T. Ng, Executive Secretary of the global Seventh-day Adventist Church, began his remarks to the 2020 Annual Council delegates with an emphasis on the sure prophetic calling of the Adventist Church. There are 235 countries recognized by the United Nations. Of those 235 countries, 213 have been penetrated by the Seventh-day Adventist Church. “The Seventh-day Adventist Church is probably the most international denomination in the world. Why is it so global? Why do we have a global reach? How did it get to be so international?” Ng challenged listeners. He then reminded them of the prophecy in Revelation 10 where John the Revelator had an encounter with the angel and was told the remnant church would, in fact, be a global church:
“And he said unto me, thou must prophesy again before many peoples, and nations, and tongues, and kings.” -Revelation 10:11
During his report, Ng shared the most recent membership figures of the worldwide church. In 2018, there were 21.4 million members in the Seventh-day Adventist Church, an increase of 687,000 from the previous year, 2017.
In terms of accessions, which are baptisms and professions of faith, there was an increase of 30,000 accessions from the year 2017, which saw approximately 1.3 million accessions, to the year 2018 which had approximately 1.4 million accessions. The East-Central Africa Division leads in accessions, contributing to 27.49% of total baptisms and professions of faith in 2018. They were followed by the Southern Africa-Indian Ocean Division which contributed 19.23% and the South American Division contributed 15.82% of total accessions in 2018.
With a membership trend leaning to the global south, an Adventist Village of 100 would look like this: Africa - 41, Latin America-30, Asia-19, North America - 6, Oceanic Region - 3, and Europe - 1. After sharing these membership figures, Ng questioned, “how do we get along as a church; a church with such vast diversity?” He presented the example of the disciples of Jesus. The disciples were a “combustible mix” of personalities. They came from different walks of life, they had many differences and often competed amongst themselves, asking, “who shall be the greatest”? However, change came. They were transformed by the early rain and Pentecost. The Holy Spirit changed the hearts of the disciples. Their differences no longer mattered. “One interest prevailed. One object swallowed up all others. All hearts beat in harmony. The only ambition of the believers was to reveal the likeness of Christ's character, and to labor for the enlargement of His kingdom.” (Christ Object Lessons, page 121)
“We sing the song, brown, and yellow black and white all are precious in His sight. We are diverse in nationalities, language, and culture.” Ng emphasized that while, worldwide, our nationalities are different, our languages are different, our cultures are different, we must go together to finish the work that God has entrusted to us. Just as the early rain united the disciples for mission, “the coming rain will also unite [God’s] people for mission… Defeat is impossible, victory is inevitable. Praise God, heaven is at hand! I will go, you will go, all will go. We will go until Jesus comes.”
Challenges to the Mission
David Trim, Director of the General Conference Office of Archives, Statistics, and Research focused two major challenges to the church’s mission. First, Trim highlighted, as he has every year, that the church needs to reduce membership losses. Since 1965, 40.4 million people have become members of the Seventh-day Adventist Church. However, of this number, 16.2 million have chosen to leave, leaving the church with a 40.1% net loss rate in membership.
Secondly, Trim emphasized that while the church currently has more members, more congregations, and more pastors than it has ever had at any other time in history, there is a diminishing success in adding members. Over the past ten years, annual accessions (the total of baptisms and professions of faith) have plateaued. In the last fifteen years, the annual growth rate for congregations has consistently been around 3% per annum and is trending down. Finally, both average accessions per congregation and accessions per pastor have both slowly but steadily declined over the last twenty years. Trim suggested, however, a potential solution. “Holistic discipleship and disciple making will help us to resolve both problematic areas because that includes nurturing and retaining members and motivating them and equipping them to reach out to others to share with other people the prophetic truths that we hold dear, that point to Jesus Christ, and are epitomized in Revelation Chapter 14.”
Worldwide Mission Landscape
As part of the Secretary’s Report, Gary Krause, Director of the Office of Adventist Mission, presented on the current worldwide mission landscape of the Adventist Church.
There are currently 388 missionary families serving with the Interdivision Service Employees (ISE) ministry around the world today. ISE missionaries serve in various parts of the world, including North America, the Middle East and North African Union and the Israel Field, amongst others. ISE missionaries serve in different capacities including administration, the Adventist Development and Relief Agency, medical missionary and educational roles.
The Deferred Mission Appointees program, which focuses on encouraging dentists, doctors, and other professionals to make a commitment to serve upon graduation, currently has 74 people in the program.
The Office of Adventist Mission has two separate facets – Global Mission and Mission Awareness. The Global Mission facet focuses on church planting, putting Christ’s method in practice and serving unreached people. This part of the Office of Adventist Mission includes initiatives and ministries such as the Total Employment ministry, Global Mission Centers, Urban Centers of Influence, and Global Mission Pioneers. On the other hand, the Mission Awareness wing focuses on mission offerings – the “life flowing river”, as Krause put it. This wing focuses on garnering support for missions through various publications, using internet, TV, and digital technologies including Mission 360, mission quarterlies, social media and mission stories placed in the adult Sabbath School quarterlies.
Church planting is at the center of the Global Mission initiatives per the Global Strategy Document. Excitedly, Krause reported that, while in 2018 a new church was opened every 4.09 hours, in 2019 that figure increased to a new church being opened every 3.62 hours. There are currently church planting projects in 95 countries. From 2015-2019, the Global Missions Project received $74 million in funding from several entities of the church at every level of the church.
Adventist Volunteer Services and VividFaith
Elbert Kuhn, Associate Secretary of the global Seventh-day Adventist Church, reminded attendees of the 2020 Annual Council that “mission is at the center of everything we do.” He kindly urged that the church needs volunteers who say “I will go” to challenging places and face the challenge to reach others with the love of Jesus. The Adventist Volunteer Services website exists to connect seekers of a missionary project to meet current missionary needs.
In spite of the Covid-19 pandemic, the Adventist Volunteer Services began working together with VividFaith to enter a beta-testing period to run parallel to each other until VividFaith launches for the general public. VividFaith provides tools and expertise to help structure and wisely implement project opportunities. VividFaith assesses opportunities and strategies of prospective mission projects all around the world and provides tools that advertise and process different types of personnel needs—from volunteer positions to employment openings and more.
Fylvia Fowler Kline, manager of Vivid Faith, affirmed the fact that there are usually several obstacles to overcome in order to discuss the creation and sustainability of missionary projects, such as in-person meetings requiring travel expenses and other challenges. However, Covid-19 not only removed those obstacles but “forced us to explore creative ways to share our faith, mobilize people and maximize our resources.”