“Think you know South America, think again,” says Dr Brad Kemp, president of the New Zealand Pacific Union Conference. Dr Kemp was part of a small delegation from the South Pacific Division (SPD) who went to Brazil to learn about the church growth there.
But what would South America have to teach us in the SPD? For a start, over the past decade, Adventist baptisms have grown by 29 per cent in Brazil. “Well,” you might say, “they would, wouldn’t they? After all, over there you just put up a sign and you have people running to be baptised.”
Brazilians are technology rich, but increasingly, spiritually poor. But our Church has something the rest of the Western world doesn’t have: a plan that’s working.
Really? Consider this. During the same period most other major denominations saw their numbers decline in Brazil. And Brazil is not the backwater country you might think it is. According to the World Bank, “Brazil is the World’s seventh wealthiest economy.” Poverty has been halved in the past decade, down to 11 per cent. And major industries from aeroplane manufacturing to the design and production of high-tech computers are thriving.
The Adventist Church in Brazil is facing exactly the same trends as the rest of the Western world. As wealth has grown, so has secularity. Brazilians are technology rich, but increasingly, spiritually poor. But our Church has something the rest of the Western world doesn’t have: a plan that’s working.
And that plan centres around Novo Tempo. If you haven’t heard of Novo Tempo, you don’t know about one of the biggest developments in our Church—not just in our world but in our history.
Novo Tempo is the South American version of HopeChannel. But it’s very, very different. First, it is broadcast on free-to-air TV, as well as on cable and satellite. In a luxury high-rise apartment in Rio de Janeiro flipping through the channels? You’ll see Novo Tempo. Living in a favela on the outskirts of Sao Paulo with your power coming from a makeshift hookup from your neighbours? Novo Tempo will be on your TV. Everywhere you go, Novo Tempo is there. It’s simply part of Brazilian life in the way Channel 9 is part of Australian life and Channel One is part of life in New Zealand.
Second, most of the programming is local. If you want to see American televangelists, tune in somewhere else. On Novo Tempo you’ll see Brazilians talking about life and faith in Brazil. They produce a staggering 30 new hours of programming in Portuguese every week—week in and week out.
Third, it’s integrated in every way. There’s Novo Tempo TV, Novo Tempo radio and Novo Tempo web with streaming and video on demand—that gets 26 million hits a year! But it’s also integrated within the Church. Believe it or not, Brazilian churches now have two signs: one for the Adventist Church, the other for Novo Tempo. And a Bible school is at the heart of Novo Tempo. Today there are 485,000 students in the Novo Tempo Bible School.
So how is all this working out for them? The Church used to be seen as a cult in Brazil, but Novo Tempo has brought a new face to Adventism. Roughly 20 per cent of people baptised in Brazil today, indicate that Novo Tempo was a key reason they were brought into the Church, and church leaders suspect the percentage is actually higher. Almost half of Novo Tempo donors are not Adventists (yet . . .). And as previously mentioned, the Adventist Church in Brazil is growing, even at a time when other denominations are shrinking.
“I was thoroughly impressed with Novo Tempo and was able to see clear evidence of the significant impact it is making on both the evangelism and the nurturing of the Church in South America,” says Pastor Michael Worker, president of the Greater Sydney Conference. “We were blessed to hear many, many testimonies of new believers from Novo Tempo as we visited churches on Sabbath.”
But does this have any relevance to the South Pacific? “Novo Tempo shows us what can be done,” Dr Kemp says. “It started small and look how God has blessed it. So of course this can happen here. If we were to make a similar commitment in our region, I believe we’d see similar returns. It’s a game changer.”
Geraldine Przybylko was part of the team who visited Novo Tempo in Brazil. She is Media Ministries director of the Adventist Media Network.