Adventist Media Response and Conversation

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Here is a report from the Adventist Review 2007 Spring Meeting concerning losses in Adventist members:
Closing the Back Door
Executive Committee members on Tuesday of the session voted to adopt an appeal from the GC Council on Evangelism and Witness to church leaders and members to curb membership loss.

Presented by GC vice presidents Lowell C. Cooper and Mark A. Finley, the Council’s two-and-a-half-page statement indicated that although more than 5 million people were baptized into the Adventist Church from 2000 to 2005, nearly 1.4 million members walked out the back door and left the church.

During the last quinquennium some divisions began a review of active membership, Cooper said, resulting in higher-than-usual membership loss ratios.

“Current indications are that annual membership losses, for reasons other than death, equal approximately 28 percent of membership accessions,” and this “is not limited to new members,” the statement read.

The document cited research suggesting social and relational factors play a much larger role in a person’s dissatisfaction with the church rather than disagreement with church doctrine.

“The reasons more frequently cited by persons who leave local church fellowship are found in the realm of relationships, the absence of a sense of belonging, and the lack of meaningful engagement in the local congregation and its mission,” it read. “Therefore, the loss of members for these reasons should be preventable.”

The statement suggests that new members will most likely remain in the church if they are able to articulate their beliefs, form friendships within the congregation, and engage in ministry—in other words, “know a sense of belonging and identity.” To accomplish this, local church boards should, among other things, review membership care strategies, study membership accession and loss patterns, repeat Bible instruction, develop friendships and small groups with new members, and encourage new members to become involved in church outreach and other activities.

Executive Committee members who spoke to this issue were unanimous in their support of the appeal; however, some questioned how greater attention for member retention can be made part of the culture at the local church level. Suggestions by some participants included establishing an accountability process for local leaders, board members aggressively focusing on designing a discipling-oriented church, and cultivating a spirit of true love and concern for others.

“We have to have in our heart a love for people,” Paulsen said. “More than anything else . . . this will help us to retain our members.”

What I find interesting is how every time the Adventist leadership discusses membership losses they are so certain to say that it is not from doctrinal differences. I still have never seen any studies that support that view though I have heard it often. Personally I don't believe it.

The issues of acceptance within the church is often very much based upon conforming to the traditional views of Adventism. A recent example can be seen in my previous article When Worlds Collide...Is It All or Nothing. For a church member to tell another (in this case maybe a visitor or new attendee) that he must believe in 6 literal days of Creation or he can't believe in Jesus is a huge example of doctrine and interpersonal relationships meeting. On SDA forums I have frequently come across people who will say of someone who has a different view then that of the Traditional Adventist that the other person is acting as an agent of Satan. Fortunately in the real brick and mortar SDA church such comments are not as likely to occur but I do think that the attitudes is commonly there. With that attitude. it is highly unlikely that good relationships will be created let alone maintained.

The Spring Meeting attendees recommended "
develop friendships and small groups with new members". They should have said with everyone rather then just new members but their assumption is that if you have been a member for a while you won't leave through the back door, a wrong assumption. The concept of small groups is actually critical to success and sorely overlooked in the Adventist church...well most Christian churches for that matter. However for small groups to ever really be successful the people involved need to be taught how to respect other views even those views which diverge from accepted Adventist norms. The corollary of that is that people need to be taught how to think critically so that they can analyze information and make informed observations about others beliefs as well as their own beliefs. And finally to be comfortable with the unknown. Because sometimes the answer we may want is not there to be found and at times we need to say we don't know and may never know in this life. This is rather hard for a church whose tradition has been that they have the truth.


Johnny said...

Good post! It is interesting that your example of doctrine, one member telling another that belief in a six day literal creation, could also be said to be about relationships.

Even doctrine as a reason for leaving is about the ability of the community to tolerate diversity.

Rick Rice in his book believing, behaving, belonging does a great job of presenting why belonging is more important, more fundamental than the others.

The GC report seems to confirm his view and I would agree with them that relationships and personalities within the local church define an individual parishioners relationship with the denomination far more than mere doctrine.


Anonymous said...

I too find it disconcerting that the Church fails to recognize that there are indeed a number of Adventists who leave the church because of doctrinal reasons. I suppose I am an oddity in view of this report, but I LOVED my Adventist Church and the relationships that I had in the Church. I cannot say that I was ever treated poorly or without love. I left the church purely over doctrinal issues, which from my view, was harder. I was torn between following the truth as I understand it, or leaving my Adventist family.