Wednesday, November 07, 2007

The Master’s Workshop: All You Need to Know About Evangelizing and Retaining Postmoderns

by Andy Hanson

Last November I was given information regarding the Masters workshop that explored the generational challenge to Adventist church ministry and membership. It was “Module IV” of “Spiritual Leadership Training”. No publisher was identified.

On page two, “Looking at Youth Ministry”, facts supported this “challenge”. A high percentage of Adventist church members between the ages of 18 and 40 are not active in church life, 60% of teens leave the Adventist Church, and 40% to 50% of Adventists leave the church between the ages of 17 and 27.

I support anything that encourages church members to discuss the challenges we face as a church community. However, the problem that should be discussed is not “postmodern thinking” or a “postmodern shift of thinking and life choices” but our 28 Doctrinal Beliefs. These “beliefs” constitute a creed that would be rejected offhand by the pioneers of the Advent Movement. Most do not represent the teachings of Christ; they are not in harmony with fundamental Christian tenants; and as such, define us as a sect. In addition they are so specific that they are almost designed to promote dissension in the church and a reason for thoughtful believers to leave.

I am fully aware a doctrinal change is extremely risky. Lots of jobs and pensions, not to mention mission work, would be put at risk. But if we continue as we are, the church in North American and Europe is “a dead man walking”. Our demise will result in a Third World Church without a leadership structure that will sustain us as a single Adventist community of believers.

Most of what are now “28 Beliefs” should be published as “Religious Guide Posts” or “Successful Guides to a Fulfilling Christian Life”. Only a short list of fundamental beliefs, endorsed by General Conference Convention delegates, should be labeled as “Adventist Beliefs”. Obviously, this task requires prayerful dedication to the task and almost superhuman pastoral and administrative skill and sensitivity. It must be attempted, however, and can be done.

“A more fully developed editorial piece is posted on Adventist Perspective, along with a “Denominational Quiz” and Lawrence G. Downing’s, “Essentials and Accidentals: A Perspective”.


  1. I wonder whether the figures are unique to the SDA church, or whether the statistics are coresspondingly equivalent to other christian denominations.

    I have a gut feeling that it is not about the 28 fundamental beliefs, but about Christian belief generally, in the contmeporary world.

    I know that in the UK materialsim, a strong media offensive against christian belief, the loss of the traditional weekend to families etc are some of the major causes which contribute to a breakdown in Christian belief.

    At the same time there is a healthy growth in alternative spiritualities - which once again tells us something about where attitudes to the Christain meta-narrative are today.

  2. Mr. Hanson seems to be well-intentioned... but his wild claims that our doctrines are far removed from Christ's teachings mine his theological credibility.

    Mr. Hanson should note that theological controversies have been exhausted in our history and our theological foundation is solid.

    What we really need is to L I V E those truths daily.

    (How many blogs does it take to fix a church?)

    He complains that our beliefs are "not in harmony with fundamental Christian tenants":


    They SHOULDN'T be, after all, "fundamental Christianity" as I think he understands it (the majority of the Evangelical Churches) has spent the last 2000 years removing itself from central truths of the Bible. Obviously, our beliefs easily define us as a sect because we still INSIST on Biblical reasons for our beliefs. In that, our Pioneers would be proud of us!!

    These discussions seem to overrate a postmodernist approach as the cure all for our problems. It should be noted that postmodernism is totally irrelevant to over 90% of the SDA membership.

    By trying desperately to reach out to postmoderns, we've forgotten the RAW POWER of the gospel when displayed in our personal lives.

    (Paul tried that with "postmodern" Athenians and got bombed...)

    Are the doctrines of the church REALLY the cause of our generational challenge or is our way of doing church to blame, e.g., our worship style, etc...?

    Or .... are our "postmodern theologians" such as the ones we read on this blog sponsoring a "God is in everything" approach that's driving young adults to think that they're ok if they just believe in God and not be fully committed to Him?

    Isn't this creating the very problem it tries to avoid, namely a focus on the external approach and not on my own experience?

    Shouldn't be we trying to simply live the Gospel instead of going after the next pseudo-psychological gimmick to impress secular minds to come to Christ?

    In that sense, many of the discussions on this forum are not at all different from our old SDA way of doing things...

  3. I can't speak for those who have left, but as a thirty-something who is uncomfortable in the average SDA church, I can say anecdotally that my problem with "the church" is not the fundamental beliefs but the cultural build up of grime.

    Finding The Adventure in CO was a breath of fresh air. I'm all for conferences supporting more churches like that. I think that would significantly help change some of the stats. I'd never been to an SDA church with so many people from a non-SDA background. It attracts new people to the family of God. It has an open and inclusive culture. (

    Now in Michigan, I feel that the culture at Mars Hill fits me more than other SDA options (I'll avoid specifics for now; and let's just skip the Sunday issue completely because I said "culture"). Time for a new SDA church plant?

    As to the doctrinal issues? Which ones do you see are the weakest theologically, Andy? And which ones do you think are the biggest obstacles? I'm genuinely interested in listening to more on that. Let me know if you have already discussed this somewhere else.

    I am away from home, somewhere in a small town in the Midwest. I was the speaker at the Adventist church today, and there was a big crowd of 19, (One family of five didn’t make their usual forty mile drive to a larger church.) Not counting my wife and me, usual attendance is between eight and twelve, counting my son’s young family of six who moved to town two years ago. The church has no listing in the phone book and no phone.

    A retired hospital chaplain keeps the doors open, and he will “retire” from this “job” early next year. The youngest regular member of the church, not counting my son and their three kids, is in his/her fifties. Most are in their seventies and eighties. My son and daughter are the only professionals; the rest are either retired or on disability.

    This is a town where other Christian churches and denominations are thriving. Adventist churches like this one are the “canary in the mine” of North American Adventism. I hope our Church has a future, but things have to change significantly if my son and his family remain members. They and many other young families concur with my editorial comments.

    To answer Jeff's question, the 2300 Day prophesy and it’s attending Close of Probation doctrine are probably at the top of the list.

  5. Mr. Hanson,

    I doubt the small church will have a greater impact on your son's spiritual life than your doubts. He may have a hard time staying SDA since you, as someone he probably looks up to, have serious doubts about your own standing with the SDA Church.

    As far as 2300 days prophecy and other assorted escathological themes, you're beating a dead horse but let's see you present a better, more cogent explanation to that Biblical time period.

    This kind of talk doesn't seem to bring any new approaches or insights, just the old, trite theological attacks that have been refuted so many times.

    This type of Adventism is indeed closer to "fundamental Christianity": there's no real purpose in its foundation.

  6. Thanks for the specifics, Andy (2,300 days and probation).

    Honestly, the tone of this conversation is almost more interesting to me than the actual content. Truth is strong enough to stand some prodding and probing. If we question it, and it holds up, then it's truth. If it crumbles, well then it's a good thing we investigated.

    Sure these theological questions have been discussed extensively, but that doesn't mean we need to cut off the conversation at the legs.

    The 2300 day prophecy makes sense to me, but I'm not going to understand Andy's point unless I ask and listen.

    I belong to an inclusive study group that has these three "rules" (10 in all):

    2. We are quick to listen.(JAMES 1:19)
    4. We value diversity in people and ideas. (REVELATION 7:9; ROMANS 12:4-8; 1 CORINTHIANS 12; EPHESIANS 4:11-13; JOHN 10:16)
    5. We ask questions to seek truth and to better understand each other’s ideas. (LUKE 10:26; MARK 9:33; LUKE 2:46; ACTS 8:30)

    I think those are pretty good guides.

    Finally, I'll repeat myself and say that I don't think many/any of my friends left the church because of those theological issues (regardless of whether or not they are correct).

    It seems that my friends realized the church doesn't give salvation, and it didn't have much relevance for their lives beyond a ticket to paradise, so why stay. But a few might say, "Who cares if the church gives salvation or not? That's a community I don't want to be a part of for eternity. They drive me crazy now. Why would I want to wake up to them every day."

    I think more of my friends (and this is anecdotal, not necessarily applicable to Adventism in general) would have stayed if they had experience genuine community and sensed a mission. I mean, that the church had a purpose beyond getting people to think just like them.

    But that is just my speculative opinion based on non-systematic observations. I put it out there as my view at the present. And... "My opinions may change, but the fact that I am right, does not."

  7. Having once been in a rural church, the problem is that the SDA church isn't part of the culture. People in those other churches usually have inherited their faith. The SDA church would need to become community-minded at least. And why "convert" other Christians who already accept Christ?--just be a witness in the community and be known for some special event/activity.
    Not everything about postmodernism is bad and we have some beliefs that would be welcome if we built on what is held in common and have a more spiritual atmosphere. But it won't work in a rural church!
    As for the 28 creed, it sort of sets our beliefs in stone and makes it hard to receive new truth. The only real Truth is Christ, though we may need some basic foundational beliefs--28 is too many!
    I think people "out there" are just turned off by religion now because of the hate that is seen in all religious groups. The media is now letting us see how widespread it is. They are looking for something more fluid and spiritual.
    Others are drawn to the rules-oriented faiths such as Islam because they want to be told what to do to inherit paradise or just be part of something.
    But most are too busy to care and find escape in things and pleasures or entertainment. It's a shallow life--just surviving.

  8. Perhaps I am flogging a dead horse. Has Andy any comparative figures (see the first paragraphy of my comment above)