Bediako Reports on Church Growth & High Loss of Members
eneral Conference Secretary Matthew Bediako reported church membership at the end of 2004 to be 13,661,015, and from July 1, 2004, to June 30, 2005, 1,094,138 people were baptized into the Adventist Church, an increase of 90,127 over the same period in 2003/2004. Also reported was a membership loss in the last year of nearly 500,000, largely due to division membership audits.
The Inter-American Division had the highest number of members (2,608,122), followed by the South American (2,492,178) and East-Central Africa (2,120,609) divisions. The North American and Southern Asia divisions passed one million in membership during this review period.
Bediako also informed delegates of the progressive work of Adventist World Radio (AWR). In September 2004, he reported, AWR operations were reorganized and merged with the Adventist Media Center in Brazil. In early 2005, a four-year modernization project at AWR's shortwave station on the island of Guam was completed. Funds have been donated to purchase 500 AM/FM/SW radios for listeners in remote areas of the Philippines, Madagascar, and Cambodia, as well as for the nomadic Masai people in Africa. In Ethiopia, an entire congregation of Baptists joined the Adventist Church as a result of AWR's shortwave broadcasts. And despite the chaotic political system and the lack of a postal system in Sudan, more than 4,000 students have enrolled in the local Bible school in neighboring Uganda since broadcasts began in 2004.
The extensive work of Adventist Development and Relief Agency (ADRA), which "partners with communities, organizations, and governments to improve the quality of life for millions of less fortunate people around the world," was also shared. According to Bediako's report, in 2004 ADRA helped nearly 24 million beneficiaries worldwide, including those affected by the civil conflict in Sudan's Darfur region, people living in war-ravaged Liberia, survivors of the Asia tsunami, and those devastated by hurricanes Katrina and Rita along the Gulf Coast of the United States.
Delegates Vote to Study Membership Retention
"You have 35 to 40 percent of the number baptized who are leaving the church," said President Paulsen, beginning the Sunday afternoon session by exploring the reasons why the church has lost so many members during the past several years. "Why is this happening? What is causing it? Is there something we should do differently?
"Is that the picture," he added, "and if it is, do we have to live with that? What is it that we can and should do differently? . . . This is very troubling . . . and a very, very important factor in the life of the church."
Delegates from several divisions suggested solutions to curbing the high membership loss, including emphasizing small-group initiatives; concentrating more on personal rather than public evangelism; budgeting more funds for nurturing new members, especially youth; and allowing young adults to play a more significant role in the church. An action was voted that "in view of the expressed concerns over membership retention, this Council recommends that divisions request their respective unions and conferences/missions to conduct a parallel study of membership growth and retention, with guidelines provided by the General Conference Secretariat, and report its findings to their division, with measures to be taken to strengthen the retention of members." The motion went on to read, "Divisions shall submit a cumulative report to the General Conference Executive Committee, which in turn shall create a study commission on ways and means to address the matter of member retention."
An amendment voted at the session set Annual Council 2007 as the date when this study should be completed and presented to the delegates.
"Tell the World" Initiative
The Annual Council business session began Sunday morning, October 9, on a spiritual note with GC vice president Mark Finley presenting the church's vision for evangelism 2005-2010 called "Tell the World." Finley described the initiative as a vision for how the gospel of Jesus will be shared by the Adventist Church in the next quinquennium, saying it is "more than a program" and "more than a slogan"; it is "an individual and corporate commitment to live out the key values of quality of life, unity, and growth in God's family."
Finley, along with GC Office of Mission Awareness communication director Gary Krause, Ministerial secretary James Cress, and others, also identified seven key areas, or goals, on which the church should focus: (1) spiritual growth, (2) community involvement (increasing the percentage of church members involved in community service from 29 to at least 40 percent), (3) personal witness (challenging 5 million Adventists to reach at least one person for Jesus by 2010), (4) city outreach, (5) church planting, (6) evangelistic programming, and (7) media ministry.
Also emphasized was the importance of divisions, unions, and conferences/missions taking "ownership" of this program, with the GC providing visioning and resource support. "Tell the World" will be included on the agenda at each Annual Council throughout the next five years.
Many delegates spoke to the importance of "Tell the World," expressing strong support for the program.
More Young Adults, Women, Comprise Executive Committee
Nearly one-third of this quinquennium's Executive Committee members are new to the position, changing its makeup to include more women and young adults. On Sunday morning, October 9, six young adults under the age of 30 were voted as members of the committee. Total membership is 288.
Special Series on Discipleship
Beginning the third week in October and running through the third week in December 2005, the Adventist Review will produce a special three-part series on discipleship-Loving Service, Prayerful Living, and Studying the Word. This series is available to purchase for US$5.00 per package (plus US$3.00 shipping to US addresses, and US$7 for international addresses), or you can receive the series free when you subscribe to the weekly Adventist Review between now and December 31, 2005.
Call 1-800-456-3991 and mention the discipleship series.