Joel Sarli was Associate Secretary of the General Conference Ministerial Association and the second editor of Elder’s Digest when this article was written.

One of the most serious problems that we face in the Seventh-day Adventist Church today is how to conserve our membership. In the year 2003, for every thousand received into the church by baptism and profession of faith, 450 were dropped for apostasy or as missing. This is a 45 percent loss. That is too great a loss!

The year 2004 was chosen by the General Conference and all divisions as the year of world evangelism and I am sure that most of our elders and leaders in general are engaged in some evangelistic effort.

It is not easy for a person to accept the Adventist truth. It means an entire change in life - in habits, in eating, dressing, and in the day of rest. It takes considerable effort, patience, and prayer.

We spend thousands of dollars in public efforts and satellite evangelism in our endeavor to win souls. We open the front door of the church, but do not close the back door; and many are drifting out. Surely as a leader in the congregation, the elder can give some attention to this important problem and do something about it.

I will not consider in this editorial the reasons or cause of apostasy. I just want to send an appeal to elders and leaders everywhere to help in preventing many apostasies in the fold where the Lord put us as shepherds.

Preventing apostasies

Here are some suggestions on how you may help in conserving your new members to be happy and active in your congregation:

1. Make sure inquirers thoroughly understand Bible doctrines as taught by the Seventh-day Adventist Church.

2. Let them demonstrate by their lives that they have experienced the new birth and are truly converted before the baptism. Lately too many are brought to the church without knowing what they are doing

3. At the first indication of losing interest or nonattendance at the church services, either visit the person yourself or arrange for others to visit and encourage him/her.

4. Train older members to extend a warm welcome to new church members and visitors.

5. Let us emphasize and hold up before the people the real privileges of being a church member. Let us impress upon our converts the fact that in entering this church they become a part of the great Adventist Family that encircles the world.

Reclaiming former members

Now when members grow cold and leave the church, or are dismissed, how are we going to win them back? How did Christ win them back?

Do you remember the story of the lost sheep that Jesus told to His disciples? When the lost sheep was found, what did the shepherd do? Did he take his staff and strike the sheep and say: "You naughty sheep, you caused me so much trouble; I have searched hours to find you, and you have strayed away from the flock. Why didn't you stay with the flock?" No. When he found that sheep, he took it right into his arms. He bound up its wounds. He just pressed that sheep against his heart.

How careful we ought to be in winning back the straying sheep of God's flock to make them understand that God loves them, and that the church really cares when they stray out of the fold of Christ.

How much is a soul worth? It was the very life of our Savior. Surely souls that cost so much ought not to be treated with coldness and contempt. Where there is life there is hope. We are not to give up working for those who may seem to be beyond hope.

"All resources of heaven are at the command of those who are seeking to save the lost. Angels will help you to reach the most careless and the most hardened." Christ's Object Lessons, p. 197.

Let us seek out those who have grown cold and indifferent and bring them back into the warm atmosphere of fellowship in the church. They are just as precious as others who have heard this truth. Let us really do something about this.

The Lord is married to the backslider and calls him to return, promising to heal his wounds. "I will heal their backsliding, I will love them freely: for mine anger is turned away from him" (Hosea 14:4).

May God give us such a compelling burden for those who have once known this truth, but who have left their first love and strayed away, that we will not rest satisfied until they return to the fold.

Joel Sarli was Associate Secretary of the General Conference Ministerial Association and the second editor of Elder’s Digest when this article was written.