September 29, 2019 | Cancun, Quintana Roo, Mexico | Libna Stevens, Inter-American Division News
Top Seventh-day Adventist administrators and leaders from across the church in the Inter-American Division (IAD) recently held a series of meetings in Cancun, Mexico, to study and discuss how to better define the future of the church.
The nearly 300 church administrators from IAD unions and local field conferences looked closely at the results from a survey conducted by the Seventh-day Adventist World Church on the beliefs and practices of church members in the territory. The survey, which is conducted every five years, was completed by a special research commission overseen by Inter-America’s Montemorelos University.
“The intention that the church has with these surveys is to learn what we believe as Seventh-day Adventists, who we are and what are our viewpoints,” said Andrés Diaz Valladares, PhD, director of the research and development center at Montemorelos University. The survey took place from 2017-2018, where more than 5,185 church members ages 15 and up who live in urban areas throughout the territory were asked a series of questions.
Survey results were presented as sorted out under the three main strategic issues IAD leaders are looking at for the next five years: Education, evangelism, and community service.
As far as the education of church members who answered the survey, it was revealed that 48.9 percent have attended professional school, college or university, and/or post graduate. The results also indicated that 49.1 completed high school, some secondary school, or some primary school 1.4 Percent never attended school.
On personal spiritual growth, members answered questions on their involvement in how often they attend activities scheduled by the church, the frequency with which they participate in a ministry on Sabbath and during the week including personal devotions, study the Bible and the Sabbath School lesson, as well as the frequency with which they witness to non-members, knowledge of existing evangelism programs, the frequency pastors preach every Sabbath, and frequency of pastoral visitations.
The survey revealed that more than 50 percent are involved in helping a church ministry on Sabbath every week, an average of 48 percent does personal devotions, reads the Bible and studies the Sabbath School lesson. Frequency with which members testified once to four times a year, more than once a week, and almost every week collectively 84.5 percent. Another question answered indicated that 39 percent said that they have never been visited by their pastor, 30 percent said their pastor visits once or twice a year, 14 percent said once a quarter and 7 percent said once a month, 2 percent almost every week, 3 percent weekly, and 5 percent once a week.
In addition, more than 80 percent of those surveyed said that his/or church must make changes in outreach and evangelism activities in missionary work, nurturing of members and reclaiming former members.
Church has to change
“Members feel that the church has to change as they indicated,” said Montemorelos University Professor Daniel Gutiérrez. Other data results dealt with family environment, knowledge of Adventist radio stations, television programs, faith, money, fundamental beliefs, understanding of Ellen G. White’s writings, following the health message, alcohol and tobacco consumption, and more.
Pastor Elie Henry, president for the church in Inter-America, said the results reveal a great deal even if just a little more than 5,000 responded correctly to the survey. “The survey results were just the prelude of indicators to what we needed to discuss and align the church to better define the future of the church and how to better reach church members,” said Pastor Henry.
The IAD membership stands at nearly 3.8 million and reaching out to more to be part of a greater comprehensive survey will help in the process of reaching and improving those areas that need to be targeted more intentionally, said Pastor Henry. Plans are to widen the survey with the coordination of Montemorelos University with additional questions to reach more church memberships across the territory, he added.
For Pastor Arturo King of the North Mexican Union, the survey results brought out some concerns. Results were also distributed by union, or church region, which participated in the survey.
“We see some challenges that we were not so aware of,” said Pastor King. One major concern is the pastoral visits to members. “We get reports that visitations are taking place but it does not match the results and so we need to find better strategies so pastors can visit members’ homes as part of their ongoing ministry,” he said. Pastor King is taking the results seriously because more than 1,000 church members in the North Mexican Union responded to the survey.
“In our territory a pastor could have six or seven churches, very rarely 12 churches under his leadership like in other places, so we want to sit carefully and talk with administrators and conference leaders to be more intentional with the ministry of the pastoral visits,” said Pastor King. Something else that caught his attention was a question concerning the abuse of a member by someone of authority. “It’s not a high percentage but it should not be and we see that as a challenge to ensure proper attention is given,” said Pastor King. Also, he noticed that 7 percent of those surveyed admitted that they consumed alcohol and 2 percent said they consumed tobacco during the last year.
Pastor King has already spoken to Montemorelos University leaders about using the survey and adding more questions to reach more of the church membership in the North Mexican Union, as soon as he finishes studying it with his administrators and local conference leaders in the territory.
Pastoral visitations is of great concern for Pastor Kern Tobias, president of the Caribbean Union overseeing a membership of more than 248,900. “Pastoral visits is are a cry for help,” said Pastor Tobias. “We need to ensure that better attention is given to our church members.” One challenge his union territory faces is that “many young people in this generation are not supportive of the comprehensive church organization,” said Pastor Tobias. “They like to be part of church projects.”
Other indicators confirmed that bible beliefs and Ellen G. White’s writings are very strong in the territory. However, Pastor Tobias said that the leaders in the Caribbean Union “are committing ourselves to providing spiritual maturity in our territory.”
Pastor Tobias is already in negotiation with the Southern Caribbean University research team to assist in conducting a similar comprehensive survey to reach even more church members and have a better understanding of how to better address the needs throughout churches and congregations across the dozens of islands that make up the English Caribbean territory.
Inter-American Division leaders will take additional action during its upcoming annual Year-End Executive Committee Meetings to better impact church members and their communities for the coming months and years.