Reach the World is the reason the Seventhday Adventist Church was organized and exists—to reach the world with the “everlasting gospel” of Our Lord, Creator, Savior and High Priest, Jesus Christ. Reach the World is also the title and theme of the world church’s global strategic plan for 2015-2020.
The very language of the plan, Reach the World, is drawn from Matthew 28, Mark 16, Luke 24, and Acts 1, Christ’s commission to His followers to go unto the uttermost parts of the earth. It is drawn from the prophecies of Revelation 10:11 and 14:6 that foretell of a movement whose destiny, indeed whose divinely ordained task, is to proclaim the everlasting gospel to many nations and peoples. So Reach the World is an outflowing of our collective self-understanding of our purpose as a people and of the mission statement of this prophetic movement.
It is also, however, a product of unparalleled research and analysis of the state of the world church. The Office of Archives, Statistics, and Research (ASTR) of the General Conference (GC) directed five major research projects, conducted in 2012 and 2013. In the course of that research, 35,000 Seventh-day Adventists from all around the world were interviewed, or received and completed questionnaires, about their beliefs, attitudes, experiences in the church, and spiritual–life practices. The data generated is unique in its richness—both in breadth and depth. There was a separate study of over 4,000 pastors, one quarter of our total work pastoral force, drawn from every division, over 90% of our unions and more than two-thirds of our conferences and missions; a separate survey of 1,500 recent graduates of Adventist colleges in North America; and yet another separate study of nearly one thousand former church members.
So, in terms of the subject matter and the number of respondents, the research carried out in the past quinquennium was unprecedented. In addition to this quantitative data, the GC-based planning group requested every division president and GC departmental director to submit their own analysis, based on their experience, of important global trends, opportunities, and challenges. As a result, the planning group also had qualitative data on which to draw: the considered views of knowledgeable and experienced church leaders, about what is happening in their areas. The Reach the World plan that was drafted by the GC-based planning group was based on this collection of quantitative and qualitative data, drawn from across the globe and every part of the world church. Even then, there was a twelve-month consultation period, in which the draft plan was shared with the world church leaders and the Executive Committee twice, at the 2013 Annual Council and 2014 Spring Meeting. Division input was requested and received, and the plan revised, before finally it was voted at the 2014 Annual Council.
So, when the Reach the World plan identifies key issues and sets priorities for the world church, it is based on something substantial, rather than merely anecdote or hunch. Indeed, the major initiatives that are already in place for this quinquennium reflect what the data revealed.
For instance, we discovered that only 42% of church members worldwide study the Bible daily (and only 74% study it more than once a week); furthermore, while 74% of church members worldwide say they “wholeheartedly embrace” confidence in Ellen White’s prophetic gift, only one out of six read the Spirit of Prophecy daily—and just 47%, less than half, read Ellen White even once a week. One in five have never read Ellen White’s writings. So we now have not only a Bible-reading program, as we did last quinquennium (Revived by His Word); but also a program to encourage church members to read the Spirit of Prophecy and the Bible, Believe His Prophets.
We also found that one quarter of Seventh-day Adventists said they strongly agreed with the statement “Although I am religious, I don’t let it affect my daily life”; thankfully one third say they strongly disagree, but it became clear we needed to get our church members involved: Total member involvement.
In addition, statistical research that ASTR undertook revealed that only one Seventh-day Adventist in six lives in large cities: that the ratio of people to church members in urban areas of more than one million is around 550 to 1, in contrast to 390 to 1 in the world as a whole. Thus we know that we will need to prioritize the world’s great cities.
There were many other insights, and I reported on some of these at the 2013 Annual Council (the report is available at https://www.adventistarchives.org/ac-research-report,- 2013-revised.pdf) but one needs to be stressed: a very large percentage expressed strong skepticism about the imminence of Christ’s second coming—so large, in fact, that we concluded many respondents must have misunderstood the question. But also so large that even if that were the case, it is clear that a sense of the urgency of Christ’s return is dwindling. That is something that can’t be acceptable for people who call themselves Adventists. We need therefore to recapture the urgency of our pioneers.
So, the plans that are outlined in Reach the World are based on a wealth of data, information and analysis. We have committed ourselves, as a world church, to working towards 21 objectives, which reflect the reality we discovered by the process of research and reflection.
They are divided into three categories:
• Reach Up to God, which focuses on our relationship with God and our need to be spiritually in communion with Him.
• Reach In with God, which deals with nurturing each other, feeding Jesus’s sheep (as He bade Peter), and the Christ-commissioned process of discipling.
• Reach Out with God—once we have been spiritually empowered by being connected to God and have put things right in the Church, we have a solid foundation for outreach: for bringing new sheep into the fold, and for growing God’s kingdom on earth, even as we look forward to the heavenly kingdom.
Reach Up to God
1. To involve Adventist members in daily Bible study.
2. To engage all members in doctrinal study, as essential for spiritual maturity.
3. To make all members better acquainted with Ellen White’s counsel and prophetic ministry.
4. To increase the engagement of church members in biblically authentic spiritual practices.
5. To foster among pastors, teachers, members, and students in denominational institutions, greater appreciation for and insight from a study of Scripture that uses the historical-grammatical method and historicist approach to interpretation, including the understanding of prophecy.
6. To encourage church members to adopt regular patterns of worship.
Reach In with God
7. To enhance unity and community among church members.
8. To nurture believers in lives of discipleship and to involve them in service.
9. To increase the engagement of young people in the life of the church.
10. To affirm the administrative role of pastors in organizational leadership.
11. To improve leadership practices in order to enhance the credibility of, and trust in, the church organization, its operations, and mission initiatives.
Reach Out with God
12.To enhance Adventist outreach and presence across the 10/40 Window.
13.To enhance Adventist outreach and presence in large urban areas worldwide.
14. To make planting new groups of believers a priority in all parts of the world.
15. To substantially reorient our understanding and methods of mission.
16. To engage all church members, pastors, and leaders in full partnership.
17. To increase the involvement of young people in the mission of the church.
18. To encourage local churches to take the initiative in communicating the three angels’ messages and carrying out the mission of the Seventh-day Adventist Church.
19. To raise the profile of mission to non-Christian religions and belief systems.
20. To strengthen the world church’s global resources for mission.
21. To optimize communication plans and methodologies so as to empower the work and witness of the church.
Each of these 21 objectives has a series of associated Key Performance Indicators (or KPIs). The world church will test the progress we have made in meeting those 21 goals and achieving the KPIs through research. The research we did last quinquennium was not a one-off; it will be repeated again in this coming quinquennium. We need your assistance to do that—we cannot do it without you.
In conclusion, the plans that have been made and the objectives that have been agreed, while crucial, will be meaningless unless we involve our local churches—something that is, indeed, the focus of several of the Reach the World objectives. We need all Seventh-day Adventist pastors, elders, and church members to ask themselves, as Ellen White suggested, this key question: “What can I do to proclaim the third angel’s message?” (General Conference Bulletin, March 30, 1903). The world church needs the help of its local church officers to mobilize every church member to help fulfill the extraordinary prophetic mission God has given to His remnant church. Let every Adventist ask: “What can I do to reach the world?”
David Trim is director of the office of Archives, Statistics, and Research at the General Conference in Silver Spring, Maryland, USA.