Adventism at 160: A Look Behind the Numbers

Growing up, I recall watching my mother slaughtering a chicken for dinner. After I assisted her in a frantic effort to catch it, she would open its wings wide, tie its feet with a string, and pin the poor, restless bird to the ground. With one foot, she would step on the wings, while with the other, she would step on the tied-up feet to prevent movement. She would grab the chicken’s head with one hand while with a knife in the other, she would slaughter the bird. After cutting off the head, she would spend a couple of minutes holding down the rest of the chicken’s body until it was confirmed lifeless. The reason was that if she let her grip go prematurely, the hysterical chicken—despite being headless—would run wildly and become difficult to catch again. A headless chicken was more worrisome than one with a head, given its hyperactive energy and no sense of direction.

This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at

“The Adventist story needs to be elevated beyond baptismal numbers to the quality of our relationships and impact.”

Such a great line, numbers need to give way to relational quality.


Spiritually vital congregations, according to one report, are transformative.

Ah, so many things would have to change for evaluation and assessment of outcomes to become the norm. Not only would criteria for success (KPIs) need to be established, but the very format of constituency meetings would need to be changed. As you pointed out, stories are more inspirational than informational. Constituency meetings would need to have more discussion and more focused reporting (on those KPIs), instead of reports/stories and quick votes on personnel (often without much discussion).

We might even have to look at retention statistics and involvement in church activities instead of just counting baptisms and tithes/offerings.

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6 out of 10 people that join the church end up leaving. That’s over 20 million in a little over 50 yeasrs that have left. We think we are a club and only saved people are part of our club. Little do people know that in the true last days, the church as an organization will cease to exist–we cannnot buy or sell. That means own property and pay for utilities. Our hospitals, academies, and colleges will be shut down.

When Adventism talks about “mission” it assumes it to be proselytizing (as in "come out of her, my people") but, the only “mission” given in the Bible is "go ye and spread the Gospel.

What exactly is the mission of the SDA church?

Does the church have a “mission” to its members?


As a convert at age 24, I would have left too had I not married an SDA. I had no idea what I was getting into. When people realize that Adventism is legalistic, unbiblical and just plain weird on many things, they get out. Back in 1976 there was no internet, I only knew about main stream religions, and didn’t know anything about more unorthodox religions like SDA, LDS and JW’s. I met plenty of nice people and agreed with some things (for quite a few years). But, if I had been single and not so tightly ensconced, I would not have stayed. My spouse and I have been out about 20 years now, only wish we could have left 20 years before that.


Oh No! Is Mr. Ncube actually suggesting that the institutional church should have to be accountable? Perish the thought! Ha Ha!

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Not to be flippant … but obviously you are still here … though having left behind any sense of obligation to financially or otherwise support the denomination as an organization. And thanks for being here!

Is it your sense that social and genetic vectors resulted in your experience of the Divine having been, if rudely, shaped through companionship with Seventh-day Adventists are were not elementally different than for a person born into a 5th generation Seventh-day Adventist family? In short, it wasn’t your fault any more than it was their’s, right? That, it seems , is a common reality across all religions as well as the non-religious masses. In short, like our birth, we are not responsible for our religious shaping.

Equally important, it seems, one’s religious experience is as indelible as one’s skin color or ethnicity.

Whatever meaning we may sense in life seems much less restricted if we (re)start with the sense that our religious experience is not our fault.

It feels like we are on the same page in this regard. Do respond otherwise if your experience seem otherwise. Always looking to learn from other’s experience. :slight_smile:


I remember a time in the adult Sabbath School when there was a weekly Q & A to quantify what we had been doing: Persons Helped? (hands would raise and be counted). Number of tracts distributed? (some hands up). Bible studies conducted? (few hands up). Etc, etc. Pretty primitive, and even shaming but at least it was quantifiable. Not suggesting that the church return to that on the micro level but certainly I agree that there should be accountability for programs costing millions of dollars. Net cost per baptism? Net loss per baptism (if baptism is the goal)…


A great article. I’m thankful for all the writers who give suggestions to our dilemmas and not just focus on problems.

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Thank God we serve a living Savior, who stays with us through all these radical, buffeting social gusts and storms. Let’s be open to whatever reaches our neighbors, who are reeling from the same challenging conditions and, in their own ways, are crying out for help.

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Keeping track of SDA numbers is as malleable as taking the census: how many citizens?, how many immigrants? etc. Never get an accurate count. In Adventism: how many on the “books?” how many not attending? how may formers who left because of the rigidity of congregational life? In SDA “centers,” can have as many “formers” as current ones. If we told everyone: we are open to listen to you, to hear your stories, to welcome you to our fellowship no matter what, to encircle you with love and not doctrinal answers, to cease being judgmental, to respect and affirm you even if you are no longer a believer, the response would shock us. It would be the most productive evangelistic campaign ever conducted.


Constituency meeting means local conference sessions but not about our local congregational business meetings. Is the latter not as important?

Regarding accountability of the “institutional” church, don’t you think we should start with each local congregation?

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No…I do not think we should start with the local congregation, First, we have a ‘top down’ bureaucracy, so the accountability needs to begin at the top of the organization. Second, the local congregation benefits little from ‘trickle down’ resources in order to support the burgeoning top levels of the organization, so they probably do the best they can with what they can raise, financially, on their own.

I’m not totally sure that I’m following all of the points that you are making. You stated that “…like our birth, we are not responsible for our religious shaping”. Of course, we aren’t responsible for our religious (or any other) shaping as children. Adventists are the product of their environment. My point was that Adventism, IMO, is legalistic, and unbiblical in some of their doctrines. Also, I’m not surprised at all that most people leave after joining. As I said, you have no idea what you are actually joining. There is no way to know. Why do you think that so many new members, and so many lifers have left the SDA church?

Skin color and ethnicity can’t be changed. But, one’s religious beliefs can be.


I remember that, too. I don’t think it was meant to “shame,” but unfortunately it came across that way for many. I am happy it stopped.

If we’re counting money, yes I agree. Accountability should start at the top. However, :though dollars matter, the question is what’s behind the gain or loss of membership? I believe we should look closely at each local congregation, in African countries for instance.

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Thank you for such a relevant article. I have watched the cycle of members who come in through evangelistic efforts get baptized, become disappointed at the lack of welcome and leave. So many we f those who leave are dedicated Christians and have so many talents that could benefit the local church.

I fully agree with the need to change our strategic planning methods and shift towards the impact our efforts are making. Real reflection and transparency and the process would be a meaningful. The results would be measurable. And most likely, we would be more aligned with the love God wants us to share inside the church and with those we seek to reach.

Thank you again!

i agree that local is where it’s at…administrators can really only formulate policies that are in harmony with what they already know church members agree with, and really, all of these policies are going to need to be variations on the theme of “go and make disciples of all nations”…but administrators can’t implement, or specify how to complete, any of these policies…that’s the job of the local congregation…

i think efficacy, and any measure of efficacy, is a reflection of the abilities of the local congregation, and whether they think administrator policy that they theoretically agree with should be implemented…