3 Steps Toward a New Adventism

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I love Adventism.

I love our theological narrative complete with our passion for Daniel and Revelation. I love the health message. I love the writings of Ellen White. I love the history of our church and its legacy. I love our sanctuary hermeneutic, our global structure and haystacks. And most of all, I love the way authentic Adventism lifts Jesus up. There’s just nothing like it.

Because I love Adventism I have a passion to see it thrive, not for its own sake, but for the sake of the one who raised it up out of the ashes of disappointment and into the global movement it is today. Jesus is the reason for Adventism. Our church exists to communicate the heart of God to the whole world. I consider it an honour to have been raised in this church and to be one of its leaders today. I want to see it blossom, flourish and grow.

It is because of this passion for the Adventist movement, that I am overwhelmed with emotion when I attend an Adventist church that is youth-less, lifeless, stuck in a bygone era and filled with people who either don’t seem to care or obstinately believe they are doing God a favour. But the thing that hurts the most is that this kind of church represents the majority of SDA churches I have been to in the various areas I have lived throughout my life (including two different countries, the US and Australia).

Research shows us that “our churches are growing older,” and “[m]any young people are leaving the Church once they reach independence.”[1] The primary reasons why people leave our church continue to be “hypocrisy, conflict and lack of friends (especially while going through life trauma such as marital problems")”[2] A 2013 retention summit “revealed the denomination has lost one in three members over the last 50 years. Additionally, for every 100 people the Adventist church gains, it loses 43 previous members…”[3] with one of the main contributions from the church being, “not helping people through their tough life experiences.”[4]

As a pastor who dialogues with other pastors and mission minded members, the conversations always revolve around three main points. First, why are Adventists so dead? Second, why do 80% of the members do nothing while the same 20% do everything? And third, "how can we keep our youth and reach the culture, when our churches are in such a bad state?”

No one really has the answers to these questions, but we must continue to agitate the conversation because the truth is, there is nothing like Adventism. The story that we tell is both unique to us and needed by the culture. We cannot rest while our churches continue the same unhealthy behaviours year after year. We must raise our voices and inspire the birth of a new Adventism. Here are three steps I believe can lead us there.

  1. Rediscover the relevance and uniqueness of our story. Part of the reason why our church members are so dead is because few of them realise how relevant and scarce our message is. There is a story we have been called to tell that no one else is telling. Do you know what that story is? If you and your church don’t have the answer to that question, nothing else will make any difference. I actually wrote a whole book about that very thing. You can read it with your church. Click here for more info.

  2. Reorient the focus of the church. Many churches are maintenance minded instead of mission minded. This means that most of their energy goes toward keeping the machine oiled instead of innovating new ideas and adventures. In order to change our trend and bring about a new Adventism, the focus of the church has to change from “keep the engine running” to “hit the race track!”

  3. Redesign relationships. When it comes to surveys, the one thing Adventists consistently score lowest in is “loving relationships”.[5] This is reflected in the data I quoted above. We don’t lose members because we don’t have cool churches with state-of-the-art resources and a hipster pastor. We lose members because we lack relationships. The way to foster relationships in your church is to create spaces where people can build memories together. A church mission trip. A church camp. A church service project in the community. Church picnics, fundraisers and holistic small groups - all of these activities are out of the ordinary and help foster memories that in turn raise the level of intimacy among your members.

Perhaps few have captured our current state and future potential as well as Danny Bell in his article, “North American Adventist Church Growth: The Untold Story”, when he wrote:

The reality is that the Church in western society has become insular, self-centred, and unconcerned about a suffering, dying world. We prefer to stand at church doors and call out to the public rather than go out and get involved in the dirty business of befriending the scum of the earth. The fortress mentality is alive and well in our churches and until we realise that it’s not all about “going home to heaven” and “wishing Jesus would come,” the sooner we can properly engage in the Master’s business.[6]

The challenges we face as a global church are big, especially in the western context. But the solutions are not as complex as many imagine. Passion for our story, mission-mindedness in our church structure and relational intentionality in our church life are simple things, but with them we can usher in a new Adventism capable of connecting with and ministering effectively to the culture.

[1] https://record.adventistchurch.com/2018/06/08/growing-young-how-to-save-our-church/

[2] https://www.adventistarchives.org/why-did-they-leave.pdf

[3] https://www.christianitytoday.com/news/2013/december/seventh-day-adventists-assess-why-1-in-3-members-leave-sda.html

[4] https://news.adventist.org/en/all-news/news/go/2013-11-19/at-first-retention-summit-leaders-look-at-reality-of-church-exodus/

[5] This statement is in reference to the Natural Church Development Survey

[6] http://atoday.org/north-american-adventist-church-growth-the-untold-story/

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