World Church: Closing Back Door Departure of Members is Goal

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World Church: Closing Back Door Departure of Members is Goal

July 6, 2005 St. Louis, Missouri, United States ....

[Mark A. Kellner/ANN] Mark Finley, a vice president of the Adventist world church.

[Photo: Gerry Chudleigh] (photo not available)

If the good news for the Seventh-day Adventist Church is its remarkable membership growth -- more than 5 million baptisms and accessions to membership in the past five years -- the bad news is that in the same period, nearly 1.4 million people were dropped from church rolls. In popular language, such departures are termed as "exiting through the back door of the church."

An afternoon presentation at the 58th General Conference Session of the Adventist Church was aimed at helping to close that back door. Led by world church general vice president Mark Finley, and supported by fellow vice president Michael L. Ryan, and veteran missiologist Patricia Gustin, the session asked questions about membership retention, gaining answers from a variety of delegates.

The need for such a discussion is plainly evident, Finley, an evangelist whose meetings around the world have brought tens of thousands into the Adventist Church, noted. The worldwide "loss-gain ratio" for the movement is, sadly, increasing, he said. Where it was only 20.39 percent in 2000, it was up to 33.89 percent, globally, in 2004.

The church's South American region, whose own year 2000 loss-gain ratio was 33 percent, has seen that number fall to just 18 percent over the last four quarters. "The implementation of a small group [Bible study] strategy throughout the [church region] has made a significant difference," Finley said.

While a variety of reasons were cited for such departures -- fallen-away members may leave over personal conflicts with a pastor or another member, discouragement over personal problems or a lack of friends within the faith -- a lack of spiritual feeding, or nurture, is often cited, specifically a weak biblical foundation for their faith or a perception that the church is no longer relevant to the member's needs.

"We have to constantly remember that evangelism is not an event, it is a process," Gustin told delegates. "The nurturing process is ongoing, even for us today. We must never give the impression that once someone comes into our fellowship that it's all over."

Ryan added that a difference between areas where new congregations thrive and those where the local churches falter, is that in successful areas, "there has been developed a culture of nurture... not only are the members retained, but that congregation will grow, and you can see it as a very prominent trait in some areas of the world."

Several delegates noted that a lack of church buildings or the lack of a pastor in an area after an evangelistic effort is a hindrance to member retention. Lay member Robert Paulsen of the North American church region suggested a U.S. $1 million challenge from the world church to raise money for church construction: "They need houses of worship," he declared.

At the same time, said Paul Tompkins, a delegate from the Trans-European region, youth who leave in their teens or early adulthood are rarely contacted by pastors and members; we need to "develop a strategic plan to reach out to [these] Adventist prodigals," he said.

Improving the quality of worship for members captivated by the large, dynamic fellowship of a citywide event was mentioned as a retention strategy by Artur Stele, president of the Euro-Asia church region.

"We need to work on how we worship on Sabbath. When people come to our worship, they must experience something going on that is real, that the Lord is present, that they are worshipping in a live[ly] manner. Too often our services remind me of funerals," he declared.

West African region delegate Onaolapo Ajibade was one of several speakers who noted that the church should measure growth by the number of disciples created, not just baptisms.

There is, he said, an "atmosphere in a [local] church [that] contributes to apostasy. When a new convert comes into the church, they become disappointed: [and wonder] how can people have such good doctrines and be so lukewarm?"

A delegate from the Euro-Africa region, Fatiha Benazza, who had been a Muslim and had to lobby a pastor for baptism, expressed a heartfelt thought. Now an Adventist, Benazza said, "I love Jesus Christ and want to be with Jesus for all of my life."

But, Benazza added, "When someone comes into the church, we have to be very patient. When someone gives their heart, we need to see their spiritual gifts."

The presentation on the church and apostasy is the third of five issues-oriented programs that are part of the quinquennial business session. End of Article.


Commentary by Ron Beaulieu:

Notice that in giving reasons why folk are leaving the SDA church, Mark Finley does not make any mention of the apostasy of the church factor. Until that issue is addressed and corrected (which will never occur according to Scripture and Ellen White), the church will continue to experience the succession of true and faithful Seventh-day Adventists from the New Movement Omega of Apostasy SDA church. As members learn that they are corporately responsible for the apostasy if they remain, just as they would be responsible for the apostasy of Catholicism if they remained in that church, they will leave the apostate New Movement masquerading as the true and faithful Seventh-day Adventist Church.

The imposter New Movement, formed "among" within the church, Selected Messages, Book 1, 204-5, is persecuting all members who are true and faithful to the pioneer standards, beliefs and practices, in the name of progressive movement of the church. But that so-called progression is one from our first love to Omega Apostasy, and the only progression is downward.

Onaolapo Ajibade, the West African delegate, mentions a most important aspect of the apostasy, that of the church remaining Laodicean since 1852. He notes how folk come into the church and note how lukewarm the "established" members are, and they become disappointed and leave. Oft times their zeal and enthusiasm is dampened by indolent, long-time members, who have not retained their "first love" experience and treat those who have it as something to avoid. This is one way the church fulfills Matthew 23:15, but then regards itself as the church which the gates of hell shall not prevail against!

Mat 23:15 Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye compass sea and land to make one proselyte, and when he is made, ye make him twofold more the child of hell than yourselves.

Mat 16:18 And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.

Thus, the once SDA church militant--become apostate New Movement, misrepresents itself as the church triumphant. Indeed the true and faithful SDA church Triumphant will prevail, but it will not be associated with any apostate, imposter Omega of Apostasy New Movement it was warned never to join.

Ron Beaulieu