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Secretary: Now 16.6 million members, but challenging regions loom large

What membership audits reveal about high growth areas

Secretary: Now 16.6 million members, but challenging regions loom large

G. T. Ng, secretary of the Adventist world church, delivered his report to Annual Council delegates Sunday, October 10, highlighting the need for increased mission in areas where the church has little work. [photo: Ansel Oliver]

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About 2,900 people join the Seventh-day Adventist Church every day, according to church statistics, which show the denomination now has 16.6 million adult baptized members and a growth rate slightly higher than last year.

Much of that growth came from Latin America and Southern and Eastern Africa, church leaders said yesterday during the secretary's report to Annual Council, a meeting of the denomination's roughly 300-member Executive Committee.

Though the presentation recapped information from previous years' reports, it served as an extensive overview of the church's operations, including mission, and was the first such address for G. T. Ng as the Adventist Church's secretary, the second highest officer in the denomination. The report is not made public due to the sensitivity of work in certain regions.

New analyses included a "sobering" look at a shift from a "proactive to a reactive approach" in missionary allocation. Ng, a former associate secretary overseeing mission recruitment in much of Asia, said more missionaries are now serving in established institutions instead of "frontline mission" work. In 2008, the church sent out 755 full-time missionaries, about 56 percent of which served institutions. That figure is up from 45 percent 10 years ago, Ng said.

The church spends $21 to $24 million a year on salaries for full-time missionaries recruited and processed through church headquarters administration.

"If we spend a lot of our [missionary] budgets on institutions, then we are sacrificing our need in the 10/40 Window," Ng said, referring to a world region from West Africa to East Asia where Christianity has little presence.

The numbers

Denominational membership in many world regions is strong and growing, said Bert Haloviak, director of the church's Office of Archives and Statistics. (Click here for a PDF of his statistical report)

As of June 30, there were 16,641,357 Adventists worldwide, Haloviak said. That's about one Adventist per 414 people on the planet, an improvement of 10 since last year's Annual Council, he said.

Haloviak told delegates that Africa has the most members of any continent, and South America's church membership is growing the fastest. Of total membership, Africa has 37 percent; Latin America 33 percent; Asia 19 percent; North America 7 percent; and Europe/Oceania have 4 percent.

This is also the seventh consecutive year the church had a net gain of more than 1 million members. Haloviak said 1,062,655 people joined the church between July 1, 2009 and June 30 of this year.

About 41 percent of those new members were in South America and Southern Africa, 18 percent in Inter-America and nearly 16 percent in East-Central Africa. The remaining 21 percent live in other world regions. Europe accounted for less than 2 percent of new membership.

Haloviak also reported on the continued membership audits in South America, as he has in previous years. Even with recent audit measures there and in Southern Asia-Pacific, records reveal that both are among the fastest-growing areas of the denomination.

The church in South America has conducted membership audits for each of the past three years. Membership still increased there by about 218,000 last year.

In Southern-Asia Pacific, net growth rates have consistently stayed above 6.5 percent for the past three years. The region also has a 6.5 loss of members for every 100 gained, the only one the 13 world regions to have single-digit gross losses.

"Church membership auditing is beginning to be less of a factor in influencing the statistical state of our church," Haloviak said. "Hopefully this indicates that since most divisions have conducted membership audits the church will assume its more normal, relatively high growth rate."

Neither he nor Ng indicated which of the world regions have yet to audit their membership records.

Much of Ng's report yesterday appealed for an increase in mission, especially in less saturated areas. Often, mission is focused on areas where the church is already strong -- "lopsided mission," he called it in a 2009 ANN interview.

"We tend to go places where the job is easy," he said. "But when we look at the darkness in the 10/40 [Window] countries ... we have to take note and plan accordingly," he told delegates.