SILVER SPRING, Md. (Christian Examiner) – The strategy of Seventh-day Adventists to focus evangelistic efforts globally on major cities is working, leaders reported during the denomination's Oct. 11-12 Annual Council.
Membership has risen for the first time to 18.1 million, announced G.T. Ng, secretary, up 1.5 percent in the last year.
The denomination's major business session also included reports from leaders in its 13 regions, and the annual address of President Ted N.C. Wilson.
Offsetting the new record is disturbing news of members fading away from active church membership, Ng continued.
"It's easy to baptize them, but it's much harder to retain them," Ng said, according to a press release from the Adventist News Network. "Retention and nurture should be on the same side of the coin, but apparently baptism brings more glamour."
Over the last 40 years, 31.8 million people have been baptized in Seventh-day Adventist churches, but 11.4 million have dropped their membership or "gone missing," Ng said. The second figure does not include those who have died.
Seventh-day Adventist churches are "exploding" in Central and South America, Africa and Southern Asia, Ng said, but stagnating in the northern hemisphere and Australia.
Europe is even more challenging. The British Union Conference, for example, has 34,512 members, a net increase of 464 from a year earlier, and most of the increase comes from immigrants.
Seventh-day Adventists have a presence in about 230 nations, but many of the 800,000 church members in Kenya come from two people groups; 40 people groups are largely unreached.
"So it does not mean that once you have entered a country the work is done," Ng said. Far from it!"
Regional reports of the Council of Evangelism and Witness included several stories of innovative ministries, such as a pastor in Sao Paulo, Brazil, who hosts Bible studies while lying on his surfboard and reading from a waterproof Bible.
Literature evangelism is growing in southern Asia. Youth-led street concerts in large cities of East-Central Africa have proven effective in drawing large numbers of people. After the concerts the youth visit with the listeners and offer them writings from Adventist co-founder Ellen G. White.
"Recent campaigns in that region have led to nearly 34,000 baptisms and 104 new churches in Rwanda, Tanzania and Burundi," reported Blasious Ruguri, the regional president.
In southern Africa, Adventists hosted evangelism programs at 1,682 sites in the last year, and 500 of them were led by children as young as 6 years old. "As a result, 686 new churches were planted, and high-ranking government officials began to embrace the health message," according to an Adventist News Networks release.
Seventy years ago, fifteen people gathered in a home in Colombia to study the Bible with Adventists, reported Mark Finley, assistant to the General Conference president. Thugs broke up the meeting and killed two people. Nonetheless, the group grew and now is in a church community of 20,000 people.
"Write about the most important news stories and events from a biblical perspective," said Norel Iacob, editor of the Romanian version of the Adventist publication Sign of the Times. The magazine's website has become extremely popular, and among its readers is a former president of Romania, Iacob said.
NY13, which resulted in the beginning of 64 new works in New York City over the last year, next is to spread to New England for an initiative called "Compassion Boston. "
A 3-day health fair in Oakland and San Francisco drew about 3,000 people.
One of the major planks of Seventh-day Adventists is an emphasis on physical health. Plans are being developed for health evangelism in conjunction with the 2015 General Conference Session, set for San Antonio, Texas.
Ted N.C. Wilson, Adventist president, warned his listeners of Satan's attacks, which he said included ecumenism, charismatic worship approaches, and attacks on biblical prophetic understanding.
He urged his listeners – church leaders of the Annual Council, a major church business meeting – to join him in submitting to God and taking a unified stand for the distinctive beliefs of the Adventist church.
Wilson preached from Revelation 13 about a two-pronged satanic plan to destroy God's "last-day" people: lies and errors that challenge the truth, and outright persecution that results in death for those who obey God's laws.
"Though large-scale persecution will certainly come," Wilson preached, "currently Satan is trying to work from the inside to weaken the church through dissension, discord and conformity to the world. ...
"Stay away from anything that will undermine our message or cloud our distinctive beliefs," the president continued. "Don't be tempted by the devil to blend in with the crowd or be politically correct. ... Our hope as God's people, your hope and mine, is built on nothing less than Jesus' blood and righteousness."
The Seventh-day Adventist denomination, launched in 1863, today counts 18.1 million members. About one-third live in Africa and one-third in Central and South America.