, by implementing data-driven ministry solutions. Not all parts of the World Church are the same, so it is important to know where we are falling short and how we can better serve, empower, and engage our young people so we can help them build the foundation for a fulfilling life of service.

Jesus emphasized His ministry to the lost sheep of the house of Israel (Matt. 15:24). Before His ascension, He especially committed to Peter the ministry of caring for His sheep (John 21:15-17). It is not enough to be comfortable in the sheep-pen while discouraged disciples and vulnerable lambs are tempted to stray away from the warmth of the fold into spiritual danger. Worse yet is the reality that some have felt pushed away and do not sense the welcome to return. In these challenging times, Objective 6 of the Church’s strategic plan challenges us with the words Peter heard from Christ and transmitted to the church: 

“Shepherd the flock of God which is among you, serving as overseers, not by compulsion but willingly, not for dishonest gain but eagerly; nor as being lords over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock; and when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that does not fade away” (1 Pet. 5:2-4, NKJV).