Behind Adventism’s Quest to Finish the Work

Adventism, in its ambition to finish the work, now faces an existential crisis. Looked at closely, it’s a self-inflicted crisis of relevance that makes this ambitious goal more elusive. For many in the church who are over the age of 25, the world into which we were born no longer exists, which presents the danger of being out of touch, operating under outdated assumptions, developing products that no one consumes, speaking a language that no one understands, and answering questions that no one is asking. To put this into perspective, statistics from the General Conference Office of Archives, Statistics, and Research presented at the 2022 GC session revealed that while church accessions have generally “flourished,” averaging more than a million per year, the church also faced significant losses. For example, from 2017–2021, a total of 5.9 million people joined the Adventist Church while 3.6 million people left the church during the same period. This means at least 6 out of every 10 new members are leaving the church, and this number could be higher if more membership audits are implemented around the world. With an average growth rate of about 1.84% between 2017–2021 compared to 2.75% between 2012–2016, the Adventist Church finds itself with the stark reality of missional paralysis. While over the years, calls for more efforts on discipleship, nurture, reclaiming, and pastoral care have been repeated, our current attrition rate remains worryingly high.


This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/12170
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No changes will take place in church evangelism until we stop the flow of millions of dollars of tithe to the upper levels of management. Sadly almost no one in the church can even name officers in the Union or Division. Yet they take the lion’s share of money from the local church. They have educated members to view the Conference as the only “storehouse” for tithe. Yet the Early Christian church never taught tithe giving.

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You have presented a perfect picture of the influence of GC over its subordinate units down to the local congregations. The ‘Go’ initiative according Jesus, is to present the Gospel, not distributing millions of
Great Controversy books, which only promote Adventist creeds.

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What is the end game? How will we know the work is finished? With such an unattainable task no wonder nobody is excited to sign up.

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Regarding the “young people” - these are typically children of practicing SDA parents, who themselves become SDA through indoctrination and parental pressure, without having examined the teachings of the church themselves. It’s unrealistic to expect any more than a very small portion of them to sign on to the “28 fundamentals” once they’ve had the opportunity to examine them absent parental or family pressure. The trend towards adding more and more detail to the “28” and the desire on the part of some to make the “28” a condition of membership will ensure that more and more thinking members will resign or simply drop out.

If the church wishes to remain relevant, it would do well to pare down the “28” to just a handful, and jettison the 19th century shibboleths. Ironically one of the shibboleths that ought to be discarded is the notion that the SDA church is tasked with “finishing the work”.

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I honestly think that the SDA church has only been relevant to the members. Outside of the bubble, it’s a total non-entity.

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I agree. The question for the church is does it want to be a smaller club with greater uniformity of opinion or a larger club where they welcome a greater diversity of opinion. Neither approach though has any bearing upon the mythical finishing of the work.

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One reason to “stay” in spite of it all is to minimize, as best one can, the damage being done by pastors, leaders and members whose misunderstanding of the Christian message does untold damage to people. Some stay and believe conspiracy theories such as LLU is infested with “Jesuits,” or leave what they see as a kind of asylum and look for sanity elsewhere.

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My question is about speaking in clichés. Do we really expect to “finish the work”? What are we supposed to “finish”? What does “job done” look like?

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Admiral Ncube has again really hit the Adventist nail on its head. Thank you for an excellent, thought-provoking piece.

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Exactly, makes it the hardest time teaching Bible class when there’s no relevance in our church.

“The current approach where young people are used as mere tools for protecting and projecting Adventist identity is not sustainable, especially at a time when many are searching for meaning and authenticity.”

^ love, love this line

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Interesting.

Without having one scrap of anything written by Jesus himself, and with only hearsay evidence that he ever existed, much of which “evidence” was penned by people who never actually knew Jesus or who only ever met him in their dreams, like Paul, EGW and who knows how many other purported prophets who have been spewing contradictory vitriol supposedly sent from heaven on high for the last 2,000 years, Adventists are finally supposed to somehow come to a “correct” understanding of Jesus’ message, and figure out the proper way to “finish” his work, all without damaging people, exactly how?!??

Call me crazy as Christians have been saying of nonbelievers for two millennia, but I think the easiest way to finish Jesus’ work is to admit that the most reasonable explanation for why he didn’t leave his church a clear, concise handwritten plan for how to accomplish his mission is because he himself was exactly like that plan, and never existed.

The dangers and damage caused by believing otherwise, and waiting for Jesus to come back and tell “his” church “Enough is enough!”, are clearly demonstrated by even the most cursory study of the history of the so-called Christian church.

Alternatively, if Jesus was real, and really was the son of a god, (whatever that means?!?!) doesn’t it seem most reasonable to think that he and his dad have the power to finish the job of convincing people to accept his message using a personal, one on one relationship rather than any denomination’s “more of the same” approach?

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The denomination…the institutional SDA church has lost religious currency. If it ever had any. It is collapsing under the weight of its own bureaucracy. I wonder if the educational and healthcare institutions will be able to step up and salvage anything from the church’s demise.

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This scenario is not unique to Adventists. Decline is happening across the board, among evangelical Christians, mainstream Protestants as well as Roman Catholics. What’s the problem and is there a way to reverse it?

Very often I hear or am reminded that God will finish the work. Beside being a relevant retort to the initial jab of this rant, it is an important principle to internalize. When one reads the great commission it is perhaps tempting to insert the organized church where it mentions the disciples. That is indeed what the “structure” would want a person to think. Rather, as frequently suggested, the church is the individual saints and in Matthew, I would suggest, the commission is to the individual disciple. Without the spirit and power of God all human plans will come to naught. When that becomes more obvious it will be even more apparent that God Himself will finish the work. Indeed, EGW says so. Go look it up!

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There is more than “hearsay” evidence, Bruce!

25? Really? I’m 56. I must be completely lost!

Does it mean that? I mean, I wouldn’t be surprised, but does the (unmentioned) data show that those are all the new converts that are leaving? What if a significant portion are older converts, like me, those born in the church that are now completely fed up and disillusioned?

That depends, I suppose, on your perspective. If it turns out that the church is not relevant to many - willfully chooses to be that way - and so they are leaving in response, then that’s a normal thing. Nothing to worry about. It’s actually a good thing!

This was true pre-COVID-19 as well! It was true in 2010. It was true in 2000. It was true in 1990.

Yes, and the first leads to the second. Excluding women ensures that young people will flee. My daughters have. All their friends have. Who wants to be a member of a club that promotes misogynistic ideas from the 1800’s? Never mind the institutionally supported science-denial, which doesn’t help.

Well, you know, it takes many years to memorize and be able to quote the complete works of Ellen White, so you know how to vote (against anything new and especially women.)

Well… maybe, if you assume this is the “end-time”. Really, not only do few really want to hear that, but it’s also unlikely.

Huh? The great equalizer? I don’t get that at all. Biblically, the Sabbath is a day of rest. Nothing else.

Undoubtedly, it’s because the message is rooted in an 1800’s view of the world, an obsession that the end of the world is coming real soon now, and other somewhat-ridiculous ideas that just aren’t real: The Pope is the Anti-Christ? Really? Which Pope? Women are inferior to men and should be subjected by them? Creation literally happened in a week only 6,000 years ago? There really was a world-wide flood? The bible is a history book? A science book? Please!

This sort of nonsense is what is driving almost everyone who is even slightly educated from the church and preventing those from the outside from considering joining.

The only way to attract more people to the church is to drop all of that nonsense.

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And do you just want me to take your word for it?

While I appreciate Marcos Torres’s desire to preach the sabbath differently, this still misses the point from a simple Christian perspective:

The gospel Is what exposes the insanity of racism, “Where there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, no male or female, but all are one in the Messiah Jesus.” Even the idea that sabbath is the equalizer between man and nature falls short, as the entire creation groans in labor pains for the glorious revealing of the children of God. Paul once again centers on the gospel not sabbath or law as what will lead to all things being put right.

SDAism even in its progressive forms just can’t seem to let go of its focus on law, and move fully into the centrality of Christ and the gospel.

Frank

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