We have a problem. A serious problem—and it only seems to be getting worse!
Nearly half of all newly baptised Adventists leave the Church. In fact, recent figures show that 49 per cent walk away, an increase from the 40 per cent who were leaving at the turn of the century. These are worldwide numbers—not just apostate Western churches or developing countries that don’t have the resources—49 per cent. If you lost 49 per cent of your body, you’d likely be dead!
Too often we treat people as targets. They are projects we work on . . .
On page 14 of this issue is an important feature. Written by someone on the edge of our church community—in their words “in the shadow of the back door”—it’s an experience we need to read and think about and pray about; an experience that is all too common in our churches.
I’ve been there. A move interstate left me feeling dislocated and disconnected, after growing up involved in my home church. So I floated, church hopped, never committing, never quite fitting in. I slipped in the back door, just in time for the sermon, and out again often before anyone could invite me to lunch.
I believed the fundamentals, loved God and worked for the Church. I can see how someone who wasn’t anchored by church work could float away completely.
Thankfully, after another move, God connected me to a church family who inspired me to be active, equipping me to run small groups and share my faith. This is key. Being an active church member helps newly baptised members stay in the Church.
What if our communities were so attractive we couldn’t live without them? What if we were known for what we did, not what we avoided, like the believers in Acts?
We must make our communities places where it hurts more to leave than to stay, places that people want to join, even in the face of trial and trouble, places that transform the world around us.
To do this we need to live our faith bravely and adventurously. We need to listen to the promptings of the Holy Spirit. The inner dialogues of justification and rationalism you hold within yourself will not change the world. However, boldly talking to strangers, sharing your faith or helping the needy might. And even if it doesn’t change the person you helped, it may well change the life of those watching on—new members, your children. Let new people see what a transformed life really looks like. We need to model faith.
Too often we treat people as targets. They are projects we work on until they are baptised and then they are lost in a sea of faces. We don’t give new members responsibilities because they haven’t proven themselves safe enough; they haven’t yet earned the right.
Within three years Jesus had His disciples out sharing the gospel, casting out demons and healing the sick. And they didn’t get it. They had the wrong idea about the kingdom and had no concept of the second coming. In our eyes, they would have been woefully theologically underprepared. And yet Jesus had them learning on the job. He had them nearby, watching as He taught, healed and lived. He gave them opportunities to try and fail.
Making disciples is a life-long process. We fail to reach our potential when we engage in short projects and programs rather than making our service and message a way of life.
We don’t find mentors for our new members. What if we knew and partnered with all the churches in our regions? Then if we identified that someone would be a better fit in another Adventist community (whether it was geographically closer, demographically in tune or had interests and ministries suited to the individual) we would encourage them to attend that congregation, without feeling threatened.
It’s time we thought of people as people not propositions; looked for relationships rather than transactions. We can learn just as much from newly baptised members as they can from us. And here’s the kicker. New members can be transformed into cultural Adventists—moulded into our culture. If we equip and encourage them to share their newfound excitement—if this was part of the information from the very first Bible study—then what a difference it would make to their faith and to our Church.
Jarrod Stackelroth is editor of Adventist Record.