Survey to shape Church’s future plans


Silver Spring, Maryland, United States

Seventh-day Adventist leaders are making initial recommendations for a global strategic plan based on the results of an unprecedented survey of the opinions, attitudes and spiritual life patterns of church members worldwide.

Strategic planning must go far beyond decision-making based on the best orator. It must be built upon a solid biblical basis, the best research and information, and, most importantly, the guidance of the Holy Spirit . . .

The survey results will guide members of the church’s Strategic Planning Committee as they identify areas of concern, rank priorities and administer opportunities for 2015 to 2020. 

“The Church regularly engages in strategic planning to carefully position the organisation to best pursue its mission,” said Mike Ryan, chair and director of the Strategic Planning process and a general vice president of the Adventist world church.

“Data collection and analysis are crucial steps in this process,” he said.

In 2011, top church officials first voted to establish an ongoing budget for Adventist research. Since then, eleven research teams have conducted five major surveys. Seven teams worked on a survey of church members, eventually receiving completed surveys from 22,500 Adventists from nine world church divisions. Other research included a survey of more than 4000 pastors from all thirteen divisions. Including both survey and interview-based research, the study polled a total of 38,000 Adventists worldwide.

“That gives us a lot of rich data to work with,” said David Trim, secretary of the Strategic Planning process and director of the Office of Archives, Statistics and Research for the Adventist world church, which oversaw the research project.

Mike Ryan, an Adventist world church vice president, is chair and director of the church’s strategic planning process. [Photo courtesy: Gerry Chudleigh] 

At a planning session in August in the US state of Colorado, committee members—who represent the diversity of global church membership and leadership—began drafting an outline of the Strategic Plan. Division presidents, Trim said, will have the opportunity to review the draft and offer input ahead of this year’s Annual Council, a church business meeting planned for October, at which some of the initial survey results may be released. 

“Some of the results might come as a surprise, but [division presidents] already know the nature of the research,” Trim said. 

Indeed, division leadership has been instrumental in the research process, Trim said. As well as supporting the work of the research teams, each division was asked to submit an appraisal of the strategic issues it rates most important, both for the world church and its own territory. Each department at Adventist world church headquarters submitted a similar appraisal.

“This research itself was successful largely because it was supported by the divisions and, indeed, many of the unions,” Trim said.

But strategic planning doesn’t end with survey results, or even the best interpretation of those results, church leaders said.

“Strategic planning must go far beyond decision-making based on the best orator. It must be built upon a solid biblical basis, the best research and information, and, most importantly, the guidance of the Holy Spirit as we choose a direction and begin to expend the resources of the church,” Ryan said.

Comprehensive strategic planning, church officials said, should also have a practical side and lead to measurable results.

“Encouraging more Bible reading and prayer will probably be in every Adventist strategic plan until the world ends, but strategic planning doesn’t stop at identifying areas of concern,” Trim said.

“It’s also asking, ‘What can be done to effect positive change?’ and identifying key performance indicators so that in five years, we can go back and measure our progress,” he said.

G T Ng, a committee member and executive secretary of the Adventist world church, said that any strategic plan should propel the mission of the church forward.

“We know that strategic planning is important, but it must be a servant to mission,” Ng said. “Planning is valid only when it helps the church fulfill the purpose for which it was established.” 

The Adventist Church’s current strategic plan is “Tell the World”. The plan is designed to coordinate the church’s efforts to spread its message of hope, and is central to the church’s identity and heritage.

A revised draft of the 2015 to 2020 Strategic Plan will go to delegates of the 2014 Annual Council for approval.