Then, maybe if we simply discard numerical data, we might become more spiritual? Oh no, there is a balance. Remember, there is a Bible book called “Numbers.” For instance, a 10-year membership chart of our Lake Union Conference could reveal trends of church growth but lack internal measurements of spirituality. Simply gathering numerical data of church attendance does not reveal the growth of one’s relationship with Jesus Christ. So, yes, using numerical data to measure external church growth has its limits. In fact, measuring internal growth (character transformation) leaves us floundering, because that is a joint venture with the Holy Spirit. In addressing heart work, the Holy Spirit works with you and me individually to yield the fruits of grace identified in Galatians 5:22‒23.
The best numbers and the best motivation for church growth originates from the three members of the Godhead. The Father loved us so much that He sent His son (John 3:16). Jesus valued us enough to be nailed to a cross and die for us (John 12:32). The Holy Spirit breathes upon us the dynamic power of the gospel to transform our lives (Acts 1:8; 2:17‒21). When our motivation is aligned with the Godhead, we are in the majority. Numbers are on our side!
Since Heaven conducts record-keeping (see Dan. 7:10 and Rev. 20:12), might we discover some insights from our church records and reports? The North American Division website, e-Adventist.org, provides such a tool to assess Lake Union membership growth.
Looking at the 10 years from 2010 to 2019, the Lake Union has continued a trend of steady growth in church membership (see graph on this page????). For this 10-year period, we have experienced 19,530 baptisms and professions of faith to the glory of God. Concurrently, we have grown from 82,248 members to 88,898 members. However, our net gain during these 10 years has only been 6,422 members. You would naturally ask, “Why?” There are several factors leading to a lower net gain:
Conversely, 16,466 members have transferred into our Union which brings some balance but observe that we have more departing than entering our territory. These combined four factors prompt each one of us to faithfully keep spreading the Three Angel’s Messages (Revelation 14:6‒12) to those unaware of these truths. Notably, there have been years with over 1 percent net gain in our church growth, but the annual average percentage gain over the past 10 years is 0.75 percent.
The serpent is still angry with the woman and making war with the remnant of her seed who desire to be faithful (see Rev. 12:17). Satan would love to destroy any progress to disseminate the everlasting gospel during these tumultuous times. But the miracle of Good News continues, despite the enemy’s warfare. Consider the testimony of Jeff Baxter. This 21-year-old young adult committed his life to Christ at the Detroit Metropolitan Church. For a time, he had been studying at one of our Adventist universities. However, he basically wasted his time at school. Following a stint in the armed services, Jeff came to the point in life where the future looked grim. But God grabbed ahold of him when his grandfather died. Grandpa’s influence affected his spiritual journey for eternity. On a Pathfinder Sabbath, his local church celebrated his public declaration of a new life with Jesus in baptism. One young adult impacted many lives that Sabbath day, without a doubt! On that occasion, just ONE became a majority influence.
When you evaluate the numbers for 2020, COVID-19 has contributed to a dip in accessions to the church. Knowing his time is short (Rev. 12:12), Satan has been spewing his deadly taint of pestilence into the air (see Great Controversy 589), causing millions to be afflicted and thousands to perish. Yet, Jesus died for all of these—His precious children. Despite these heart-wrenching circumstances, the Holy Spirit is still convicting the remnant to create new methods to communicate the gospel and prepare for the Latter Rain, thus reaching more young adults like Jeff.
How do we know that our mission is unstoppable? Because God’s numbers are significant. His numbers help us understand that the majority are not always right, safe or victorious. As scores of Babylonian leaders knelt to worship the golden image on the Plain of Dura, three (3) Hebrew worthies decided their allegiance to God superseded a Babylonian deity or ruler. Jehovah God could deliver them from the fiery furnace. And when Jesus joined them in that furnace, that number increased to four (4) which became a majority. Why? Because all of Heaven was invested on their side. The question for each of us is, “Shall we remain loyal witnesses for Jesus?”
Lest we doubt our mission to be unstoppable, recall that Jesus gave us ultimate hope when He declared, I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it (Matt. 16:18).
Elden Ramirez, executive secretary, Lake Union Conference