As Seventh-day Adventist church leaders prepared to start the Sunday afternoon business meeting of the 59th World Session, a number of seats in the neat rows on the Georgia Dome floor were noticeably empty.
The absence of scores of delegates prompted business meeting chairman Gerry Karst to express his concern on the situation.
"I would like to encourage you, if you have colleagues that have been sitting next to you or are part of your delegation, that you have a little private conversation with them and remind them of their responsibility to be here when the session meets," Karst said. "The organization has paid for their way to come. They're expected to be here."
Karst's comments reflected the somewhat dramatic drop in attendance since the morning session, when at least 1,550 delegates were present -- still far short of the total 2,410 selected for the General Conference Session.
Indeed, finding a seat during business meetings is anything but a challenge, as dozens of chairs regularly remain empty, sparking questions as to where some delegates are during the sessions.
Representing every region of the world church and its headquarters, the delegates have the power to vote on agenda items, including leadership and church policy. Each region pays for travel, lodging and meals for its delegates and special guests, along with a $30 daily per diem, said Sheri Clemmer, the world church's associate meeting planner.
As of Monday afternoon, 2,222 delegates had registered for Session, said Rosa Banks, registration director and associate secretary of the General Conference. Banks added that she expected most to register by Tuesday or Wednesday.
As representatives of their region's interests, delegates "are not supposed to skip any business session," said George Egwakhe, an associate treasurer of the Adventist Church world headquarters. "It's very important that they participate and they vote."
Still, Egwakhe said, many of the delegates aren't on the Dome floor because they attend caucuses, where they vote on the top leaders of their respective regions and deal with business unique to their areas.
"To them, that is also very, very important to them," he said, adding that some consider most business finished once the General Conference officers are selected.
And by Friday, he said, things will likely get worse: Most of the delegates go shopping, trying to squeeze in purchases before they depart for their home countries.
"Don't be shocked; it's part of routine," Egwakhe said, recalling his experiences as a regional treasurer. "It's not new."