David Trim Explains the Disjuncts in Adventist Membership Numbers

On Friday morning at General Conference Session in San Antonio, David Trim, Director of the General Conference Office of Archives and Statistics, delivered a brief statistical report on the membership of the Seventh-day Adventist church.

He started by explaining that membership was, and continues to be, overstated and exaggerated. Membership stats are inflated because of systemic failure to accurately report losses, which includes deaths and loss of living members.

Mortality (the number of deaths per thousand members) is a key statistic for Adventists to analyze, said Trim. Adventist mortality rates for each division were calculated and compared for the years 1995 through 2010. This analysis revealed that the global Adventist mortality rate is well below the global mortality rate. This rate especially dipped as the 2000s progressed. In many divisions, the Adventist mortality rate is significantly lower than overall rates in their respective territories. We have often said that this speaks to the healthful living of Adventists and the fact that we live longer than the average person. But, Trim explained, the statistical difference is so great that healthful living alone cannot fully explain it. When the numbers are crunched, the Adventist mortality rate is under 40% of the general population’s mortality rate. Additionally, in the United States, the Adventist mortality rate is 66% and 88% of the general mortality rate for female and male members, respectively.

At best, our healthful living would come to 2/3 the global mortality rate, but our rate is 33.9%. The “logical conclusion is that our reported membership was and is overstated,” Trim said.

At the last General Conference Session in 2010, the GC put measures in place to help stop over-reporting. The measure with the most impact has been extensive membership audits. These audits were uncommon before 2010, especially in some parts of the world and can seem “strange and alienating” but “are actually very Adventist,” explained Trim.

Expounding on that statement, Trim went on to say that membership audits have been happening in one way or another since the beginning of the church. Audits are historically Adventist, with the first audits on record dating from the 1863 Battle Creek Report. Trim stated, “Membership audits are as old as our church, and are actually older than the General Conference.”

Unfortunately, as Trim explained, the audit process is not yet complete worldwide and there is still much to do, so our membership numbers continue to be inaccurate to some extent.

In 2015, 55,320 membership deaths were reported. This was up 2.67% from early in the last quinquennium. It also indicates a rate that is at 39% of the net global mortality rate (up from 33%).

“Accuracy of our audits is improving” says Trim. But it’s not just deaths that have been underreported. So too have the numbers of those who have left the church. There are the “dropped” (a term that replaced the outdated term “apostasies”), and there are also the “missing.”

Whereas the number of our deaths increased but remained relatively stable, the dropped and missing numbers have increased steeply in the past five years.

Growth rates in the late 1990s and early 2000s look spectacular but then seem to collapse. But this is a “statistical illusion,” Trim explained. What is really happening with the data is that our long-term failure to register losses in our audits mean that many who left before the past five years are only just now being reported.

Delegates should take note, Trim said, that “we are not suffering a church growth crises. We’re simply feeling the effects of a statistical correction.” Our growth rate in this quinquennium is probably higher than it appears.

The final implication of these membership audits is that it has revealed the actual scale of losses, not just in the last quinquennium or the last decade, but over the past 50 years.

Over 33 million people have been members of the SDA church over the past 50 years, but over 13 million of those individuals left the church. Our net loss rate is 39.25%, which means 4/10 church members have slipped away over the past half century.

Trim said the GC’s analysis of mortality rates indicates membership rates are still overstated in some regions. So audits are crucial and must continue. “Don’t think of this as a threat or a burden but as an opportunity,” Trim asked of delegates. “As church members, we aim for transparency and accuracy. When we know deep down these numbers are wrong, we are bearing false witness.”

Trim related the necessity of membership audits to the parable of the lost sheep in Luke 15. “Knowing how many sheep are in the fold is foundational for the divine shepherd.”

Every one of the members who has left the church over the last 50 years was “a soul precious to Jesus Christ,” Trim reminded. “Local churches need to rally together to nurture, disciple, and retain each other. This can’t just be left to the pastor.” This statement was met with enthusiastic applause from the delegates.

Adventists must emulate that good shepherd who went searching for that one sheep when it went missing.

After Trim concluded his report, several delegates took to the mics to ask questions. One female delegate asked that the report be released and a more complete breakdown on the demographics of those leaving the church be provided. “I think it is very crucial info and if we could get ahold of it we will go very far in evangelism,” she said.

David Trim replied by stating that more detailed information, including demographic breakdowns of the membership audits, is available here.

Alisa Williams is Spirituality Editor for SpectrumMagazine.org, and part of the General Conference reporting team in San Antonio, Texas.

This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/6921

Unfortunately the more link does not add much. I’d like to see details behind the near 40% abandonment rate by age and by length of membership. Perhaps gender.

Also would be interesting to know the rates for other churches.


So, if they know that 40% are gone, doesn’t that mean that a proper audit would reveal a much higher percentage?

I’ve always thought the membership numbers in NAD would probably be close to 50% less, if an honest audit was done.

Exactly. These numbers and trends should be seen in context because, despite protestations to the contrary, the church is a part of, and influenced by, social and demographic trends.

It should not be this difficult to have a good statistical estimation of death rates per 100K people. The statistical variation from the SDA population should be assumed to be the same and showing a similar distribution to the population at large; unless shown to be different. This is a general principle of statistics comparing subgroups and populations.

Adjustments due to relative health and longevity are poorly supported because the Adventist Health surveys have only been conducted in North America with some data from Norway. the Netherlands, etc. In these studies SDA death rates compared to population averages were around 80-90% of the overall rates.

In the midst of the Adventist megalomania this is a very sobering number. Adding and correcting for the rebaptisms somewhat reduces the success story further. Just focussing on evangelism is like trying to balance a budget by increasing the income, but never looking at the expenditure (and that is true in terms of people, but even in terms of finances of the church).

David Trim is to be commended for saying such things as:

Some honesty is helpful, but probably not for his position - because we rather like to deceive ourselves.


These past years, and in this session, we have been told the SDA church is one of the fastest growing churches in the world. The claim is that the SDA church is the fastest growing in North America. The total membership has been announced and various unions have used membership numbers in their presentations. In light of Trim’s statistics, maybe these figures should have been presented with some caution. He is saying one thing, and the rest of the church seems to be saying another. If the total membership numbers are off, then the growth numbers are off.


I dimly remember how at the 1995 GC the statistics were presented to suggest that if current growth would continue, all the world would be Adventist by 2020. Well - something like that. Statistics is an aweful thing, if you don’t know what you are doing. It’s even more aweful, if you do. … Well - take it with a pinch of salt; I have been teaching statistics myself and am quite fascinated by the subject. But please … not for propaganda, but for honest evaluation, which then only make sense if findings are used to consider change where necessary.


There are lies, d.a.m.n lies and statistics! :smile:


my dad started a construction company is South BendIndiana. he and mother were members of the South Bend Church. dad was was prosperous. he bought a new Nash touring car. the pastor preached a sermon the next week on greed. at that time Dads mother, living in Holland, Michigan fell deathly ill. so Dad and mother would drive to holland late each Friday and return late Sunday evening. His mother lingered for several months. one Monday evening, a group of local elders appeared and were invited in. They stated their mission. it was noted that mother and dad had not attended church for several months so they were here to inform them that their names were removed from the church books. Dad had a gentleman’s farm four miles from Emmanuel Missionary College. the folks moved to the farm and were accepted by faith in the college church.,So the Indiana Conference lost two members and the Michigan Conference gained two and the lake union had a steady state

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Great report. This is one area that we the SDA church needs to be mindful of, what is happening to and where are our members.

The commission is to make disciples, make disciples. This cannot be a rush process church clerks needs to be well furnished with tools to keep proper records. Sabbath school classes provide a great opportunity to keep accurate reporting of members.

An Elder and two other associates specifically assigned to reporting to the board of each local church the membership status of the church, this report should be taken every board meeting.

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At least we are NOT into Infant Baptisms.
Over the past 20 years I have heard rumors of inflated numbers being stated in 3rd world countries.
I think everywhere Pastors might be tempted to over state numbers in, under state numbers out.
Take here in NA with evangelistic services conducted. The Pastors will wait on Church School baptisms, then include the Church School baptisms along with the Evangelistic baptisms. Add them both together and the Evangelist gets credit AND the Church Pastor gets credit.
Probably the biggest issue is Death reporting, Missing member reporting, or people just dropping out through non-attendance without notification. I dont know how much difficulty this is to do in 3rd world locals. Preachers on those areas used to have a lot of groups to minister to and keeping up with numbers might be very difficult.
If one recalls we lost a Whole Church Group when the Other Church Group killed them.

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Who aims? Who cares if they even bear false witness? Who is really held responsible in a volunteer organization?
How many in conference positions, who are pseudo business men and/or former theology major graduates, even have a clue about quality control?

Who gathers any stats on why 39% leave? How do they even know 39% left? Maybe it is 69%.

Does anyone run stats on how often those who have not left attend church?

Does anyone offer surveys for those who attend church to get feedback on the quality of the programs that they return tithe and offerings on?

How can the drive for witnessing and evangelism be made when possibly thousands are not impressed to invite because of the poor quality and irrelevant church programs that are presented?

I challenge any SDA pastor to implement surveys to get feedback from their members as to their satisfaction level.

Guess who would dare drive this? The ministerial secretaries.
What is the fear? Loss of pensions.

“Fear and worry are a function of contemplating an unknown future.”

Being called the “fastest growing church”,
Is that from someone else’s numbers,
Or, from OUR numbers?

I once attended a church where there were 4 names on the books for every person that attended. The pastor dropped 1/2 the names. How would you like to tell your boss "I got rid of half of them in a year."
Here we run 2:1. I know people that have not been in the building for years. Can you count “once a year” as attending?

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[quote=“niteguy2, post:13, topic:8739, full:true”]
Being called the “fastest growing church”,Is that from someone else’s numbers,Or, from OUR numbers?
[/quote]I would think it comes from the SDA church. I don’t know how else an outsider would know the numbers. It seems it must be self reported by the denomination.

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Yes Andreas,

Select and view “World Population and Membership—History and Projections.

If the church were growing at the same rate since 2002 as it did during the last 20 years of the 20th Century on average, today the church would have 28 million members, not 18 million.

In short, the rate of growth in the Seventh-day Adventist church is declining as the world population grows.

By 2020, if the church were growing at the rate it grew between 1980 and 2000, the projection was for 38 million members.

Asking the elected leadership what has to change to reverse church growth decline is perhaps the most justifiable question today.

One thing is for sure, the message, Jesus is coming! has been fully amortized by a church that has been preaching it for 10 or more generations. There must be a more believable, a more relevant, a more practical, and a more compelling message it would seem, without ash-canning the Second Coming.

The message for the world is not Jesus is coming!, but ‘How to live if you expect to die before Jesus returns?’ And for the church, “If you expect to die before Jesus comes, have your lost your faith? Even if you are 10 years old, Not!”

There is a reason it took 92 years for the Seventh-day Adventist church to reach 500,000 members in size. It happened in 1940. It took 15 years more to add another 500,000. See "MembershipGrowthHalfMillions2012.pdf in the above link.

What the numbers show, is that the historical Seventh-day Adventist message is now fully amortized all the way around the world and growth is slowing and dramatically so.

I suppose the question could be, is the work nearly finished?

The numbers seem to confirm the message is pretty much finished.

Or am I missing something in the history of the church or the numbers?


there is institutional grip imposed by most if not all members of the majority of denominations. my uncle on my mother side was raised a Roman Catholic served as an alter boy. as a adult he disavowed all religion, but he always attended Mass on Christmas and Easter. then to cover his bet,he gave $100.00 a year to Harvest Ingathering due to his housekeeper being an Adventist. he died with the last rites by a priest. Tom Z

I guess there is some minimal benefit in doing the bean counting in any denomination but it doesn’t reflect the numbers in true Israel.
Where would Tom’s uncle be numbered? Among the RC’s or SDAs or neither or both? Surely St Peter would give him a free pass to mingle in the vast heavenly RC commonwealth and the tiny SDA republic.


There is pressure at all levels to show an increasing membership, versus a realistic one. At my local church, after a period of growth, we went through several challenging issues with pastors and active attendance declined dramatically. We had 1,200 people on the books, but attendance was about 250 including children who were not baptized and guests. We went through a review of membership dropped that number to 900 (many of them were people who had passed away decades ago or left the church decades ago). Even that 900 number was seriously overstated. When we did, that, our Conference was extremely upset with us because it messed up their reporting of growth to the Union.

Does it really matter if there are 18 million Adventists or 10? Or is to so important that we show we have more people who the Church claims are Adventist than who are Mormons? This is a sign of our immaturity as Christians rather than our success as a Denomination. It is counting people as the world does versus as Christ does.

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Makes me wonder if anyone at Pioneer Memorial Church has noticed I haven’t been there for 30 some years.