Behavior changes under stress and will often shift to operate in a more comfortable mode. Just over a year ago, the church in the South Pacific Division (SPD) entered a high-stress period with uncertainty about what lay ahead.
My training is to stress-test business plans and measure results, so how have we gone? In 2020, baptisms were the highest ever for the SPD at 57,704—up 25% from 2019. This goes against a global trend of lower baptisms during COVID-19.
Despite economic anxiety, tithe in Australia increased by 6% and across the SPD by 2% in 2020—the largest increase of any division.
Giving to world missions (including Sabbath School) decreased by around 20% SPD-wide. Travel bans, border closures, and bad news from around the world have seen people spend more on caring for themselves. Spending on home renovations and appliances is at record levels. Is that influencing members giving to the world mission? With fewer offerings given for the world mission, there have been fewer resources available for the church to respond to new opportunities created by COVID.
Our institutions and services have experienced stress but been able to maintain what they do and, in some cases, do better.
Bible prophecy tells us there is greater stress ahead. What have we learned about ourselves under stress?
Despite some members waiting for the church to fail, we have seen that God will not let His church fail. We’ve learned more about discipleship and when and where to implement new strategies that bear fruit. The membership in SPD has remained faithful with tithe when tested. It is a concern that, under stress, we have seen how quickly financial support for taking the gospel to all the world has been reduced.
Like gold tried in the fire, the church in the SPD has been tested, and I am delighted to see it has not failed. I praise God for sustaining His church. Although we are under stress, my prayer is that we don’t forget we are part of a global movement and maintain our worldwide focus. “The refining pot is for silver and the furnace for gold, But the LORD tests the hearts” (Proverbs 17:3, NKJV).