Church administrators from Inter-America’s 24 unions and leaders from 150 conference/mission listen in on membership gains and losses throughout the territory, during a six-day planning session held in Cancun, Mexico, recently. Photo: Libna Stevens/IAD

October 23, 2019 | Miami, Florida, United States | Libna Stevens/IAD

Top Seventh-day Adventist administrators from all of Inter-American Division’s (IAD) unions and conferences got a clear picture of membership growth and losses during a recent six-day meeting which brought leaders together to help define the future of the church.

Although the church continues its goal of reaching one million new members as the quinquennium period draws to a close in mid 2020, the focus was not so much that more than 800,000 new members joined the church from 2015 until the June 30 2019, but how many were lost.

Looking closely at the losses

“We need to look more closely at our losses,” said Pastor Leonard Johnson, executive secretary for the church in Inter-America.  According to the data collected, the church across the IAD lost 476,807 church members in the span of four-and-a-half years, between 2015-2019. In addition, during the previous 2010-2014 period, there were 499,127 members who were dropped or went missing, reported Johnson.

“We must consider the data before us, where we are and where we need to go,” said Johnson.

Pastor Leonard Johnson, executive secretary of the church in Inter-America, presents membership statistics during a session with church leaders in Cancun, Mexico, on Sep. 7, 2019. Photo: Libna Stevens/IAD

In the more than 14,900 organized churches and 8,000 congregations bursting with more than 3.7 million members, there is a “high percentage of members who really love and appreciate the church, people who truly love the church,” said Johnson, as he pointed to the member survey results reviewed recently.

“The church is in a position to make significant en routes to make a greater impact in its communities, said Johnson. “It is not just in terms of getting people to come into the church but also touch the people in significant ways.”

It’s all about the local church, where the real action takes place and where members and newly baptized believers must be reached and cared for and not ever leave the church or be unaccounted for, he added.

“I believe that these are more than just numbers,” said Johnson, “ they tell us what we need to do, where we need to go and can keep us focused.”

Pastoral visitations

One focus Pastor Johnson suggested was the need for pastors to visit members in their homes as part of the caring for each family in the local church. He was referring to the recent IAD member survey results in which 39 percent of those surveyed 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 said weekly, and 5 percent said more than once a week.

Pastor Balvin Braham, assistant to the IAD president for evangelism, shares membership losses for the past nine years during the recent meetings. Photo: Libna Stevens/IAD

“I want to do all I can to encourage pastors, because we have been ordained as pastors to reach, to nurture, to disciple, to assist members to grow in their relationship with Jesus Christ,” said Johnson. “There is no doubt in my mind that we have a golden opportunity to do more in the area of nurturing and retention of members.”

The numbers are alarming, said Pastor Elie Henry, president of the church in Inter-America, as he addressed the dozens of administrators. “We need to discuss more what we can do to retain our members, ensure that our members do not leave and get off our books,” he said.

More time for pastoral ministry

It’s clear that pastoral care is a major concern, said Pastor Ignacio Navarro, president of the church in the Chiapas Mexican Union. “There needs to be more emphasis in pastoral visitations, but our pastors do not have their arms crossed. Why are they not visiting? Because we [as leaders] have changed the emphasis more on events and activities,” said Navarro, who leads the church with over 252,000 members in 3,191 churches and congregations which are led by 227 district pastors.  “We need to stop creating events at the local field, union and division levels, so that we can allow pastors to be pastors at the church.”

It’s about discipleship and retention, stated Pastor Balvin Braham, assistant to the IAD president for evangelism. Pastor Braham shared the primary reasons members leave the church according to a recent survey done by the Adventist world church.  These include death, family problems, marital difficulties and divorce, conflict with pastors, conflict with other church members, guilt, lack of compassion in the church, and more.

Church leaders from different unions discuss and take notes on how to effectively conserve members in the church. Photo: Libna Stevens/IAD

More than one million were taken off the books in the span of a little over 10 years, said Braham. “Our membership today would stand at 5 million, maybe 6 million in our [Inter-American] Division, so we need to take the necessary steps to conserve our members.”

Church leaders and administrators sat for hours to discuss and find possible solutions to aid ministers and pastors in the local church to more effectively conserve members and achieve desired retention, as part of the strategic plan that will guide the church 2020 and the years to come.

To learn more about the Seventh-day Adventist Church in Inter-America, it’s evangelistic initiatives and plans, visit us at interamerica.org

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