In a move signaling growing commitment to conferencing technology, Seventh-day Adventist leaders at the church’s Inter-American Division headquarters last week connected with thousands of church elders during the region’s largest virtual council.
The two-hour live webcast was meant to support a continued partnership between church elders and pastors. There are currently more than 30,000 church elders serving alongside 3,000 pastors in Inter-America, which includes Mexico, Central America, the Caribbean and the five northernmost countries in South America.
With many pastors in the region overseeing multiple churches, church elders play a significant role in supporting congregations. Many pastors rely on elders to handle member visitation, small groups leadership, community outreach and other aspects of day-to-day spiritual care.
“Nothing really happens without the joint efforts of the pastor and the elder,” said Hector Sanchez, ministerial secretary for the church in Inter-America and webcast organizer. “[Elders] are like the nerve center of the church, and that is why we wanted to connect with them directly today through technology.”
The council was presented in English, Spanish and French, and is now available as an online resource. Division-wide, organizers said more than 7,000 online viewers connected and interacted during the meeting.
Adventist Church administrators in Inter-America and worldwide are increasingly looking for ways to use conferencing technology to curtail travel costs and broaden participation at meetings. Virtual meetings also allow church leaders to further unite the 17 million member global denomination in mission and ministry.
Church leaders in Inter-America held a similar virtual council in 2011, when they connected with the region’s 3,000 Adventist ministers.
Church leaders in South America, too, have in recent years embraced the benefits of using conferencing technology. Last year, weekend training seminars and a Web forum hosted by the Communication department of the church’s South American Division reached thousands of Communication secretaries at local Adventist congregations.
Adventist world church Communication director Williams Costa Jr. applauded the effort to level boundaries between church leaders and lay members. Since then, Costa has reiterated a call for more virtual Communication advisories.
“We need to take every opportunity to come together, whether through videoconference, satellite or Skype,” Costa said. “This is important for the unity of our church. When we regularly connect to share ideas and collaborate, we strengthen our ministry.”
Earlier this month, the church’s South American Division hosted a live video lecture and chat on creationism from its headquarters in Brasilia, Brazil. The event included experts in the fields of genetics, geology, and archaeology, who presented evidence of intelligent design, the biblical flood and the validity of the Bible.
Event organizers said an estimated 15,500 people worldwide watched the video lecture, and hundreds of viewers responded to a feedback questionnaire afterward.
“[It was] very good to be able to send in questions,” said Margareth Marques, who participated from Sao Luis, Brazil.
In September, the church’s North American Division will host a virtual Festival of the Laity, which organizers said offers training and resources for member ministry and outreach.
“It’s going to increase the level of our participation and save participants money, said Al Johnson, Adult Ministries director for the church in North America. “It’s actually coming to them at no cost via the Internet.”
Back in Inter-America, Juan Antonio Pinedo, head elder of the Juarito Adventist Church in Chiapas, Mexico, said he was excited to see the church move toward a more collaborative style of ministry.
“I’m so overjoyed to see the interest that the church leadership has in promoting such unity among pastors, elders and church members in one single mission,” Pinedo said.
Pinedo works as a public school teacher, but for more than a decade, he has dedicated his free time to visiting members, leading a small group ministry, Bible studies, leading a group of lay people, serving on the church board and assisting the pastor.
Church leaders in Inter-America believe technology can help them better connect with Pinedo and thousands of other church elders who comprise the backbone of ministry in the region.
“This is the largest virtual council ever organized throughout our [region] and one that shows us that the church is prepared for greater things,” Sanchez, the ministerial secretary, said. “We are closer and closer to our local churches and continue to work on being more united.”
Plans are underway for more virtual councils in the future, Sanchez added.