The One Project Create Conference Mandate: "Keep It Local"

“The gifts he gave were that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers….” (Eph. 4:11) Any attempt to fulfill all of these roles at the same time inevitably results in tension and disappointment. So, the large gathering on the first two days of The One Project in Seattle this year maintained a pastoral focus through gospel-centered presentations on the final week of Christ’s life. Then, on the last day of The One Project, a smaller group of about about 180 attendees met at the Create Conference, billed as a "hopeful, faithful, constructive, creative, and prophetic conversation about the future of the Adventist Church," focusing on prophetic dialogue and faithful critique.

In the first presentation, A Local Revolution, Alex Bryan was careful to point out that the Create conference was not just about deconstruction and critique but also about offering a positive perspective for the future. Yet, the prophetic impulse does involve rooting out the negative in order for the positive to flourish. Bryan said the Create conference theme this year arose from the many stories of Adventist young people who left the shelter of Adventist institutions only to find they had no place to belong in local Adventist churches.

Quoting George Knight, “If I were the devil, I would undermine the importance of the local congregation,” and Loren Siebold from Spectrum, “As a denomination we have not made local church a priority,” Bryan explained the problem—Adventist theology focuses on the life to come rather than the here and now. While careful to point out that the goal was not to criticize administrators but rather the system we have all created, he shared a graph revealing the most recent ratio of pastors (4,498) to administrators (5,783). He pointed out that this upside down ratio only makes sense if our focus is on the global denomination’s message rather than belonging in local churches. In response, he called for a decade of doing rich theology of the local church—ecclesiology. Bryan’s presentation laid out the question for the day, since the church is forever and always local—a real community in a real place—how do we create thriving, incarnational, local churches that will inspire the best and brightest to enter ministry and stay there?

In the second presentation, Why (Good) Theology Requires Space, Tim Gillespie pointed out that the gospel we live is just as local as the land we stand on. Orthodoxy (right belief) requires orthopraxy (right practice) which in turn requires orthopathy (right love). Put another way, loving the people around you will demonstrate very clearly what you believe. He pointed to Deuteronomy 6 and the gift of the land to the Israelites in which they were to inhabit to bless others. In the same way, we should inhabit and bless our communities. Instead, displaced administrators make too many decisions for the local church and often we don’t live in the communities where our churches exist. As a result, churches are good at random acts of kindness but poor at sustainable community impact.

Gillespie challenged us to get to know the communities where our churches are located. Further, he encouraged members or at least the pastor to actually live in the local church’s neighborhood. His presentation helped us recognize that the gospel is local. And in that is the hope.

Lisa Clark Diller both celebrated the success and admitted the failure of her local church in the third presentation, The Work of Neighborhoods. Diller said her role as a historian is to confess sins of the past and point to a contingent future, similar to the role of a prophet. She encouraged us to not fear failure by repeating several permutations on Samuel Beckett’s encouraging quote, “Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Fail again. Fail better.” Bemoaning the lost sense of placeness in our commuter society, Diller recommended the local movement as an attempt to gain what modernity has lost.

But, while this work of getting to know and recognizing our interdependence with our neighbors is needed it can also be tedious and dull. Defining what is local, obtaining demographics, discovering needs, finding opportunities, being present, giving to and receiving from the neighborhood is long, slow work. But, there are benefits. Slow community culture can free us from both frenetic programming busyness and from selfish navel-gazing.

Diller highlighted four opportunities for churches to partner with their communities: economic improvement, racial reconciliation, friendship evangelism, and making a long term effort. Yet, for each opportunity there are equal challenges, particularly for her privileged white, suburban congregation situated in a colorful, diverse urban environment. She concluded with an exhortation from Jeremiah 29, “Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce…. Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.”

After lunch, Japhet De Oliveira reminded us there is no ideal past church to which we can return in his presentation, How the Local Church Can Bless the Global Church. Jesus, he said, converts people. Not us. So, we need to embrace changes in our evangelism even and perhaps especially in the terms we use such as “reaping event.” In addition, while metrics are interesting and easy to analyze, evaluating the ability of churches to create healthy space to grow is much more valuable.

De Oliveira maintained that local churches need to become the dog again and our conferences, unions, divisions and head quarters need to become the tail. Innovation of the Gospel is at the local Church. The local Church shapes the Global Church.

Sam Leonor discussed Why Higher Education Needs Local Congregations in the fifth presentation. After a brief history of Adventist higher education, he shared that now the Adventist educational system employs the largest sector of the Adventist workforce. It also costs the most money, which wasn’t a problem until about 20 years ago when enrollment at Adventist primary and secondary schools began to decline. So, about a decade ago, La Sierra made a survival decision to begin recruiting students from their local community. As a result, they grew by about 1,000 students in the last 10 years.

These shifting demographics beg the question, what is Adventist higher education for? Leonor mentioned four reasons that churches start institutions of higher education: indoctrination of our youth, education for our youth, the marrying between our youth, and creating church employees from our youth. But, the shift to a more local focus highlights another reason for churches to support education, it is the work of redemption and outreach. Adventist education is one of our greatest and most underused opportunities to reach our local communities.

The sixth and final presentation of the day was Local Work: Mentoring (and Trusting) the Next Generation by Paddy McCoy. Echoing the first presentation, McCoy recognized that the vibrant environment we create on Adventist campuses is not the reality of the Adventist world. So, beautiful, passionate children of God leave the Adventist campuses and go… where? We can reassure ourselves that some of the young people who can’t find a place in Adventism will return after they begin having children and hide the attrition of ‘only’ about 50% of young educated members behind the populations where growth is occurring. But, that won’t address the underlying problem

McCoy emphasized substance over style and authenticity over sales. He then brought to mind Richard Rice’s book, Behaving, Believing, Belonging by emphasizing the importance of creating communities that prioritize belonging. We can no longer afford to placate (appease or pacify, especially by concessions or conciliatory gestures) young adults; we must let them lead, we must mentor them and be mentored by them, and we absolutely must give them real ownership of this church!

Create was not an academic conference with footnoted papers read from ivory towers. It was rather shared stories told from the ground and rooted in love. We were reminded in so many ways to keep it local and to make our churches, schools, and communities safe places for all. Together, we created an inspiring conversation with insightful and at times moving comments from the audience following each presentation. The hope of The One Project in making space for prophetic imagining is that together we have inspired each other to try again. To never give up. The conference left many wanting more specifics and wondering what’s next, what will we create together? For now, we can continue the conversation on sites like this and Facebook where Alex Bryan responded that we should “keep on keeping on! Your place is God's place and all the action is local - right where YOU are.”

Brenton Reading is a board member of Adventist Forum, the parent organization of Spectrum Magazine. He writes from the Kansas City area where he lives with his wife and three children.

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This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at

What is the ratio of pastors to administrators in other denominations, especially those that are growing? The major growth appears to be in administrators at the expense of pastors on the front lines. This robs churches of a local pastor but helps to maintain control by the institutional church.

The churches in all cities that are creating favorable publicity are those that are often featured in the local media feeding the hungry, collecting food, cleaning and painting homes to give them more value in the neighborhood as well as disabled individuals. Has the church lost its mission?


I had hoped very much to be at this portion of the One Project conference. Thank you for the reporting. It is a burden for my husband and I that our children are going through Adventist educational institutions, and we don’t know if there will be a spiritual place for them in Adventism when they move on to find their own communities and churches. The pastor vs. administrator statistic is very telling. My hope is for this church that we can hear the voices of our youth and take seriously the terrible attrition rate. These are thoughtful, spiritual, Christian children leaving our church.


the pulpit should be considered the higher calling than administration. TZ


My awareness of the Business of Church came about 1953,54 as a kid.
Have you noticed? I have since then How Many PROGRAMS those in Administration have come up with through the years. They are here for a short season, if they are at all accepted by the local congregation. Then it isnt long before another PROGRAM, or is it PROGROM that is pushed on “the church” to accept and try.
Too numerous to count over the years. And NONE seemed to work, since they dont last long.
I presume that is WHY we need so many administrators. Having to come up with new programs to try.
Having to keep the pastors busy.
Sometimes I believe we look at Pastors the way local city and county officials look at their Cop employees. Having to reach a Quota. Those who dont reach their monthly quota are assumed to not be working diligently enough.

You can check the stats at

The ratio of pastors to administrators is troubling.
Our conference/Union conference/division structure was set up in the distant past, prior to interstates, air travel, and certainly prior to the Internet/fax/social media! “Horse and buggy” era constructs still endure.

Thanks to modern communications you do not need to be on Wall Street, to be a successful investor, a Caribbean Island would be just fine!

I have long thought that either Union conferences or conferences should be eliminated due to overlapping WASTE.

This perceived waste of resources has motivated me for many decades to mark my church donations as anything except “tithe”. The bulk of my giving has been to the local congregation’s needs.

However, as Spectrum has pointed out in other articles, the only upward trajectory for pastors ( since salaries are all equatable ) is the promotion to higher ranks of administration. Administrative rank replaces higher salaries as an indicator of performance/pecking order.

How can we change this stratification to ensure that local pastors have prestige and adulation?


my home church, calgary central sda church, just released a list of its known ministries in its church bulletin for today - it apologized for any ministries not on the list, and unknown to church management:

-Adult Sabbath School
-Bags of love
-Children’s Division
-Christmas Dinner
-Depression Recovery
-Diabetes Undone
-Divorce Care
-Family Ministries
-Forgive to Live
-Health Expo
-Home Schoolers
-Men’s Ministries
-Moms Flying Solo
-Mother’s Bible Study
-Music Ministries
-Mustard Seed
-Native Women’s Ministry
-Prayer Ministry
-Prime Timers
-Prison Ministries
-Radio Bible Light
-Reconnect with Missing Members
-Russian Newspaper
-Single’s Ministry
-Small Group Bible Study
-Stampede Supper
-Strum and Sing
-Sunshine Band
-Vacation Bible School
-Women’s Ministries
-Worship Ministries

my guess is that most churches with four pastors and 1,200 members have a similar list…

my view is that while congregationalism probably militates against denominationalism, i believe a full spectrum of local ministries tends to boost attendance and perceived relevance…today i arrived slightly late by less than 5 minutes - i accidentally overslept - and had to park my trusty bmw very far up the road, since everything closer, including our church parking lot, was filled to over-flowing…and it was impossible to find a seat for one person in the main sanctuary…i had to go up to the balcony, where i just barely managed to find a seat…

but it was worth it…an entire hispanic family was baptized today, and our hispanic youth pastor, allan perez, preached a fiery sermon, “Encountering God, Experiencing Change”, on making church relevant, replete with a number of references to the GYC Phoenix meetings he attended…we’ll probably see someone from The One Project at some point…

Eh? Adventists are growing, faster than most others.

Not here in the NAD. Any growth is more apparent than real. It is mostly immigrant growth, transfers of membership largely from the Caribbean and Latin America.

The structure that is in place, that numbers more administrators than local pastors is disturbing, to say the least. It reveals the attitude of the hierarchy towards the local church. You put your money where your mouth is. The organization shows where that is. The local level, where the life of the church really is, suffers.

Continue apologizing for the company brand all you want.



Thanks for an excellent report, Brenton. This was in many respects the most important day in the history of The One Project. Now let’s see what is done with this catalyst.

It is a law of the human mind that we believe what we do more than we do what we believe.


I agree I follow the local needs.

The local church suffers reduction in memberships permanence due to unsustainable economic contributions by attrition realism: seniors mortality, expensive cost of housing, lack of affordable housing and job opportunity for young sda families, unless self employed, encapsulated job loss in UNION SHOPS private or public sectors. The local churches are not spiritual bankruptcy if all but suffered the demagogue watered down economic accountability of trust the GC handles billion dollars transparency funding transfer away from its followers. Local churches democracies of equity are not met. GC is Wall Street mimic. The GC demagogue obliterated the local community imperative realism perspectives to the human spiritual and physical needs. It’s the, I and ME and MINE, Wall Street sectarian bumper slogan.


Thank you Brenton Reading for your succinct summary of Create.
One item that I thought was important and clearly articulated by the audience was that a major advantage to the church structure, as opposed to congregationalism, was that our ministerial staff and our educators do not have to go before a board and, in essence, beg for their compensation; In addition, central employment allows much lower costs for benefits than the local church. The issue is how to give tithe so that it goes only to your pastoral staff?
I have read that in growing churches, the ration of pastors to members should be 1:200. That when the ration reaches1:150, the church needs to start recruiting another pastor. We are far from those numbers.

I hope in the future that conversations about local churches could include pastors and members of small churches in small communities, who don’t see other Adventists except on Sabbath; whose churches may see the pastor two Sabbaths a month (or lass). I’d like to hear from pastors who mentor their elders, and understand that the elders will carry on the ministry long after they’re gone. I’d like to hear from churches with ministries that grow out of the community in which they live. Where members don’t have to walk around a community to get to know it, because they have lived in it and grown up with it. I’d like to hear from local churches not connected with Adventist institutions, that have pastors who are too busy with hospital visits and funerals to write for publications. I’d like to hear from pastors who know the name of the “non-Adventist” pastors in their town, and have friends among them. I’d like to hear from pastors who have been able to stay several years in a community, and have formed deep relationships in it. I’d like to hear witnesses from other churches and community organizations that can say they are thrilled to have an Adventist church that is an essential part of the community.