On the sixth and final day of General Conference (GC) Annual Council 2023, the mission in secular and post-Christian areas was highlighted, and a crucial update on online churches and digital ministry guidelines was presented to Executive Committee members.
Center for Secular and Postmodern Studies Director Talks Missional Challenges and Overcoming Them
Kleber Gonçalves, director of the Center for Secular and Postmodern Studies at the GC, reported on the center’s latest activities in advancing the mission of the Seventh-day Adventist Church through. In it, he highlighted several projects that have flourished in areas where the population has not responded well to traditional mission styles.
Why it matters: The Center for Secular and Postmodern Studies is on the frontlines of Mission Refocus and necessary to reach people groups otherwise unreachable. “The challenge is this: they look like us, but they don’t think like us, and they don’t behave like us,” Gonçalves said.
Driving the news: Gonçalves told Executive Committee members the center’s most significant challenges are relativism, personal choices, and institutional distrust.
- The center utilizes unique opportunities to reach people, such as responding to health concerns and providing healthcare, intentionally focusing on family and community, emphasizing the Sabbath message, and utilizing the “Third Place” concept.
Yes, but: “We can try different methods and different approaches to share the same message,” Gonçalves said. “But there’s no gospel, no way that can be meaningfully relevant to people who think and see the world in a different way.”
What people are saying: “We have a wonderful message—a message of hope—to share,” Gonçalves said, concluding his report. “But to find balance in sharing a message that brings hope toward the future and also hope for today is important as we intentionally move forward in reaching the secular world around us.”
Go deeper: Watch the recording of the October 11 morning business session and listen to the full report here.
Exclusively Online Churches “Not Possible within Adventist Theology,” Committee Says
A special committee, formed in consultation with the worldwide divisions of the Church to process the challenges of digital ministry and create guidelines for Adventist churches exclusively online, stated in an update that online churches are incompatible with Adventist theology and that in-person gatherings were to be especially emphasized. However, leaders admitted that they don’t know enough yet to make a decision.
Why it matters: When churches had to temporarily move ministry onto digital spaces during the COVID-19 shutdowns, new technology provided challenges and opportunities. The committee seeks to balance the opportunities with the challenges as Mission Refocus is implemented across the world church.
Driving the news: “Building and maintaining the sense of fellowship can be very difficult online,” said Ramon Canals, the GC Ministerial Association secretary.
- Canals also mentioned challenges that could arise in an online church environment, such as pastoral care, baptism, leadership roles, and engagement.
- The world is not the same as it was ten years ago, Samuel Neves, GC Communication associate director and committee member, said. “What is the impact of digital technology to our mission and our organization, structure, and local churches?” he asked.
- “After careful academic research as well as conversations with dozens of people from almost every division, we cannot find room for online churches that meet exclusively online,” Neves said. “People need to meet face-to-face. If there are hopes of having churches that meet exclusively online, we cannot find that to be possible within our theology.”
- Neves continued, saying that Adventist theology “demands an embodied congregation that gathers face-to-face, even in small groups.”
Yes, but: The committee observed the hybrid model (simultaneous in-person and online attendance) and documented its challenges, such as remote membership. Ultimately, the committee decided they didn’t know enough about the issue yet. They will continue to have conversations with theologians, administrators, pastors, and church leaders as they seek to make guidelines. Only one thing, Neves said, would honestly inform the committee: the Bible.
What people are saying: “I wonder what the apostles Paul, Peter, and John would have thought if they could see the possibilities of digital communication to finish the work that they started 2,000 years ago,” Neves said. “At the same time, what would they say to the risks that are posed by that same technology?”
Go deeper: Watch the recording of the October 11 morning business session and listen to the full update here.