Reporting by Mark Kellner, Adventist Review
Seventh-day Adventist leaders in the North American Division (NAD) voted a $500,000 emergency relief grant for victims of Hurricane Sandy, which struck the Northeastern United States last month. A special collection is to be taken on November 10 in congregations across the division and might raise an additional $500,000 or more.
The action was taken on November 4, as more than 300 delegates and leaders of the Seventh-day Adventist Church met in Silver Spring, Maryland, United States, for the NAD’s Year-End Meeting.
NAD President Dan Jackson told delegates that the division was “taking money from our reserves” to finance the effort. He added, “I believe that shows the heart that we are trying to express. We are fast-tracking this whole thing.”
The move came in response to emotional pleas for assistance from church leaders in the affected region: “We appeal to you to do everything you can to relieve suffering,” Daniel Honoré, president of the church’s Northeastern Conference, based on Long Island, told delegates.
Having been without electricity or heat for nearly a week before arriving in Maryland for the session, Honoré said that reaching out to others in the area is an optimal preparation for NY13, the Adventist outreach planned for metro New York next year.
“I believe there are people who would never come to our meetings because we sent them a brochure in the mail,” Honoré said, “but now we have an opportunity to reach the masses in New York through our kindness and our love. If we truly believe NY13 can be a major evangelistic success, [let’s] meet the people's needs, and let's make friends with this metropolitan area, and when we stand to preach the gospel, thousands will come.”
Also at the Year-End Meeting, Jackson, in a Sabbath sermon, called for churches to be more “inclusive.”
The time has come for God’s people to become very serious” about fellowship, Jackson said.
Jackson said, “In reality, genuine Christian fellowship is the result of connection with God. You and I were, in fact, brought into existence for fellowship with God. Ultimately, the experience we have with Him is what we offer to one another regardless of lifestyle, theology, circumstances, or race, et cetera.”
He added, “One of the issues here is that genuine fellowship is often lacking in our churches and conferences ... it is not seen and experienced in the way we treat those who disagree or in the way we treat one another in the home, in the school, in the church and in the work place – and it is killing us. It turns people off.”
Later in the week, Jackson reviewed a year’s worth of visits he had made, trips which he said reflected the vibrancy and diversity of the division. At the same time, the “mother division” of the Seventh-day Adventist world church is facing challenges, he said, and Jackson enumerated several goals for the area, including redoubling efforts to raise enrollment at Adventist schools.
NAD Vice President for Education Larry Blackmer said the division would seek to launch an integrated educational network, online, offering training to Adventist young people, homeschooled and in non-Adventist schools, as well as college level courses and continuing education for pastors, church workers and volunteers.
Blackmer said the division was ready to launch “a platform of ‘Education for Everyone.’ We are ready to begin delivering the ability to connect this church as never before.”
Another NAD vice president, R. Ernest Castillo, reported on the church’s outreach to multi-lingual ministry groups, noting that nearly 352,000 of the division’s 1.15 million Seventh-day Adventists are from those communities. He added that about 55 percent of baptisms in 2011 came from these ministry groups.
Committee members also received an update on membership records. Executive Secretary G. Alexander Bryant told delegates that every day, on average, 108 people join the Seventh-day Adventist Church in North America.
Bryant said there are 1,154,428 Seventh-day Adventists worshipping in 5,413 churches and 773 companies across NAD as of June 30.
“Since 2000, our division has continued an upward climb in membership,” Bryant told delegates. "When we put emphasis on evangelism, we see an increase in [our] growth rate.”
Net membership growth in North America for the year ending June 30 was 1.35-percent, he said, down modestly – .3 percent – from the year before.
Adding to the complicated membership picture are the numbers of lost and deceased members compared with those joining the church. In the six-year period of 2006 through the end of 2011, a total of 240,891 joined the denomination in North America. However, a total of 130,929 members either died, were missing from church activities or dropped out. So for the six-year period, Bryant said, the net membership gain was 109,962 members.
Bryant said the North American Division’s demographics show that while Adventists here are living longer, young adults are often “missing in action” from church activities. The NAD has “a lower percentage of young adult [members] than other divisions,” he said. While 6 percent of the population in the U.S. and Canada is between the ages of 25 and 34, he reported, only 3 percent of Adventist members fall into that category.
Another disparity – which Bryant said should change – is that while Seventh-day Adventist membership in North America is 60 percent female, only 14 of 214 executive-level positions in conferences and unions are filled by women.