The 13 May 2019 Adventist Today web article “On Evangelism,” (Loren Seibold and Monte Sahlin) is an accurate account of how many of us who have experience in a parish view visiting evangelists. Our conclusions in such matters have been formed by what we have seen.
Many who have served in parish ministry have, like the authors, puzzled over the whereabouts of newly baptized members. We all have our stories of attempts to track down the “backsliders” who, in many cases did not have far to slide before they were out. On more than one occasion, when I visited a missing member’s home, I was assured that he/she had no idea that she/he was a member of the Adventist church. (I kid you not!)
What cannot be denied is that there is a desperate need for the Adventist church to attract new members who will become active within the local parish. Many of our smaller parishes, as the authors point out, operate under extreme stress. They are in survival mode! If these struggling groups are to move beyond the life-support condition, it is essential that meaningful and effective resources be directed their way, and that right soon!
Church leaders would do well to give attention to each of the authors’ four listed suggestions, with specific emphasis given to # 3: “Define evangelism as a winning and keeping activity.” A friendly, welcoming church, the authors affirm, is vital, when it comes to keeping members. One resource that has potential to assist in this venture is Mitchell L. Williams’ book, The Inviting Church, from AdventSource. Mitch offers a compendium of reasonable and practical suggestions—and these from a pastor who has been there and done that.
There are hundreds of survival mode congregations spread across North America. Denominational leaders would do well to take a serious look at these smaller churches. Listen to the members. They know their parish and their community. The members are frustrated by the empty pews. They know failure when they see it. I know this to be true; they have told me their stories. I empathize with them for I have been there, and, like the authors, I have no magic cure.
Is it realistic to expect the members of a local church to rise to the challenge? No smarts are needed to propose there are no simple answers; if there were, more congregations would have ventured forth. It is, however, worth taking a whack at putting our little gray cells to work seeking ways to improve what now exists. Not a difficult task, really—to improve, that is, for, to be honest, there ain’t, in many situations, much left to improve. We can do better! Seibold and Sahlin have opened possibilities.