G.T. Ng makes the appeal in his report to the Annual Council.
G.T. Ng, executive secretary of the Seventh-day Adventist world church, called on every Adventist to actively nurture new church members to stem an outflow that is seeing one of every two newly baptized members eventually leave the church.
Ng, who presented his annual report Sunday to church leaders at the Annual Council business meeting, said evangelistic meetings and baptisms are key in the church’s fulfillment of Jesus’ Great Commission of Matthew 28:19-20 to make disciples of all people.
But, he said, nurturing members is just as important.
“Baptism and nurture go hand in hand,” Ng told a packed auditorium at the world church’s headquarters in Silver Spring, Maryland. “Baptism without nurture is incomplete, and nurture without baptism is irresponsible.”
Membership losses have grown over the past 15 years. In 2000, 43 of every 100 newly baptized members ended up leaving the church, he said, citing data from the world church’s Office of Archives, Statistics, and Research. The latest figures indicate that 49 of every 100 new members eventually leave.
“This 49 percent apostasy rate is alarming and is a serious drain on the human and financial resources of the church,” Ng said in an e-mailed statement to the Adventist Review. “What happens to an army with 49 percent desertion among its soldiers? What happens to a school when 49 percent of its students drop out of classes? What happens to a factory when 49 percent of its employees decide to defect?”
Even worse, he said, the members who leave are sometimes forgotten.
“Part of the problem with membership loss is memory loss,” Ng said. “We have forgotten our collective responsibility and accountability to the new babes in Christ. After baptism, we leave them to sink or swim. But baptism is just the beginning of their Christian walk. The next step is discipleship, the goal of the Great Commission.”
The Adventist Church would have 28.5 million to 30 million members today if none had left over the past 50 years, according to estimates that Ng provided from the Office of Archives, Statistics, and Research. Church membership currently stands at 19.5 million people.
Ng acknowledged that the issue of membership loss was not new and has been discussed repeatedly by church leaders. It is a challenge that has also perplexed other religious denominations.
Ng underscored the value of each new church member in the sight of God by citing four passages from the writings of Adventist Church cofounder Ellen G. White, including: “One such soul saved is of more value than worlds. Gold and earthly treasure can bear no comparison to the salvation of even one poor soul” (Testimonies for the Church, Vol. 1, p. 512).
- Nurture is part of discipleship.
- Nurture and evangelism are two sides of the same coin. In a nod to major church-organized initiatives such as a three-week evangelistic series in Rwanda last May that resulted in a record 100,777 baptisms, Ng said that evangelism was a process, not an event. “Successful evangelism should continue all year round and should comprehensively employ various means including health programs, community services, and more,” he said.
- Nurture should become part of church culture.
- Nurture should become a way of life in the local church. Ng noted that membership care has become part of the culture of many of the 26,500 congregations scattered across the South American Division. “Each church clerk takes the lead in ensuring the wellbeing of new converts,” said Ng, who observed the practice first-hand during a tour of South America in 2015. “They even go a step further to reclaim those who have not been attending church.” (Read related story: “Record 15% of Baptisms in South America Are Former Adventists”)
- Nurture is the responsibility of every member. Ng said Adventists could learn a lesson from another denomination, the Iglesia Cristo Church, the largest indigenous church in the Philippines that was founded by a former Adventist in 1914. “The church takes membership care seriously,” Ng said. “When members come to church, they report their presence. After the service is over, elders and deacons take note of the names of the absentees and visit each one in the afternoon.”
- Nurture must be intentional; it has to be intentional to stem the loss of new converts. Ng said the Southern Asia-Pacific Division and the Northern Asia-Pacific Division have shown intentionality in nurturing and discipling new members. The Southern Asia-Pacific Division has a vice president for nurture and retention, and the Northern Asia-Pacific Division organizes an annual retention and reclamation summit.
- Nurture is best handled by small group ministry. Ng read a passage from Ellen White’s book Testimonies for the Church, Vol. 7, which says: “The formation of small companies as a basis of Christian effort has been presented to me by One who cannot err. If there is a large number in the church, let the members be formed into small companies, to work not only for the church members, but for unbelievers” (pages 21, 22). “The genius of small group ministry is that it nurtures new converts even before they are baptized,” Ng said. “After baptism, the same nurturing continues until they become disciples.”
- Nurture requires a team approach.
Ng told church leaders seated in the auditorium that their job titles did not make them the most important people in church. That designation, he said, belongs to the ordinary member. He said the ordinary member is sometimes unappreciated, often underused, but the church’s greatest asset. It is the ordinary member who is needed to nurture new members and reach out to those who have left the church, he said.
“We need every church member to be involved in prevention, to help stem the hemorrhaging of new believers,” Ng said in the e-mailed statement. “We need Total Member Involvement in mentoring these new brothers and sisters, surrounding them with friendship and shielding them from all that seeks to harm their new-found faith.”
He added: “These new-born believers, infinitely precious to heaven, have been entrusted to ourcare. They are the VIPs. They are the church.”