1 November 2023 |
Inter-American Division (IAD) is witnessing the rise of new Seventh-day Adventist congregations, aptly named “Friendly Churches,” according to a recent article by IAD News. Unlike traditional Seventh-day Adventist congregations, these churches do not showcase typical emblems or logos, and their services differ from the conventional format. The initiative, which started in 2021, aims to connect with urban nonbelievers who aren’t inclined towards organized religion.
The Friendly Church approach offers relaxed environments without the rigidity of traditional religious practices. As Hiram Ruiz, IAD’s public campus ministries director, explained, these are tailored for “secular-minded people.” The focus is on making them comfortable while discussing spirituality, bypassing conventional religious trappings. The primary target audience includes university students, business professionals, and others who aren’t keen on traditional religious settings.
Currently, ten of these congregations are operational across countries such as Mexico, Panama, Colombia, and El Salvador. These churches began as a pilot program in 2021, with 15 groups established from 10 unions within the IAD. The training sessions for these groups started in November 2021, conducted by the General Conference’s Global Mission Center for Secular and Post-Christian Mission in collaboration with the IAD.
Kleber Gonçalves, director of the Global Mission Center for Secular and Postmodern Studies, highlighted that this is a novel approach for the church. Although leading others to Christ might take longer through this method, it’s showing promise. Various congregations such as Hope Life and CREA in Monterrey have successfully reached out to their communities, connecting with people and helping them understand the church’s mission in new ways.
The success of these churches is not solely based on the number of baptisms or regular visitors. It’s more about the connections made and the spiritual growth of the group. Moreover, they understand the principles of stewardship, contribute tithes and offerings, and remain an integral part of the Adventist Church organization.
Given its success, a handbook detailing the processes, recommendations, and outcomes of these churches is in development, with a scheduled release before the end of 2024. With renewed interest, some unions are also considering reviving Friendly Churches that couldn’t establish core groups successfully.
The next training session is planned in Panama, where the Panama Union will provide training to pastors who will set up core groups across the region. With such developments, the Friendly Church initiative is paving a new way for Adventist outreach across the Inter-American region.