20 April 2021 | Last week the Seventh-day Adventist denomination’s Office of Archives, Statistics and Research (ASTR) released a partial version of the 2020 Annual Statistical Report (ASR). It included only the membership statistics from around the world and not the many other kinds of information that will be included in the final version.
During 2020 the global membership of the Adventist denomination increased from 21,556,837 to 21,723,992, or an annual growth rate of 8/10 of one percent. That is just slightly better than the 7/10 of one percent growth rate in 2019.
There was good growth in the South Pacific (7.5%), Southern Asia-Pacific (3.7%), East-Central Africa (2.8%) and West-Central Africa (1.3%). There was decline in Euro-Asia (down 2%), Southern Africa (down 1.5%) and Inter-America (down nearly 1%). In many other places the growth was closer to the stagnant rate of the entire world, including Europe, Southern Asia and South America.
North America was part of this stagnant pattern; the denomination grew by only 2/10 of one percent, with total membership increasing from 1,262,927 to 1,265,754. Four of the nine union conferences had actual declines.
There is a general pattern of decline in organized religion in the northern hemisphere, and clearly the Adventist faith is impacted by this reality. Younger generations in particular, but all age groups to some degree, are fed up with the internal conflicts, rigid rules and bureaucracy of Christian denominations. They want religion to do more to demonstrate the compassion of Jesus in practical ways, to encourage and support individual spiritual journeys and stay away from divisive issues about sexuality, politics, etc.
Of course the COVID-19 pandemic had an impact on churches in the last year, forcing many to operate only on the Internet, if at all. It remains to be seen how this will impact congregations in 2021, and how the Adventist denomination and other faiths will deal with the larger trend.