An initiative to construct 1,000 churches in 1,000 business days was announced May 5 by Maranatha Volunteers International, a Sacramento, California-based supporting ministry of the Seventh-day Adventist Church. According to Kyle Fiess, Maranatha spokesman, the initiative will begin in January 2004 and continue through the end of 2007.
The program is an organized plan to construct 1,000 urgently needed houses of worship in places throughout the world where the Seventh-day Adventist Church is growing rapidly. Currently, the Adventist Church is expanding by 1 million new members each year, many with no place to worship.
“At the rate that the Adventist Church is growing, five new churches are needed every day,” said Maranatha president Don Noble. “Through the construction of 1,000 new churches in 1,000 business days, Maranatha attempts to address the urgent need for churches in several areas of major growth.”
Fiess said that the initiative is tentatively focusing on church needs in South America, Inter-America, Africa and India. Perhaps as many as 75 percent of the projects are designated for areas within the so-called “10/40 window,” a geographical designation of people groups with limited Christian influence. “Some of these places have rapidly increasing levels of membership, which need the support of additional infrastructure,” he added.
India, with its population of 1 billion, is among the countries that present an acute challenge to church growth for Seventh-day Adventists. The church is growing rapidly in India, says Ron Watts, president of the church’s Southern Asia region. “The church has grown from 225,000 people to over 700,000 in five years. In a culture that places a high importance on a house of worship, we urgently need churches to accommodate these new members,” he said.
According to Fiess, the main criteria to select areas where churches are to be built are “need and our ability to integrate volunteers into the process.” Fiess said that Maranatha measures the need for building churches through input from the administrative levels of church structure.
“Most of the projects will be selected from pending requests that we have had for quite a while. Since the last world church session in Toronto, Canada, in 2000, we have received requests for over 20,000 churches,” Fiess said.
Though the Maranatha initiative has not been widely publicized, the “news travels fast,” Fiess says. “We have received an enthusiastic response from those that have heard, mostly from our membership. I don’t believe the news has traveled too far yet.”
Adventist News Network has learned that the church’s South American administrative region was the first church entity to respond to the initiative. At a meeting in Brasilia last week, Maranatha was presented with requests for hundreds of churches, as well as education and evangelism centers. According to Ruy Nagel, president of the church in South America, more than 220,000 people joined the Adventist Church last year in Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Ecuador, Paraguay, Peru and Uruguay.
“Last year we baptized 100,000 people and we don’t have places to put them. Most of our people are meeting in shacks or under trees. This is our Macedonian call,” said Izeas dos Santos Cardoso, president of the church’s North Brazil Union Mission.
In Peru, Maranatha’s initiative presents an opportunity that will only parallel the church’s growth in this South American country. Adventists in Peru represent one of the fastest growing church areas: “This year we are going to add 70,000 new members. We have asked Maranatha to build 100 new churches to support this growth,” said Melchor Ferreyra, president of the church’s Peru Union Mission.
According to Maranatha, constructing 1,000 new churches will provide seating capacity for more than 300,000 people. The new churches will help to permanently establish a Christian influence in communities, reduce member loss, and attract diverse demographic groups.
It is estimated that more than 10,000 volunteers will participate in this project, providing valuable cost savings while allowing people to grow through the volunteer experience. “We adapt our structure and methods depending on where we are,” Fiess said. “In Central America and South America we will draw heavily upon volunteers.”
The estimated cost for the project is US$18 million. At an average of $60 per seat, the project will provide churches, which are plain yet attractive and substantial, at a reasonable cost.
Fiess said that part of the funding is anticipated from recipient areas where construction is to be done. “That will likely fluctuate according to available resources,” he said. Additionally, Maranatha plans to attract donations from church members who have supported this ministry in the past, and also from Maranatha’s general membership, volunteers who work on the projects, and Maranatha’s $10 Church program.
Maranatha Volunteers International, founded in 1969, is a non-profit international organization committed to Christian mission through the construction of church buildings. More than 50,000 people have volunteered for Maranatha projects in 61 countries around the world.