Many denominations are experiencing a dramatic decline in membership. However, the Seventh-day Adventist Church, with a worldwide membership of 21,414,779 members as of 2018, is one of the fastest-growing Protestant churches in the world. Even though the church is experiencing rapid growth, it would be even greater if more effective methods of retaining members were implemented.
The Statistical Report published by the General Conference (GC) indicates that 1,352,931 members were added to the worldwide church by baptism or profession of faith in 2018. At the same time, 503,019 members were dropped from church membership or missing, indicating a net increase of 849,912.
The Statistical Report for 2018 indicated that the North American Division had a membership of 1,257,913. The number of members added by baptism was 26,999 and 6,181 added by profession of faith. At the same time, 5,807 members were dropped from church membership and 8,886 members were categorized as missing, indicating a net increase of 18,487.
In the Atlantic Union Conference, the Statistical Report for 2018 indicates that 2,782 members were added to the church by baptism and 471 were added by profession of faith. However, 569 members were dropped and 479 members were reported missing. This indicates that the members added in the Atlantic Union in 2018 were 3,253. The actual increase in membership was 2,205 bringing the total membership to 124,847.
What can the Seventh-day Adventist Church do to close the “back door” of the church? At the World Church’s Counsel on Evangelism and Witness in April 2007, church leaders recognized three essentials that must be in place if the church is going to address this problem adequately. The church leaders made the following recommendations to the General Conference: “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: (1) They must be able to articulate their beliefs; (2) They must have friends within the congregation; (3)They must engage in a personally-meaningful ministry.”*
The church is passionate about adding new members, but is it as passionate about retaining them? Research suggests that members who leave the Adventist Church fellowship indicate “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.”*
An emphasis on discipleship and not just membership will prove to be effective in caring for the members. Small group ministry has been proven to be successful in helping members to become disciples of Jesus Christ. Ellen G. White said; “If there is a large number in the church, let the members be formed into small companies, to work not only for the church members, but for unbelievers. If in one place there are only two or three who know the truth, let them form themselves into a band of workers”—Testimonies for the Church, vol. 7, p. 21.
The church is commissioned to, “‘Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.’ Amen”—Matthew 28:19, 20 (NKJV). The gospel commission is clear, we are called to preach, teach, baptize, and make disciples, not just members.
* “Conserving Membership Gains,” voted by the General Conference Executive Committee at the Spring Meeting in Silver Spring, Maryland, April 10, 2007 (bit.ly/2mM8iB3).