esus called his church to fulfill the great commission to make disciples. The mission of the Seventh-day Adventists is to respond to that commission to “go and make disciples of all nations” (Matt. 28:19, NIV). We are to obey this commission as we live in these last days, within the context of the three angels’ messages (Revelation 14:6–12).
With this goal in mind, local churches should create a warm and caring environment for spiritual growth in which youth, adults, and visitors feel loved and supported. Additionally, all ministries of the church must unite to make mature and faithful disciples.
Addressing a low retention rate is a real challenge. One of the General Conference initiatives to address this matter was to hold Nurture and Retention Global Summits in 2013 and 2019. (The presentations from both summits are available on the Office of Archives, Statistics, and Research website.) Additionally, most are included in the book Discipling, Nurturing, and Reclaiming: Nurture and Retention Summit, available on Amazon. We are confident that these will be helpful tools for all involved in discipling, nurturing, and reclaiming former members.
During the recent General Conference Session in St. Louis, the church added a new chapter to the Seventh-day Adventist Church Manual on discipleship and its importance at the local church level. Making disciples is a continuous process by which a person becomes a disciple of Jesus Christ, matures as His disciple, and makes more disciples.
A healthy church develops a nurturing plan that equips every member to be involved in disciple-making, using their talents and spiritual gifts. Strategies for nurturing and training disciples may also include networks and small groups that allow members to grow in Christ, serve people, and express their faith through various skills and interests in reaching out to the community.
Through the years, there has been a disparity between membership records and actual church attendance on Sabbath. Several world divisions are taking redemptive membership review seriously. For example, churches in the Southern Africa-Indian Ocean and Southern Asia-Pacific divisions have intentionally followed the redemptive process stipulated by the Church Manual. Church pastors and elders have faithfully visited absentee members and encouraged them to resume attendance and enjoy the blessings of worship with the congregation. These two divisions deliberately avoided a situation whereby “cleaning” the church books became a clinical exercise.
Counting is critical. The three parables of Luke 15 have a common thread, the urgent searching for the lost. “The shepherd who discovers that one of his sheep is missing does not look carelessly upon the flock. . . . He makes every effort to find that one lost sheep.”1
There is a great need to seek those who are far away. “If the lost sheep is not brought back to the fold, it wanders until it perishes,” writes Ellen White. “And many souls go down to ruin for want of a hand stretched out to save.”2
There is a great need to review membership records and to approach this exercise in a Christlike, redemptive way. We’re not caring for someone when we just prune them from our rolls; we lose contact and the opportunity for ministry. We need to update the books to be more effective in pastoral care and reaching the lost. “Our primary goal is not to boast about the percentage of members present,” writes Ken Hemphill, “but to reach the unsaved in our community and to care for the inactive in our fellowship.”3 Membership review should not be motivated by the pride of the church but for the progress of kingdom.
It’s important to remember that the “parable does not speak of failure but of success and joy in the recovery. Here is the divine guarantee that not even one of the straying sheep of God’s fold is overlooked, not one is left unsuccored.”4
As someone once said, “Evangelism is our priority, but disciple-making is our goal.” We hope to see more efficient disciple-making practices and outstanding initiatives that are highly effective in reaching out to and equipping new disciples, reclaiming former members, and empowering them all for mission.