Eliminate the GC? An Alternate Model

A recent article by Bonne Dwyer, “Money Matters 2019,” highlighted the decision by the North America Division to lower its percentage of tithe sent to the General Conference (GC) and the financial implications to the GC of that decision. In response to that article, some comments were made to eliminate the GC altogether. That is probably a solution too radical to ever get any traction, as appealing as it may sound.

My concerns are primarily three-fold, although others may add to this list. First, the overhead of running all the levels of administration, including the GC, Divisions, Unions, and local Conferences seems excessive when this money could be better spent at the local level for ministry and evangelism. Second, the Adventist church leadership seems on a trajectory to accumulate more and more popish-like powers. Third, the church seems more and more governed by professional administrators and the laity is left more and more out of the decision process. Others might have additional concerns, but those are my top three concerns.

While eliminating the GC, or the Divisions, or the Unions has been bantered about for some time, just eliminating one or more of these organizations, with no alternative model, probably will never get anywhere. My goal in this paper is to propose an actual working model that would address the concerns listed above.

The model I propose is the organization structure of the Church of the Nazarene. The Church of the Nazarene, like the Seventh-day Adventist Church (SDA), is a fairly recent denomination. The SDA Church was officially organized in 1863; the Nazarene Church was organized in 1908. The highest level of the SDA Church is the GC, which meets every five years. The highest level of the Nazarene Church is the General Assembly (GA), which meets every four years. The official membership of the SDA Church is listed at a little less than 21 million. The official membership of the Nazarene Church is listed at about 2.5 million as of 2016. However, the membership statistics of the SDA Church are suspect, and it is questionable how accurate or meaningful SDA membership statistics are. Also, I see nothing in the structure of the Nazarene Church that is not scalable and would not work for 25 million members as well as 2.5 million members.

The SDA Church is structured into five levels: General Conference, Division, Union Conference, local Conference, and local church. The Nazarene Church is structured into three levels: General Government, District Government, and Local Government. A District in the Nazarene Church is roughly the equivalent of a local Conference in the SDA Church. Not only are there fewer levels, but the staffing levels at the General and District level are far less than the typical GC, Division, Union, or local Conference. Below is a diagram depicting the levels of government and a high level summary of respective responsibilities:

(Click the flow chart for a larger view.)

So the simplified structure of the Nazarene Church is far, far less costly to the Nazarene Church than the much larger administrative overhead of the SDA Church.

Now this is where it gets interesting. The Nazarene Church does not have a “president.” The Nazarene Church has six General Superintendents that are elected every four years at the General Assembly. Each superintendent is one among equals — there is no “president,” “king,” or “pope.” I have not researched it more, but I suspect that the General Superintendents delegate responsibilities amongst themselves. The Nazarene Church has never limited women in the ministry like the SDA Church has, so a woman can serve as a General Superintendent. In fact, of the current six General Superintendents, one is a woman. Such an organizational structure would severely limit the tendency of any one person to exercise “kingly power.” If you look at the current General Superintendents, they include a former seminary president, a regional president from Africa, a person who is Guatemalan by birth, a person who was born in Mozambique, and a woman who served as a missionary to Russia. Most were former pastors or missionaries. This sort of organization would eliminate the hierarchical power grab tendency of the current SDA Church structure.

If you look at the General Board, it is comprised of 48 members representing the Districts, and four additional members, two representing education, one representing Nazarene Youth International, and one representing Nazarene Missions International, for a total of 52 General Board Members. The general Board serves the same function as the GC Executive Committee. The General Board meets annually. Further, a member of the General Board cannot be an employee of the Nazarene Church. In the Nazarene Church, ordained pastors are employees of the local church, so are not considered employees of the Nazarene Church. Each District nominates two laypersons and two pastors as candidates to be considered for the General Board, which is elected at the General Assembly.

So in contrast to the SDA Church, the General Board is comprised of almost entirely (except for the four designated positions) of lay people and local pastors. The SDA Church, at the General Conference level, is comprised almost exclusively of administrative employees of the denomination. The current structure seems to leave the Executive Committee too beholden to the GC President and contributes to the authoritarian trajectory of the denomination. The Nazarene Church with its General Board with almost exclusive local pastors and lay members would put the decision making back in the hands of the people instead of a professional administrative team far removed from the issues and challenges faced by local churches.

If one is interested in more details on their form of government, you could consult the Church Manual for the Nazarene Church. I have only highlighted a few major points that address the issues I noted.


Rather than just tossing out the GC, or the Division, or the Unions and seeing where the pieces fall, I suggest we consider a more streamlined model that is currently working successfully and that has far less administrative control, far less administrative overhead and returns control to the local level. We have an example in the Church of the Nazarene that is working, and has been working for decades.


I recommend for the upcoming General Conference Session in 2020 that:

1. We eliminate the current GC President and Vice Presidents in favor of six Vice Presidents who are one among equals. These Vice Presidents should be selected from people no higher than the Union level. There should be no gender limitation. Lay people should be eligible, not just professional administrators. Efforts should be made to select people who represent education, healthcare, and missions, for example. It would allow representation from different world areas.

2. We elect an Executive Committee with membership drawn from no higher than the local Conference, preferably local pastors and lay people. I would suggest a more manageable size, like that of the Nazarene Church. It could have additional members drawn from healthcare, education, Sabbath School, and missions. Like the Vice Presidents, Executive Committee membership should have no gender limitation.

3) We task the new Vice Presidents and Executive Committee to present a plan to the following GC meeting in 2025 to eliminate the Divisions and Unions and migrate to a more nimble, accountable, efficient organizational structure. There should be annual updates to the membership at each Fall Council on progress towards this goal.

I believe this would address my primary concerns listed above. Would such a transition be without bumps? Certainly not. It would be a learning experience. Fortunately, we have a working model (the Nazarene Church) to look at and people we can consult (leaders in the Nazarene Church denomination). The alternative is the status quo, which will probably eventually result in more division and potentially in a split of the Adventist Church as we know it, with far more traumatic consequences.

Dennis Stevens is a retired electrical engineer living with his wife Eira in the Portland, Oregon area.

Image: Wikipedia.org

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This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/9563

Thank you for sharing these ideas. Church councils were periodically convened in the early church as well (Nicea, Laodicea, etc) although not as frequently as the Nazarenes or SDAs convene their assemblies. Later as the papacy accumulated more and more power, councils were seen as a check on that power and even elected competing popes. Ultimately, however, the example of ancient Rome proved too great a temptation and just as Rome overthrew the Republic to become an Imperium, the Pope eventually managed to hang on to and consolidate power in one person despite attempts at intervention by various councils. This was perhaps due to backing by various, powerful individuals who had a vested interest in keeping the pope in power. The success of your idea may also hinge on whether or not we have such powerful individuals or entities within Adventism who have a similar vested interest in continuing the General Conference presidency.

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A great idea, but it will not happen. What is key is that salvation is between God and each individual with no go between. The church serves as a place of group worship. As with any group there must be some rules of order and consent. The point of the church is to share and to encourage and strengthen. Leadership should be based upon competence and fidelity to the Gospel. Credentialing is only the ground floor of appointment. Authority is of God not man.


I like the proposal. It seems our local Conference president is on the road a lot going to meetings all over the place and likely not contibuting much to anything given that many administrators are there also competing for each other’s time. Our church manual is full of bloat also and probably can be reduced a great deal. Who actually owns one, reads it, knows what is in it and follows it? I can go into almost any mainstream Christian church and take communion without any difficulty. Communion in an SDA church has a lot of ritual and rules which takes away from the solemnity that Jesus intended.


The pros and cons regarding the proposal to attach the Chinese Union Mission directly to the GC, the conversation having been postponed for the next Annual Council, should be of interest whether or not we believe in keeping our traditional divisional structures. What might be gained or lost as a result of doing away with Divisions?

I appreciate the willingness to think outside of the box. I have a couple of comments.

  1. We may not be 25 million (they may not be 2.5 million), but size does lead to increased personnel.
  2. I took a good look at the N. A. Div. financials. If you delve into them, I’m not sure that you can say that they are top-heavy for an organization responsible for a million plus people and a billion dollars in donations. Meaning, when people say the overhead is too costly, I generally find that comes from people who haven’t managed large entities.
  3. The author suggests that this model easily allows women into the leadership. This is a fundamental misunderstanding as to why the SDA Gen. Conference doesn’t allow women into leadership. My point is, that WO is an entirely different subject that the structure won’t solve.
  4. I’m not opposed to a conversation about an organization without a President, but I don’t think it’s automatically true that a “band of equals” at the top is necessarily better. The reality is that we are pretty bitterly divided between progressives and conservatives in the church and the progressives currently feel like it’s a bad deal because the head is a conservative. If you have lots of heads do you just end up with 6 feuding church heads? I’m not saying it’s wrong, just think the issues are more complex than stated here.
  5. Finally, the General Conference in Session would never adopt it. First, the conservatives in the worldwide church want to be under an authoritarian figure. Second, they really like the fact that the current authoritarian figure hews to their worldview. Third, even the progressives wouldn’t be sure about such a massive change - they want to fix what they consider the real problems in the church (conservative worldview) instead of changing the structure.

I think this would be tilting at windmills, personally, but if it ever came to a vote, I’d give it complete consideration.



I think eyethink2 has made many cogent points.

The author thinking seems to have been stimulated by the recent vote to disallow WO, and this would be a means of getting around it. Like Democrats suggestion to do away with the Electoral College because they do not like the results.

A few comments:

  1. Here in Indiana, the conference has really on five executive positions, President, Ministerial Sec., and Treasurer, Education (a lady) and Trust Services The other positions are held by pastors who fill in part time and also take churches. This seems a bare bone top side to me. They have secretaries. The giving is several million each year.
  2. The General Conference and the Divisions are really one entity, that is the divisions make up the GC. Only in GC session is the church representative of the whole.
  3. If one were to eliminate one part, the Union Conferences would seem to be the most dispensable. This would mean the Conferences would be directly under the Divisions. It might mean more control by the GC rather than less.
  4. The total abolition of the GC, so as the make the church a congregational one would lead to its destruction. I find it troubling that there are some even thinking this would be a good idea.

I think eyehtink2’s insight regarding the progressive and conservative conflict is on target. And the third world has the votes to make their willl the will of the GC. I think the next GC president will even be more in their camp.

As Spectrum readers certainly remember, in 2015 I was running for President of the GC… My platform was: Within 6 months eliminating the GC. The GC is completely irrelevant, nothing but a funel that receives tons of money.

Your model is very interesting and very attractive. Unfortunately, nothing is ever going to change. At least not while those black-suited guys are upstairs manipulating things. They will hold on to power with all their strength for as long as they can. Power & control (with no women around) is their main business. And they call it… “Church”… :roll_eyes:


I agree that reduction in number of administrators is essential. It can achieved in several models. The one proposed could be successful. While working towards a simple new model relocation of the GC to a low cost area eg Arica would reduce costs and interested personnel. Reduction to just four or five divisions would also be a good start with just several unions in each. Authorization to prepare such a proposal can be done annual council in October and voted.at GC in 2020. The 4-5 division leaders could constitute the new GC,! Let’s go!

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I would also add, the GC president should serve one term as president elect, one as president, and one as past president. And, he/she is out. That’s all!


More on the four division model based on geographic and cultural affinities. African, Asian, South-midamerican, North American European ANZ. Less than 10 unions per division. Local conferences as location of most traditional and support administration with numbers related to membership primarily and some to geography.Tithe remains at local conference who will support unions and divisions activities as needed. Let’s go!


You are going nowhere buddy! … lol
But thanks for bringing up again the “Africa idea.” Sure…, I can see all those black suited guys upstairs living somewhere there in Bundanoo, or other places in the middle of nowhere in Africa. They will be the first ones to support the elimination of the GC and ask to be “mere” church pastors again - here in the US, of course… :wink:

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Does the Church of the Nazarene operate a school system? This is likely a significant difference that would impact a governance structure.

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You are right of course Gearge but sometimes wild ideas just bounce out of fingertips unrestrained. But as we both agre, Africa deserves to be prominent in the future of the GC.

That is our problem. As members we are very disconnected. Even the elections are tightly controlled. Average members have no voice whatsoever in upper leadership. If leadership would publish committee minutes along with all financial reports. Give online options for any member to make a suggestion or a comment.

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I don’t know what you are talking about. It never happens to me… :innocent:


That would be way too “democratic”… The GC cannot act with transparency. It’s probably against their “kompliance” program… :roll_eyes:

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We don’t need to brainstorm as to what method are we going to use to eliminate the conferences: just eliminate the Tithing and they will all vanish. Where there is no carcass, there are no vultures.:sunglasses:


Commendable ideas, in a long list of other such ideas, that come and go with the seasons. Bottom line: the more it “changes” the more it stays the same. Why? Because Turkeys don’t vote for Thanksgiving (USA), or Christmas (UK)? The vast majority of policy makers have been, and still are, employed males with personal vested interests to keep the system in place; also known as “conflict of interest”.


I suggest that people who want to work at the GC should start making tents to sell to support their own salaries…