Annual Council Report I: Membership


(system) #1

A busy Annual Council with a heavy agenda is what Matthew Bediako, secretary of the SDA Church, told members of the General Conference Executive Committee to expect at the beginning of his 2009, 40-page report. And the two inch thick black binders that delegates were handed at the beginning of the session bore out his comment, because actually there are multiple agendas—a general one, a policy agenda, church manual agenda, constitution and bylaws agenda, a consent agenda.

Business started at 9 am Sunday morning. It looked to be a long day. But there were several videos to liven up the presentations and even one skit. The Adventist Development and Relief Agency hosted a noon hour reception to celebrate its 25 anniversary. Food and t-shirts were distributed.

By the end of the day the delegates had approved the strategic plan for 2010-2015, and heard the secretary’s report with barely a comment or two along the way. President Jan Paulsen added a special item of appreciation for the lay members of the church who with “zeal and the Holy Spirit” contribute to the work of the church. That was the introduction for Garwin McNeilus to speak of the one day churches that are being built around the world by Maranatha.

And what is the strategic plan for 2010-2015? A refined version of the current plan known as “Tell the World”. Except rather than having seven elements on spiritual growth, community involvement, personal spirituality, city evangelism, church planting, evangelism, and the use of the media, the plan has been refined into three sections with the easier to remember catch phrase: “Reach Up, Reach Out, Reach Across. A four-color 18-page brochure was distributed to help delegates take home this message. It even included a DVD in the back in which a charming child asks “What does God have in mind for our church?”

Explanations come from church leaders, but after each section the camera returns to the child who takes us through the ideas of reaching up to God through Bible study and prayer, reaching out to others in a friendly manner of service to others, and reaching across the barriers that threaten to divide us as a church family.

The process that was used to produce the plan began with a committee re-examining the church mission statement and a revised version of that is on the agenda to be considered later in this meeting. The second phase included data gathering via surveys and focus groups about the issues facing the world church. Trends from outside the church were examined, too. A steering committee spent three days going through all the information, according to Mike Ryan, vice president and chair of the strategic planning process. He says that one of the landmark moves coming out of this process will be the proposal that the strategic planning and budget committees be brought together so there will be a tighter connection between the church mission and budgeting process. Ryan also emphasizes that with the current planning process, measurable goals are always included, as well as assessment of those goals. “This is more than a job,” he says, “we are not only accountable to our constituency, we are accountable to God.”

Being held accountable for numbers is something that Secretary Matthew Bediako is requiring of the divisions in their count of members. His report began with the laudable fact that “1,029,206 precious souls of men and women have joined the Remnant Church during the four quarters under review through baptism and profession of faith.”

That was the good news, but there was bad news as well. “This high growth should give us a membership of more than 17 million,” he said. “Unfortunately, the retention rate of membership is very, very low.

“The Church audit in the South American Division has resulted in a decrease again of over 300,000 members. In spite of the fact that the Division recorded a total accession of 208,031, it exhibited a net membership decrease of 335,752. This decrease has also impacted on the world membership and the growth rate of the Church.” To cheer up the South Americans, Bediako said that in other divisions where audits of membership have taken place, it has been followed by significant growth.

The day concluded with the Adventist Mission report and a satirical video about what would happen if the church stopped sharing mission offerings and just kept all funds at home. There were sad scenes of missions closing, and gleeful ones of dreams of enhanced building projects. The short film ended with a scene in the archives of the church where Bert Haloviak was shown ripping pages out of the Church Directory of portions of the church that would not exist were it not for mission offerings. The audience got the point, laughed and applauded the creative presentation.

There are pages to go before the end of the meeting later this week. Perhaps the revision of the church manual, and the allocation of the at-large seats at General Conference will spark more discussion on the morrow.


This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/1899