RECOMMENDED To approve the following appeal to the world Church regarding membership retention and the reclaiming of former members; and further
To encourage widespread circulation of this appeal to church leaders and local congregations.
Conserving Membership Gains--An Appeal
Seventh-day Adventists around the world rejoice in the rapid membership growth of recent years. The Church views this as evidence of Holy Spirit-led movements and a fulfillment of Bible prophecy. (Matthew 24:14, Revelation 14:6, 7) Although the Seventh-day Adventist Church baptized over 5 million people from 2000 - 2005, membership losses during that time equaled nearly 1.4 million. Current indications are that annual membership losses, for reasons other than death, equal approximately 28% of membership accessions. Some membership loss occurs among recent converts, however, this tragic outcome is not limited to new members.
Members leave the Seventh-day Adventist fellowship for a variety of reasons. It is unrealistic to expect that the Church will reach a point where the membership retention rate is 100%. This, however, should not excuse the Church from consciously creating and maintaining a nurturing environment for all members. Research on why members leave Seventh-day Adventist Church fellowship suggests that social and relational factors are much more significant than disagreement with denominational teachings. In fact, many who leave denominational fellowship remain supportive of Seventh-day Adventist beliefs and even maintain church practices for some time following their departure.
The reasons most 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. Therefore, the loss of members for these reasons should be preventable.
Seventh-day Adventists understand that last-day events will be accompanied by multiplied thousands turning to God, seeking spiritual foundations for life, and identifying with a community of believers that holds fast to biblical teaching. Church members and leaders around the world continue to place a great emphasis on evangelism and church growth believing that even greater and more rapid membership growth lies just ahead.
To prepare the Church for this large influx of new members, to reclaim members who have left, and to prevent current membership losses, the General Conference Executive Committee voices an appeal for members and leaders everywhere to give renewed emphasis to the matter of membership retention and reclamation. This involves understanding the reasons for membership loss in each local church and focusing on how to develop the capacity of the church to attract, reclaim, retain, and engage its members in the mission of the church.
While the specific response to this appeal will vary from place to place and reflect cultural diversity that is so evident in the global Church family, certain specifics are universal. For example, an individual's spiritual life must be fed through Bible study and prayer. We also know that to retain new members, the following factors are essential. If one of these factors is missing, the member is weakened, but may survive. If two factors are absent, they almost certainly will leave the fellowship of Church members.
- They must be able to articulate their beliefs.
- They must have friends within the congregation.
- They must engage in a personally-meaningful ministry.
Every member, whether or not recently baptized, should be able to experience an atmosphere in which to grow spiritually, to know a sense of belonging and identity, and to use their spiritual gifts in the advancement of mission. Creating such an environment requires more than a program. It necessitates the creation of a loving atmosphere with each member taking a personal interest in others.
Persons who join the Seventh-day Adventist Church come from widely varied backgrounds and experiences. All members are not at the same point of spiritual development. But all should find within church fellowship a place to continue their growth. Peter urges, "Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers a multitude of sins. Offer hospitality to one another, without grumbling. Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God�s grace in its various forms." 1 Peter 4:8-10 (NIV)
The following actions will help to bring this into reality.
- Along with their annual planning and budgeting for evangelism, executive committees and local church boards should assess the membership retention capacity in their territory. This will require careful review of membership care measures along with accession and loss patterns. Analysis of the situation should be followed by deliberate steps to address the circumstances that lie within the church's ability to change.
- Repeated instructions of basic Bible teaching should be provided for all newly-baptized members in an intentionally-designed follow-up for a period of months after their baptism.
- Ensuring that the outreach methods used by the Church take into consideration how new members will become integrated into the life of the church family and advance in the pathway of discipleship. Such planning should include the formation of friendships, fellowship in small groups, active participation in witnessing, and recruitment into specific roles and responsibilities as a member of the local congregation.
- Designing ministry that addresses the developmental and spiritual needs of children, youth, and young adults, affirming their value to the Church by training them for, and entrusting them with, responsibility.
- Making certain that the provision of adequate places of worship is an integral part of the evangelistic initiative which brings people into church fellowship. No programs should be permitted that do not honor this essential requirement.
- Training members in how to re-connect with those who have discontinued church fellowship. In many cases, the return to fellowship of former members is more challenging to the congregation than the acceptance of new converts. Careful attention is needed to facilitate the healing of relationships and the realization, between persons, of the reconciliation that flows from the forgiveness and acceptance received through Jesus Christ.
The General Conference Executive Committee praises God for the rapid growth that is taking place in many areas. Evangelism is the mission of the Church. Leaders and members are commended for making this the priority in planning and budgeting. This we must continue and, while so doing, demonstrate the loving concern of the Good Shepherd for His sheep who may have strayed.
This Appeal was voted by the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists Executive Committee at the Spring Meeting in Silver Spring, Maryland, April 10, 2007.