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Proposals for Structural Change


In recent years a number of proposals for restructuring the Adventist Church and its institutions have been studied. Without endorsing any of them, here is a quick summary of ideas under discussion to meet the needs described in this article.

Centralized services—Using today’s technology, there are many functions that the Adventist Church duplicates in hundreds of offices which could easily be centralized at much less cost. No autonomy or control would be lost as is demonstrated by "outsourcing" in the business world, which does not deprive client companies of control of their operations.

Payroll, accounting, insurance, legal services and many other procedures now duplicated in each of 67 local conference and union conference offices across North America could be handled more efficiently in regional or even national service centers. Salaries would be freed up to increase the number of pastors, evangelists and youth workers at local levels.

One example of this is in the Pacific Union Conference where the processing of trust services paperwork, accounting and management has been centralized for several conferences. The local conferences continue to control the use of maturities and the field representatives who actually visit their members.

Bi-vocational pastors—As denominational funds decline, the number of churches each pastor must cover increases. Most congregations in North America feel that having a pastor of their own will increase their opportunities to effectively reach out into their community and grow. Small congregations may be better served by a part-time pastor who lives in the community, instead of one they share with one, two, or three other churches. Sabbath schedule is not a problem.

A modest stipend from the conference together with income from a business or profession, can support a family and allow a bi-vocational pastor to concentrate on one congregation and one community. Many people across North America feel a call to plant new congregations to reach unentered communities and do not need any remuneration. Because of their investments or business interests, they have a significant amount of time to volunteer in a leadership role.

Examples of this approach can be found in scores of locations across North America. The Potomac Conference currently has 19 bi-vocational pastors. The Southern Union Conference provides a regular training program directed by evangelist Ron Halverson.

Resource Centers—New technology makes it much less expensive to deliver information from one central point, instead of using old-fashioned "trickle-down" systems where documents are mailed from one office to another and large numbers of photocopies and postage paid for. Instead of the costly duplication of staffing 58 local conferences with specialists in dozens of specialized ministries, a resource center can connect any local leader with a front-line peer with the particular answers they need. A toll-free 800 number, a web site, and other new information technologies make it easier to access information at one point than to filter it through a vast bureaucracy.

An example of this: In 1994 the North American Division voted to establish a permanent Reclaiming Ministry in response to widespread demand from the field at the close of the 1993 "Year of Reclaiming." But, it did not create a Reclaiming Ministries department and ask for the nine union conferences and 58 local conferences to hire 67 new staff. Instead, it contracted with the Center for Creative Ministry to provide this service. Any local leader can get immediate assistance by dialing (800) 272-4664 or using the Internet to go to www.creativeministry.org on the web. Answers to questions, information, materials, names of former members, trainers, and consultants are available.

Networking Ministries—There are many new areas of ministry opening up to the church and demanding attention. These represent unreached people groups, and each requires a new approach. Costly and cumbersome bureaucracies cannot move into these new opportunities quickly enough, but networking the frontier workers (denominational employees and lay volunteers) encourages rapid, relatively inexpensive response.

An example of this approach is the Adventist Prison Ministries Association (APMA). It was formed a few years ago at a time when the prison and jail population in North America was mushrooming to more than a million men and women. The denomination provided a small subsidy, and directors of prison ministries began to meet once a year, conduct training events, publish a newsletter, and assist local churches near prisons get new ministries started. Adventists ministering in prisons and baptisms among prisoners have increased several fold in a few years.

Another example is the way church planting has increased dramatically over the past three years with the SEEDS networking events sponsored by the NAD Evangelism Institute.

Hour-glass departmental structure—In order to reduce costly and unnecessary duplication, the NAD voted in 1995 to ask its union and local conferences to re-structure departmental staffing in an "hour glass" fashion. This means instead of all departments being staffed at all 4 levels of denominational offices, departments would exist at only two levels.

Conferences, colleges, and or schools, 
could  work together and share costs. 

Those entities of a more administrative nature would exist at only the General Conference and union conference levels—trust services, communication, public affairs, education and ADRA. Those departments that represent local ministries would exist only at the division and local conference levels are Sabbath School and personal ministries, youth ministries, children’s ministries, health ministries and the Ministerial Association.

Implementation has been slow, but where this new structure has been implemented there have been savings. Nothing has been lost through these staff reductions, as would result of entire departments were merged or closed down at all levels.

Metropolitan area collaboration—Many of the largest metropolitan areas in North America have local churches affiliated with two, three or more local conferences. When media and advertising is used for evangelism, it "bleeds" across the "turf" of several congregations. There are many unreached neighborhoods with no Adventist outreach. Members drive past several churches to commute to the one they belong to. In many congregations almost none of the members live in the community where the church building is located. The splintering of resources makes it difficult to get secular campus outreach, singles ministry and visible, humanitarian work, such as Inner City programs, going.

An excellent example of this approach is Good Neighbor House in Dayton, Ohio. All of the Adventist churches in the metro area collaborate through this agency located downtown to accomplish health outreach, ministry with the homeless and unemployed, disaster relief and other goals established cooperatively. Good Neighbor House staff speaks to the metro-wide media on behalf of the Adventist Church and increases overall visibility which benefits the evangelism of each local church. It can provide training and resources for volunteers who want to start local ministries.

Direct delivery of training—When the NAD introduced a new curriculum for Vacation Bible School in recent years, it could have spent large sums of money training trainers to go to each conference and every local church to train the volunteers to use the new materials. Instead, the Adventist Communication Network provided a live, satellite link so that the NAD children’s ministries director could teach the seminar at once for every church across the continent. ACN’s menu of two training events a month has made it possible to reduce departmental staffing at all levels of the denomination, while at the same time delivery information and new skills to the field much more rapidly.

Supplementary courses are also being provided to small church schools in a test project. This has the potential of reducing the cost of Christian education while making it available to children in more communities.

Corporations are already training their employees over the World Wide Web. As the Adventist Church learns to use this new technology, training can be delivered in an even more flexible and less costly way.

Ministry teams—Many of the opportunities and frontiers of mission facing the Adventist Church are ignored because of lack of resources to open up new work. Yet, in North America and the Western world, the church is rich in members with education, experience and ability. A ministry team is a vehicle that allows three to eight professionals to donate some of their time to the leadership of a new ministry, with the help of a part-time contractor or student intern to provide some of the "leg work." Teams are a common organizational tool used in industry today to pool available human resources to pursue a new opportunity without the expense of hiring new staff and setting up a new bureaucracy. Can the church use the same tool to both involve laity in a more significant way and reduce the cost of starting new ministries when opportunities beckon?

Institutional alliances—In the past much energy was put into "consolidation" proposals for schools, conferences and even union conferences. These usually created a lot of negative feelings, often irrational. Evidence over more than a decade also demonstrates that consolidation does not save money in the long run because it reduces church growth significantly.

A new approach is to encourage conferences, colleges or schools to work together, share costs and achieve some of the efficiencies of scale. For example, three conferences in the North Pacific Union have shared the cost of one church-planter. Adventist hospitals have formed alliances with Adventist colleges. Two unions share one coordinator/evangelist for Native Ministries. As far back as 1967, the GC recommended that the two or three conferences in a large city to go together in funding an Inner City program director for the metro area.

Home Study International, an agency of the GC, provides an alliance called APLE that enables any church school to offer Grade 9. The conference boarding academy can enter an alliance with a local church school to add grades 10, 11 and 12 so students in the area can still live at home. Adventist colleges are forming alliances with Andrews University to offer majors on their campus that would otherwise be financially prohibitive.

Multi-congregation facilities—In the large cities the cost of real estate is very high. At the same time the diverse, multicultural demographics demand that many congregations be planted in order to reach everyone. If several Adventist local churches share the same physical plant, the cost can be greatly reduced. Some services—such as a receptionist/secretary or janitor—can easily be shared among several small congregations which could not afford the "threshold" of cost for quality services.

Video conferencing—Experiments are underway to replace costly meetings and travel with video conferences where everyone can be seen and heard, full interaction is possible. If all nine union conferences install video conferencing equipment, it is estimated that the division and the unions could reduce travel expenses by $250,000 a year immediately. Hart Resource Center is working with two conferences in California to test video conferencing as a way to deliver training and reduce the costs of lay leaders driving in for weekend events. ACN now provides an electronic camp meeting each year, and can "patch in" local segments which makes it possible for local conferences that wish to do so to save an average of $50,000 a year.

Church Structure in 2025