How Delegates Are Selected for General Conference Sessions

The world headquarters of the Seventh-day Adventist Church is abuzz with preparations for the upcoming General Conference Session. The 60th meeting of its kind in the 152-year history of the denomination will take place in San Antonio, Texas and will see as many as 60,000 people from more than 170 countries gather in the Alamodome.

Although sometimes thought of as a kind of global camp-meeting for those who come to hear music and preaching from around the world while connecting with old friends and meeting new ones, the heart of this event is a business meeting in which world church leadership is elected, critical issues are discussed and decisions are made governing how the church will move forward in fulfilling its mission.

The Business of Session

The very first official World Session of the Seventh-day Adventist Church was a one-day meeting held on May 20, 1863 in Battle Creek, Michigan with 20 delegates present. At the time the organizational structure of the Church was small and membership was only a few thousand, mostly from the United States of America. However, as the Seventh-day Adventist Church has developed in countries around the world, its membership has grown.

The delegates, who are sent as official representatives of the church as it is constituted in their locale, conduct the business of General Conference Session. But just who are these delegates? How are they chosen? What are their responsibilities at a General Conference Session as they function in their role?

The rules governing the selection of delegates are spelled out in the Constitution and Bylaws of the General Conference that define the purposes and operations of the global church and those that govern a General Conference Session.

In an attempt to divest the definition of a delegate and the description of their duties from the technical language found in what could be a rather complex narrative, this article will attempt to describe in broad strokes and approachable language what forms this functional body.

In broad terms the structure of the Church can be understood by knowing that members belong to congregations. Congregations within a specific geographic territory are organized into a local conference/mission or in some cases, a union of churches. Defined groups of local conferences or local missions comprise a union conference or union mission. Unions are the building blocks of the General Conference.

Terminologies like ‘mission’ when attached to conferences and unions usually indicate that they are in a stage of development that has not reached full financial viability and self-sustenance.

Unions and divisions of the General Conference select delegates in harmony with regular delegate quotas and selection processes outlined in the Bylaws. Members of the General Conference Executive Committee are also delegates at a General Conference Session.

The total number of delegates from each division must include at least 50% of the group being lay members, pastors or other front line workers. A majority of that 50% must be laypersons.

There are two kinds of delegates: regular delegates and delegates-at-large. Regular delegates represent the General Conference member units as outlined in the bylaws.

Delegates-at-large represent the General Conference and its institutions as well as divisions and their institutions.

The entire delegation for a General Conference Session is comprised of:

  1. Delegate quotas based on units of organizational structure
  2. Delegate quotas based on division membership as a percentage of total world membership, and
  3. Delegates representing the General Conference, its institutions plus divisions and their institutions.

Who are these delegates?

Here are some interesting facts about the delegates at this GC Session:

Regular Delegates 1559

Delegates-at-large 1007

Total delegates 2566

Age data

  • Under 30 6%
  • 30-39 10%
  • 40-49 26%
  • 50-59 35%
  • 60-69 19%
  • Over 70 3%

Gender Data

  • Female 17%
  • Male 83%

How Delegates are selected

A question that is certain to be asked when reading statistics on gender representation is why is the percentage of female delegates so small when it is perceived that women are in the majority as pertains to Church membership? The answer is simple. While efforts are continually made to ensure that the entire delegation shall be comprised of both genders, currently the positions from which these delegates are named and that generate the majority of delegates for the Session are held by males. This will change over time as more women are elected to leadership positions and Conference or Union executive committee membership.

It is important to note that regular delegates to the General Conference Session are not selected by the General Conference itself, but are selected by Unions and Divisions around the world field. The individuals selected are the representatives of their various organizations to the General Conference Session.

The executive committees of the unit that they represent select regular delegates. If the delegate represents a mission, the committee of the larger unit to which it is attached selects the delegate. They are a mix of lay people, pastors and teachers and church administrators.

Their job is to report to the Session and be present during the business meetings to debate, discuss and vote on items that appear on the agenda. They must be members in regular standing of the Seventh-day Adventist Church and they are often chosen because of their demonstrated interest and involvement in the church.

In recent years the church has made special efforts to include young adults, women and frontline workers in the delegate mix.

Each delegate has voice - meaning that they can come to the microphone and speak to the business that is under discussion. They also have vote - meaning they are able to vote on the item that is under discussion.

One-third of the total number of delegates must be present for the Session to be able to declare a quorum and to conduct business.

Shortly after the Session has officially begun, delegates will meet in groups or a “caucus,” one group for each division and attached union and one group for the General Conference and those delegates-at-large that it specifically names according to Bylaws and Executive Committee provisions. The purpose of these groups is to choose members from each group who will serve on the Nominating Committee. The number of Nominating Committee members from each group is specifically defined in the Bylaws.

Delegates, both regular and at-large, approve the agenda of the Session and they elect church leadership after receiving reports from the Nominating Committee.

In upcoming installments of the GC Session 101 Series we will discuss the policies that outline the formation of the nominating committee as well as their responsibilities. Future articles will also look inside the experience of being nominated by talking to a former nominee.

There are 2566 people as delegates designated to conduct the business of determining the leadership for the General Conference and its divisions, the fundamental beliefs of the Church, amendments to the Church Manual, and other matters that may be referred to the Session by the General Conference Executive Committee. However, their most important business, and that of the church in general, will be focus on the plans and presentations sharing about the mission of the church in lifting up Christ, His righteousness, His three angels’ messages, His evangelistic mission to the world and His soon second coming. The spiritual focus of the General Conference Session is the most important aspect of its work – unifying God’s people to accomplish the final mission entrusted into their hands.

General Conference leadership has invited members around the world to participate in the 100 Days of Prayer campaign leading up to GC Session. We are to pray for the falling of the latter rain of the Holy Spirit on the 2015 General Conference Session. This is the greatest work of the Session – to humble ourselves before God and receive His unifying power to accomplish God’s mission for His church.

Please pray for the delegates as they gather to conduct this most important work. It is our hope that church business conducted faithfully, hearts that are open to the Holy Spirit earnestly, prayers that are ascending on behalf of God’s people ceaselessly, minds that search God’s word diligently and hands that act in God’s love endlessly will allow us to soon see His face.

The 2015 General Conference Session theme says, “Arise! Shine! Jesus Is Coming!” May this be the theme of Seventh-day Adventists meeting in San Antonio and around the world.

This article was written by the Adventist News Network reporting staff.


This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/6840

May it be so. …

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The gender and age breakdown says it all. The GC delegates do not represent the church as a whole.

If 50% of the delegates must be laypersons, why are there not more women? If the majority of delegates, are laypersons why is that directly contradicted by the following statement?

Either the majority are laypersons or the majority are based on positions. How can it be both?

Edit: I think my math was bad. Apparently 50% of 50% must be laypersons. That leaves 75% of the delegate pool dominated by males.

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How delegates are chosen:

In some divisions, if you are pro-WO, you are chosen. There should be some democratic process of nomination and election, as the official church in some areas does not represent the membership.

Misleading. The General Conference is a support organization for the Union Conferences, just as the Union Conferences are support organizations for the Local Conferences, etc.

Also wrong. The GC does not get to define the Fundamental Beliefs. But I agree that the power grab that started with the enumeration is continuing.

Right, and that 25% is largely chosen by the group the other 75% represent.

Unity in diversity. Unity in purpose. Not uniformity in cultural issues. And certainly not preserving the status quo just because it is the status quo.

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Perhaps I’m just a little OCD, but I noticed that 1% of the delegates are “ageless” :smile:. (I suspect the percentage figures are rounded to the nearest whole percent, and that is why the numbers add up to 99 and not 100).

On a slightly more serious note, it’s disturbing that 84% of delegates are over the age of 40, and 57% (or 58%) are over the age of 50. If that is actually representative of the church demographic, it doesn’t bode well for the future.

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It may represent the age distribution in the US where the last numbers I saw show a median age for north America at 51 years. I have had a hard time confirming it, but I understand that in South America and Southern Africa the church is considarably younger.

The university System of Georgia consists of 33 colleges and universities. on a regular basis, the presidents of each unit meet with the Chancellor and his staff. at one such meeting early in my career as Vice President I was sent to represent my president who was ill. I was introduced, an old timer immediately took the seat beside me, and began to instruct me on how to vote on each issue…Non of which had any real significance to the system. of course I listened and then voted my own position that I could defend with my president.

How many of the delegates will understand that if they vote to accept the report of the nominating committee they have actually voted for the new slate of officers. for most, the session is an excellent field trip. Tom Z

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the North American church is an Aging church. Average age in Geo-Cumberland is 57. Only something like 28% have children of school age – Kindergarten to College.
I was amazed at the number of Pastors who are 5 to 7 years from retirement age in NA.
The majority of SDAs in NA are Grandparent age.
The sad thing about these pictures [statistics] is that members are satisfied with these numbers. These numbers do NOT Alarm anyone.
So it is business as usual.

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Robert,

Thats because of people like Jeremy @vandieman who refuse to give their age :wink:

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Looks like a jury rigged system. If you want to change it, quit feeding it. Of course they say they are the storehouse. What else would you expect them to say?

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this isn’t quite right, tony…it’s not that i’m refusing to give my age, it’s that i’m not agreeing to give it…there is a difference…

as for this article, and the implied follow-ups, i’m really glad to understand something of the way delegates are chosen…what i really want to know is whether international delegates are receiving an all-expense paid vacation that somehow circumvents working visa requirements - are their paid expenses categorized as something other than pay…i’m noticing that some fairly pricey hotels in the river walk area of downtown san antonio, near the aladome, are all completely booked up for the dates of the general conference session…and presumably they’re also getting some kind of stipend for meals…

lol good one Jeremy. The next time your done for speeding, you should say to the Judge, I didnt “refuse” to take the tick, its just that I didnt “agree” to take it…there is a big difference, judge.

I’m sure he’ll understand :wink:

And your question about delegates is an interesting one.

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Jeremy,

In talking to one delegate from the South Pacific Division I understand that it will be for him an all expenses paid working holiday.He is also allowed an extra 3 nights accommodation, presumably to allow recovery from jet lag and to allow for international flight connections. And he will be accompanied by his wife at her expense.However, a double room will be provided.

Why Immigration should be concerned about the fact that aliens are visiting to transact ecclesiastical business at an international conference based in America is beyond me. But then I am not American Immigration.

Was it in Utrecht in 1995 that many delegates from the two thirds world stayed in specially constructed, demountable booth like accommodation in gymnasiums or the like?

When you have gender exclusiveness as we do in the pastoral ministry you will undoubtably have severe under representation of that excluded gender in the delegates. How dismal must it get to demonstrate how gender biased the function of our church is?

The other part of this puzzel that is of concern is the low numbers of the 30 somethings. I am all for experience that comes with age, but we need to see more thirty somethings and less than thirty being part of the decision making process of our beloved denomination. We have MUCH to improve upon. That it is still 150+ years later this dismal in gender balance is a real shame.

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One is eligible to be President of the United States at 35, but not an officer of the Seventh-day Adventist Church. One wonders if age is mentioned, anywhere—mission service is, understandably.

The rules for a B1/B2 combined visa, which is a non-immigrant visa, does allow for attending or exhibiting at conferences, signing contracts and other business related activities. The most important factor is that they are not being paid by an entity within the US, if they were, they would be required to get a work visa. An honorarium and expenses are not included in in the category of payment.

For those from countries on the visa waiver program, like most countries in Europe, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, etc. the rules are the same, but they don’t need a visa.

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Our pioneers by in large were 20 somethings and by the time the GC was formed in 1863 they were in their mid to late thirties.

Does anyone know if a list of delegates to the General Conference session is available? We used to work overseas and would love to know if any friends are on that list.

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Thanks for the information!! These rules are very understandable!!