Membership nurture and retention was a major focus at the New Zealand Pacific Union Conference (NZPUC) end-of-year executive meetings held in Auckland.
With five out of every 10 Adventists leaving the Church in the region (higher than the global average of four), this is an issue the NZPUC feels strongly about.
The figure came out of NZPUC secretary Graeme Drinkall’s report and included losses through deaths. “If you don’t replace people who die, the church dies,” said Mr Drinkall.
“Our retention rates are very concerning,” said NZPUC president Pastor Eddie Tupa’i. “As we try to understand this, we are actively encouraging our missions and conferences to model and create healthy, safe environments for church and community.”
This concern was addressed in the conference and mission reports from North New Zealand (NNZC), South New Zealand (SNZC), Cook Islands Mission (CIM), New Caledonia Mission (NCM) and French Polynesia Mission (FPM), as the respective presidents shared examples and strategies on how their region was combatting the issue.
NCM president Pastor Felix Wadrobert reported how the Noumea church is being set up as a model church within their small mission. He described some of the challenges, and how there needed to be reconciliation and healing within church communities before new initiatives could flourish.
"If we're going to make disciples and keep them in, the Word of God must be at the centre. We need to make disciples not converts."
SNZC has addressed the challenge by starting a church plant for university students in the city of Dunedin. Many students disengage from church as they move away from where they have grown up, so SNZC president Pastor Mike Sikuri shared how this and other initiatives were tailored to stem the flow. One successful initiative that is also very simple is Pray for Five, which has seen engagement from local church members as a simple commitment to pray for and encourage five people in their sphere of influence.
Church administrators admit that while the problem is large, they are committed to addressing it head on.
“In a way, high member losses are not the problem, they are a symptom,” said Pastor Victor Kulakov, NZPUC discipleship ministries leader. “Instead of focusing on a bandage approach we are encouraging a wholistic process of re-visioning.”
“If we’re going to make disciples and keep them in, the Word of God must be at the centre,” shared Pastor Jean-Noel Adeline, NZPUC’s ministerial secretary for the French territories, in response to the report. “We need to make disciples not converts.”
Pastor Adeline requested the report be shared more widely than the executive committee so that all church ministers are aware of the issues and able to begin addressing them in their areas of influence.
NNZC president Pastor Ben Timothy agreed. While not all churches in his Conference are on board, there are still good things happening. Some of the strategies Pastor Timothy talked about being implemented are investment in children’s ministry, monitoring and following up absentee members, showing youth are valued despite imperfections by providing a safe context and giving them responsibility in evangelism.