For the year 2015, the Minnesota Conference of Seventh-day Adventists was the fastest growing conference in the North American Division.
“We’ve been met with unique challenges in the Minnesota Conference,” says President Justin Lyons. “We are the fastest growing conference in the North American Division, and that is exciting, because we are seeing God moving among us.” Seeing membership numbers grow is a symptom of a conference doing many things well. Pastors and churches are getting into the communities they serve and showing people who Jesus is. This is happening through literature evangelism, Project Steps to Christ interest cards, meeting people on the street, traditional evangelism series, health seminars, enrolling non-Adventist children in our schools, sponsoring booths at community events, praying with a community in times of tribulation, and so much more.
Growth is an important factor when it comes to measuring the health of the church, but it is only one snapshot of church health. For example, growth is a delayed result of the actions taken in previous months or years. Last fall, the Minnesota conference, in cooperation with other conferences and churches in the region, hosted Revelation Speaks Peace, an evangelistic series held in downtown St. Paul. Minnesota growth in 2016 is directly related to the number of people whose lives were influenced during that series. Just as planting in the Spring leads to a harvest in the Fall, evangelistic outreach now means increasing numbers in later years.
Another thing to keep in mind about growth is that the raw numbers don’t necessarily reflect members who stick around after their profession of faith or baptism. The true measure of church health is the number of people who remain and become active in the life of the church, and must account for those who are apathetic or fall away. This sliver of our church population – those who fail to become active members – is where our greatest opportunity, and yes, threat, lies. To paraphrase Vice President for Administration, Brian Mungandi, the question must not be “how quickly are we growing?” The question must be, “how are we retaining that growth?”
Our mandate fell from the lips of Jesus, “I have been given all authority in heaven and on earth. Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you. And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age (Matt. 28:18-20).”
We must not only teach people about salvation; we must empower them to grow in Christ and grow relationally with others both in and out of the church. Yes, we have a mandate from Jesus to share the gospel. That alone should create a desire in us to spread the word. But when Jesus is truly in us, we don’t spread the gospel just because of His command: we are energized, enthralled, empowered and excited by the prospect of sharing Jesus with others. That moment when we first ask Jesus into our hearts – when we finally get it – brings the most beautiful, freeing breath we ever take. That moment is what motivates us to understand and learn who Jesus is, and it empowers us to share that incredible light with others.
In the end, we measure our growth, our tithe and our attendance because these numbers show us that there is work being done. Unfortunately, there is no quantitative way to measure the depth of our relationships with new church members. But there is something we can do about creating those critical relationships, and it is simple.
Start by saying, “Hello.”
We must smile and acknowledge one another. This is how we start, and we follow it up with genuine friendship. This is how we change our culture. Begin by saying hello, and watch as God builds a network of fellow believers around us. If our churches are woven in relationships and established on the cross, retention becomes a nonissue. It becomes second nature to reach out to the new believer with a smile and a hello. And with that simple act, we can reach that sliver of our church population heading out the door before it becomes something measurable. We create a lifetime believer who, in turn, will create disciples as Jesus has not only commanded, but empowered, excited, enthralled and energized us to do.
Fast growth is exciting, but this percentage decreases as we lose, rather than retain, our new members. The people we bring to freedom in Christ Jesus have a need, a need to allow Him to carry them, along with us, up the crooked, sinful road we live on until the clouds part on that glorious day. So please, help make numeric growth into real growth by turning new people into friends.
Savannah B. Carlson, Communications Director
e-TNL Staff: Savannah B. Carlson, Director; Melisa Mauk, Website-editor
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