Tithe that originates in the North American Division has long provided most of the Seventh-day Adventist world budget, but a dramatic membership surge in Africa, Asia and Latin America is reversing that decades-old trend.
If the religious landscape continues its rapid population shift, funding provided by countries in the so-called Global South will likely overtake the amount given by the Global North within five years.
That was the conclusion announced Sunday by the Secretary's Report at the 2012 Annual Council of the Adventist Church, which is meeting this week in Silver Spring, Maryland, United States.
"Europe and the United States are no longer at the epicenter of the Christian world because the majority of Christians now reside outside of these two continents," Secretary G. T. Ng told about 350 delegates.
The population shift is believed to have started about 50 years ago, and it's not limited to the Adventist Church.
But the implications for Adventism are potentially far reaching, Ng suggested, ranging from a redistribution of church funding to a "reverse missionary movement" where the notions of "sending country" and "receiving country" are tossed aside.
In 1960, the Adventist Church sent out 490 long-term missionaries, and about 90 percent of them originated from North America, Europe and Australia known as the Global North. But in 2010, the Global North's share of missionaries dropped to 54 percent, due to an increase in missionaries sent from the Southern Asia-Pacific Division, South American Division, and Inter-American Division.
"The paradigm," Ng said, "highlights the potential for the Global South to evangelize the Global North."
The explosive growth in Africa, Asia and Latin America has occurred simultaneously with slow and stagnant growth in Europe and the United States, in part because of an aging membership, Ng said. All of the 15 unions whose membership declined between 2000 and 2010 were in the three European divisions.
In 1960, the church in the Global South had a membership of 675,000, or 54 percent of world membership. A half century later, by 2010, membership in the Global South climbed to 16 million, or 91.5 percent of world membership.
The Global North, meanwhile, had 570,000 members in 1960 and reached 1.5 million, or just 8.5 percent of total world membership, in 2010.
The Secretary's Report also included updates from Adventist Mission, Adventist Volunteer Service, Institute of World Mission, Membership Software, and the Office of Archives, Statistics and Research.
Gary Krause, director of Adventist Mission and associate secretary of the world church, told leaders that a new church is planted every 4.47 hours, and that reaching large cities is a focus of the organization.
John Thomas of Adventist Volunteer Service reported that the number of inter- and intra-division volunteers serving at any given time has dropped from a high of 1,565 in 2009, to 1,332 in 2011. The decline, he said, is primarily due to a decrease in North American volunteers and a decrease in volunteer positions in the Korea SDA Language Institute, a string of language centers throughout the country. In addition, in 2011 there were 83 countries that sent volunteers, and 82 that received volunteers.
In the Institute of World Mission report, Cheryl Doss shared the success of programs at Andrews University that prepare missionaries for service. In addition, she said, an online course since 2009 has prepped more than 2,400 students.
Andrew Kuntaraf, meanwhile, unveiled the denomination’s choice for a global standard in membership reporting software. (see related story)
David Trim, director of Archives, Statistics and Research, explained that the church's growth rate has continued to far exceed the growth rate of the world's population.
He also stated that while the church has made significant progress in ministering to southern Africa, South America and Inter-America, much work remains to be done in places such as North Africa, the Middle East and several parts of Asia.
"The lesson I draw from these statistics is that our church not only still needs men and women willing to serve in foreign countries; it not only still needs those of us members who cannot go to give," Trim said. "It also requires administrators to be committed to sending out missionaries, to maintaining them, and to deploying denominational funds where they are most needed."