Secretary: Now 16.6 Million Members,
But Challenging Regions Loom Large
What membership audits reveal about high growth areas; is mission appeal 2008 déjà vu?
BY ANSEL OLIVER/Adventist News Network
More than 2,900 people join the Seventh-day Adventist Church every day, according to just-released church statistics, which show the denomination now has 16.6 million adult baptized members and a growth rate slightly higher than last year.
Much of that growth came from Latin America and Southern and Eastern Africa, church leaders said October 10, 2010, during the secretary’s report to Annual Council, a meeting of the denomination’s roughly 300-member Executive Committee.
The General Conference Secretary’s report is a part of each annual gathering of the Executive Committee, and gives an extensive overview of the church’s operations, including mission. It was the first such address for G. T. Ng as the Adventist Church’s secretary, the second highest officer in the denomination. The report is not made public due to the sensitivity of work in certain regions.
New analyses included a “sobering” look at a shift from a “proactive to a reactive approach” in missionary allocation. Ng, a former associate secretary overseeing mission recruitment in much of Asia, said more missionaries are now serving in established institutions instead of “frontline mission” work. In 2008, the church sent out 755 full-time missionaries, about 56 percent of whom served institutions. That figure is up from 45 percent ten years ago, Ng said.
The church spends $21 to $24 million a year on full-time missionaries recruited and processed through church headquarters administration.
“If we spend a lot of our [missionary] budgets on institutions, then we are sacrificing our need in the 10/40 Window,” Ng said, referring to a world region from West Africa to East Asia where Christianity has little presence.
Denominational membership in many world regions is strong and growing, said Bert Haloviak, director of the church’s Office of Archives and Statistics.
As of June 30, there were 16,641,357 Adventists worldwide, Haloviak said. That’s about one Adventist per 414 people on the planet, an improvement from the ratio of one to 404 at last year’s Annual Council, he said.
Haloviak told delegates that Africa has the most members of any continent, and South America’s church membership is growing the fastest. Of total membership, Africa has 37 percent; Latin America 33 percent; Asia 19 percent; North America 7 percent; and Europe/Oceania have 4 percent.
This is also the seventh consecutive year the church witnessed a net gain of more than 1 million members. Haloviak said 1,062,655 people joined the church between July 1, 2009 and June 30 of this year.
More than 40 percent of those new members live in South America and Southern Africa, 18 percent in Inter-America, and nearly 16 percent in East-Central Africa. The remaining 21 percent live in other world regions. Europe accounted for less than 2 percent of new membership.
Haloviak also reported on the continued membership audits in South America, as he has in previous years. (The Seventh-day Adventist Church periodically conducts membership audits in world regions to reconcile reported numbers of members and adherents between local fields and regional offices.)Even with recent audit measures in South America and the Southern Asia-Pacific region, records reveal that both are among the fastest-growing areas of the denomination.
The church in South America has conducted membership audits for each of the past three years. Membership still increased there by about 218,000 last year.
In Southern-Asia Pacific, net growth rates have consistently stayed above 6.5 percent for the past three years. The region also has experienced smaller membership losses than any other world region.
SECRETARY REPORTS: Adventist Church Secretary G.T. Ng presents his first report to Annual Council, Sunday, October 10, 2010, at the church's headquarters in Silver Spring, Maryland. [photo: Ansel Oliver]
“Church membership auditing is beginning to be less of a factor in influencing the statistical state of our church,” Haloviak said. “Hopefully this indicates that since most divisions have conducted membership audits the church will assume its more normal, relatively high growth rate.”
Much of Ng’s report appealed for an increase in mission, especially in less saturated areas. Too often, he says, mission is focused on areas where the church is already strong – a “lopsided mission,” he called it in a 2009 ANN interview.
“We tend to go places where the job is easy,” he said. “But when we look at the darkness in the 10/40 [Window] countries … we have to take note and plan accordingly,” he told delegates.
Ng called for “commitment and intentionality” to expand the denomination’s missiological footprint in the 10/40 Window. “God is anxious to finish his work. He’s just waiting for us.”
Ng’s reportwas well received -- Trans-European Division President Bertil Wiklander said it was the most “relevant” report on mission strategy he had heard in 15 years –and accepted by the delegates.
Annual Council runs through the afternoon of October 13, 2010. Among other agenda items, delegates are expected to consider a plan to centralize coordination for the church's missionary programs, and elect leaders and associates in several services and ministries based in Silver Spring..