By Pastor Ted N.C. Wilson
Some years ago, Seventh-day Adventists were thrust into the spotlight when a prominent newspaper, USAToday, proclaimed Adventism to be “the fastest-growing Christian denomination in North America,” in an article titled, “Adventists’ back-to-basics faith is fastest growing U.S. church.”1
Comparing the growth rate of the Seventh-day Adventist Church to other denominations in the United States, the article suggested our growth rate was due, at least in part, to our distinctive beliefs.
“With Saturday worship services and vegetarian lifestyles, Seventh-day Adventism owns a distinctive niche outside the Christian mainstream. But being different is turning out to be more of an asset than a liability,”2 the author wrote.
At the time of publication (2011), the Adventist Church had 18 million members. Today, we praise God for more than 21 million brothers and sisters around the world. Far from being just a statistical number, each digit represents a precious soul who has given their heart to Christ. And while we rejoice with many joining the church, we recognize others are leaving.
What contributes to church growth? How can we retain members? I would like to suggest three factors for consideration.
The search for identity is real. The online genealogy industry has exploded into a multi-billion dollar business as millions of people pay to learn more about where they have come from and what clues the history of their ancestors might reveal. Even in cultures not as engrossed in online research, ancestry is important in determining one’s identity.
For Seventh-day Adventists, our identity matters. Who we are, where we have come from, and why we exist are undeniable factors in determining our mission.
Markus Kutzschbach, executive director of Adventist Heritage Ministry wrote: “An understanding of our past—no matter if it is our own past or that of our ancestors—gives us a sense of identity. Understanding our past helps us to know who we are. If we do not know where we come from, how will we know where we are going? Understanding one’s identity is crucial for knowing one’s destiny. A sense of our identity gives us a sense of our future.”3
The Seventh-day Adventist Church was born out of a deep conviction that the Bible is God’s Word and can be trusted. Those who believed prophecy pointed to the soon return of Christ were willing to be ridiculed by society and disfellowshipped by their churches rather than ignore the Bible.
Even when Christ did not come on October 22, 1844, these faithful Bible students returned with faith and prayer to God’s Word. They soon came to realize that the term “cleanse the sanctuary” in Daniel 8:14 depicted a new phase of Christ’s ministry in the heavenly sanctuary, of which the earthly sanctuary was a type.
Encouraged, the Adventists continued to diligently study the Bible and fervently pray that God would reveal His truth. Their prayers were answered and by 1850 the foundational beliefs (or pillars) of what would become the Seventh-day Adventist Church were established.
Ellen White describes these pillars as: 1) Christ’s ministry in the heavenly sanctuary; 2) Three Angels’ Messages of Revelation 14 (including the gift of the Spirit of Prophecy and the Second Coming); 3) seventh-day Sabbath; 4) non-immortality of the soul.4
These doctrinal pillars established at the beginning of this movement still hold true today. The Seventh-day Adventist Church was founded solely upon the Bible and continues to uphold the Bible as the Word of God that is still relevant today, affirming a historicist hermeneutical approach.5
This identity as a Bible-founded, Bible-believing, Bible-following movement is what shapes our mission more than anything else and is what attracts millions of people to become part of our church family.
2. Total Member Involvement (TMI).
The Church is more than an organization with churches, institutions, pastors, teachers, and other workers. The Church is you—all 21 million members—and God has called you to reach others for Him. That’s Total Member Involvement—everyone doing something for Jesus!6
We are told, “The work of God in this earth can never be finished until the men and women comprising our church membership rally to the work and unite their efforts with those of ministers and church officers.”7
What a privilege we each have working right where we are to bring others to Christ! Recently, I received a prayer request written by a young woman:
“Could you say a prayer for my friend? She is a young adult professional that came to my church as a volunteer for our free health clinic and since then she and I have had Bible studies. . . From America in prophecy to the Mark of the Beast, the fall of Lucifer to the millennium and the sanctuary message, we have studied it all! Leading out in this Bible study every week has been my greatest blessing. It’s true, when you lead out in Bible study, you are the one that grows the most!”
When we understand our heritage and identity, when we are involved in bringing others to Jesus and His precious truths as revealed in His Word, our own souls are refreshed and drawn closer to God. We will want to stay with His end-time remnant movement until the very end, working through the Holy Spirit’s power to save as many souls as possible for His kingdom.
3. Christ’s Method Alone.
Even if we have a clear understanding of who we are, and even if every member is involved in outreach, we will only have true success by using Christ’s method alone: “The Saviour mingled with men as one who desired their good. He showed His sympathy for them, ministered to their needs, and won their confidence. Then He bade them, ‘Follow Me.’”8
While every need is important, we should always keep in mind people’s deeper spiritual needs. Just above the previous quotation we read:
“. . . the gospel is too often presented in so indifferent a manner as to make but little impression upon the consciences or the lives of men. Everywhere there are hearts crying out for something which they have not. They long for a power that will give them mastery over sin, a power that will deliver them from the bondage of evil, a power that will give health and life and peace. Many who once knew the power of God’s word have dwelt where there is no recognition of God, and they long for the divine presence.
“The world needs today . . . a revelation of Christ. A great work of reform is demanded, and it is only through the grace of Christ that the work of restoration, physical, mental, and spiritual, can be accomplished.”2
Every step of Christ’s method is important—including the final one. While we can help meet temporary needs, the only truly satisfying and eternally-lasting solution is to lead people to Jesus Christ and invite them to follow Him.
Ted N.C. Wilson is president of the worldwide Seventh-day Adventist Church. Additional articles and commentaries are available from the president’s office on Twitter: @pastortedwilson and on Facebook: @Pastor Ted Wilson.
This article was first published in the May 2019 issue of Adventist World magazine, www.adventistworld.org/identity-tmi-and-christs-method/
- See https://usatoday30.usatoday.com/news/religion/2011-03-18-Adventists_17_ST_N.htm
- Markus Kutzschbach, “The Past: A Foundation for the Future,” General Conference Executive Committee Newsletter, October 2018, https://executivecommittee.adventist.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/10/ECN-October-2018.pdf.
- Ellen G. White, Counsels to Writers and Editors, p. 30.
- The Seventh-day Adventist Church’s voted “Methods of Bible Study” document explains our approach to Scripture more fully. See https://www.adventist.org/en/information/official-statements/documents/article/go/-/methods-of-bible-study/
- To learn more, visit https://tmi.adventist.org/about
- Ellen G. White, Testimonies for the Church, vol. 9, p. 117.
- White, The Ministry of Healing, p. 143.