World church leaders report on evangelism

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Top regional leaders of the Seventh-day Adventist world church shared reports on evangelism efforts in their territories during the Council on Evangelism and Witness.

Presidents of many of the denomination’s 13 world divisions highlighted how coordinated outreach approaches are leading people to join the church, while others supported an initiative to widely distribute versions of the book The Great Controversy, written by church co-founder Ellen G. White.

The survey, coordinated by the South Pacific Division Communication department, reported that Adventists were seen as the "go-to people for health and well-being" and those who promoted Sabbath rest.

One president shared the results of a public perception survey in his region. “That’s risky if you’re not secure,” said Mark Finley, assistant to the president for evangelism.

Finley led the presentations at McKee auditorium at Oakwood University in Huntsville, Alabama, United States, where some 130 members of the world church’s Executive Committee met for two days of business meetings.

Finley reiterated the concept that evangelism should be a “process, not an event,” a point he and other leaders have repeated in recent years. Indeed, most presentations highlighted month’s-long small-group ministry leading up to public evangelism or large-scale meetings instead of a one-time public event. Leaders have said a “process” system of evangelism leads to greater retention of new members.

 
Pastor Mark Finley leads the Council on Evangelism and Witness at Spring Meeting in Huntsville, Alabama, United States. [photo: Ansel Oliver]  

Israel Leito, president of the church’s Inter-American Division, shared how a recent division-wide program lead to 15,000 baptisms in one day last month. More than 60,000 people have joined the Adventist Church in the division so far this year, he said.

Finley said slower-growth areas are also seeing renewed support for evangelism.

Dan Jackson, president of the North American Division, said a recent initiative comprising 130 small groups in the city of Houston in Texas led to 400 baptisms there in February. A similar meeting series will launch in New York soon and will include some 400 small groups leading up to a September decision invitation meeting.

“We’re hoping to generate a huge blessing, a huge reaping for God,” Jackson said.

He added that having more lay members supporting pastors in evangelism yields greater success.

Because of that, the Sabbath School/Personal Ministries department announced the launch of “Go 7 Million,” a name reminiscent of the discontinued initiative “Go One Million.” The initiative encourages the denomination to identify 7 million lay members to get involved in local outreach programs.

Leaders of the Miami-based Inter-American Division hope to reach a target of 1 million people for Go 7 Million. The division’s Sabbath School/Personal Ministries associate director Samuel Telemaque even led the committee in chanting “Go seven million for Christ,” the third time telling the group, “shout it so loud they can hear you in Papua New Guinea in the South Pacific Division.”

Telemaque said the division has set a target of 1 million new members by 2014 through Go 7 Million.

It was undetermined how many other divisions will join in the initiative.

Committee delegates also received reports on outreach in large cities, where most initiatives are conducted through media.

“This is almost impossible to do without communication,” said Erton Kohler, president of the South American Division.

Church officials in South America are conducting outreach in Sao Paulo, Brazil — at 20 million people, the world’s 3rd largest city.

There, the denomination has set up a media center in a rented facility on Paulista Avenue, one of the wealthiest commercial areas of the city, similar to New York’s Times Square. A small congregation has also been established. Still, about U.S. $40 million is still needed to purchase the property, Kohler said.

The church in Brazil has some 400 broadcast television channels in cites throughout the country, as well as channels on a major cable delivery system. The Adventist Church will soon launch a television channel in Buenos Aires, Argentina, Kohler said.

Finley said the church has grown through deliberate planning in Chennai, India, the world’s 4th largest city. There are now 23,000 members worshipping in 166 churches there, up from 750 members in 12 churches 10 years ago, he said. Tithe in that region has also increased, nearly U.S. $30,000 a month, up from $1,000 a month.

A media center in Chennai is producing programming, mainly sermons, which match programming commonly found on network television, said Kandus Thorpe, a vice president for Hope Channel. The Adventist Church has taken this approach because of the abundance of television in homes. The government distributes small televisions in the region, Thorpe said.

 
Kandus Thorpe of Hope Channel reports on the church’s growing media work in Chennai, India during Spring Meeting on April 10. [photo: Ansel Oliver]  

Hope Channel is also expanding its operations in Asia, with increased programming in local languages. 

In Australia and New Zealand, a public survey of perceptions of the Adventist Church revealed how traditional methods of outreach may need further re-adjustment.

The survey, coordinated by the South Pacific Division Communication department, reported that Adventists were seen as the “go-to people for health and well-being” and those who promoted Sabbath rest. The majority of survey respondents, however, had no perception of the church. Division President Barry Oliver said leaders are expected to follow up with plans based on the survey later this year.

 
Dr Barry Oliver president of the South Pacific Division  

Committee delegates also received a report on the church’s Great Controversy Project, designed to distribute copies of the book beginning in 2012.

Versions of The Great Controversy will be printed for less than one U.S. dollar, and leaders hope that some members will sponsor distribution in certain world regions.

“The world is desperate for answers now. … Years from now these books will do the work we cannot do,” said Delbert Baker, a world church general vice president.

Baker said project leaders were “sensitive” to concerns in some regions; two cover options will be available — one cover features a portrayal of the Second Coming of Christ, while another is designed for those less familiar with religion.

The South American Division is already running with the project. Already, 30 million copies of the book have been committed and 1 million copies were distributed in Sao Paulo the previous day, Kohler said.

One local conference has ordered 1.7 million copies and has begun fundraising for the initiative, with pastors showing their support by each donating a month’s salary.

“This is a special opportunity to do something special for God,” Kohler said.

Many church leaders were featured in a video presentation about how the book had personally influenced their lives, as well as people who converted to the Adventist Church after reading the book.

Clinton Wahlen, a member of the denomination’s Biblical Research Institute said he was an atheist before he read The Great Controversy to learn about Christianity.

Paul Ratsara, president of the church’s Southern Africa-Indian Ocean Division, said he believed The Great Controversy Project was a “God-sent initiative.”

Ratsara said a Johannesburg, South African influential businesswoman of another Christian denomination was given a copy of the book and chose to join the church through baptism in October.

“We’re passionate about this in [our division],” he said.

The book will be released in several versions, including the original, an abbreviated version, one for kids, and an additional version that includes excerpts from another of the author’s books, Steps to Christ. Parts of the initiative will also be promoted on social media, Baker said.

Two project websites are expected to launch as distribution plans progress, leaders said.