by Monte Sahlin

By Adventist Today News Team, May 19, 2014

The meeting was called "unprecedented" in an official news release when church administrators gathered from throughout the North American Division (NAD) of the Seventh-day Adventist denomination last week (May 13-15). But, "No plans were either discussed or proposed for either the elimination or reduction in the number of specific conferences or unions," Dan Weber, the NAD communication director, told Adventist Today.

The group voted three recommendations after reviewing surveys of church members and denominational employees and a wide-ranging discussion of the current status of the Adventist faith in the United States, Canada and Bermuda.

(1) "Develop a branding strategy for Adventism tied to a clearer positive sense of our identity, empowering members to mingle with the secular community including opening our churches more hours to be available to local communities."

(2) Find "ways that" the denomination and its affiliated organizations "can streamline operations and eliminate duplications where unnecessary at every level."

(3) "Assign to a representative commission the challenge of exploring at least three scenarios for the redistribution of financial support …"

The commission "will look at every level of church structure to make sure that it is most effective in the 'missional' approach that is needed to reach the changing face of North America," an official news release after the meeting states. This group will present its recommendations to the NAD Year End Meeting in November.

Evidently the "unprecedented" aspect of the meeting is that it included conference treasurers and executive secretaries (vice presidents) as well as presidents. Leaders from the denomination's education and health institutions were also in the meeting. In fact, a Commission on Mission and Organization (COMO) conducted a similar study for the NAD in 1995-96 and the policy-making Year End Meeting has voted a number of changes in financial arrangements over several different occasions since the NAD became a functioning organizational unit in the mid-1980s. A number of these involved meetings or study groups that discussed topics similar to last week's event.

The meeting last week included significant expressions openness to change by the gathered leaders. "An overwhelming 95 percent of attendees said they would be willing to sacrifice their position if it would help further the mission of the Adventist Church," the official news release stated, although it is unclear how this figure was arrived at; by an anonymous poll or some other method.

"It is so wonderful that this body of North American Church leaders came to this extraordinary meeting with open hearts and open minds,” said Dan Jackson, president of the Adventist Church in North America. “ as This selfless spirit demonstrates a real desire to honestly examine our current organizational and missional delivery systems and how they need to be adapted to make the Adventist Church more relevant to our communities in the 21st century.”

Prior to the meeting a sample of 470 pastors, educators, administrators and retirees throughout North America were surveyed on a variety of topics. The response rate was 72 percent, which, according to survey analyst Dr. Karl Bailey, was “nearly unheard of” for participation in an anonymous survey. The results of the survey were evaluated and presented by Bailey and Dr. Duane McBride, both faculty members in the Behavioral Sciences Department at Andrews University. These survey results were used to identify topics for discussion at the meeting.