Saturday, November 15, 2008

North American Adventism, by the numbers

by Tompaul Wheeler

I was momentarily tempted to post something about the latest Adventist News Network release about Adventist membership in North America topping a million, but then I realized that I was pretty sure we'd done that before, so maybe this was just a technical thing, and then I skimmed the actual article and the numbers just didn't seem to make sense. I moved on with my life, so I'm glad Alex Carpenter posted this:

Back in 2004 the Adventist Review News reported that:

'North American Division membership has passed the one million mark-1,001,872 as of October 21, 2004.'

Apparently the news is that we're continuing to top one million. Hmm? According to the most recent numbers helpfully available for us lay folk through the church's, in 2006 the NAD recorded 1,041,715 members.

I applaud the focus on weeding out the excess on the books, but if, as the secretary states, the NAD grew at a 2% rate over the last five years (including losses) than we should be just hovering around 1,100,000. (The 2003 membership was 992,046.) Four years later, the news is that the NAD tops 1 million?

What's missing from the most recent Annual Council report in the Adventist Review is the actual 2007 number. Why?

Also not included in the report: the amount of money invested by the division, unions, conferences, local churches and individuals in public evangelism during 2007...

The slightly deflated numbers appear (based on what I've read elsewhere) to be related to a stronger emphasis on accurate, up-to-date bookkeeping, which is certainly laudable. Carpenter goes on to address church evangelism dollars which could appear to be invested more effectively.

The October 9, 2008 Adventist Review had a map of the U.S. and Canada, divided by regions, with Adventist to population ratios. One could assume that the Adventist church would do best in the South and Mid-America regions, but that's not at all the case. In those conservative regions, where religion is more closely tied to personal identity and people are set in their ways, the ratio is only 1:251 (hurray for all the old Adventists moving to Florida!) and 1:420, respectively. But up in the North Pacific region, by far the most secular part of America, the ratio is 1:143. (Even more secular Canada is 1:574, but that's for the entire country, where, as in Quebec, heritage and religion are tightly linked despite a general secularness (secularity?); Adventist statistics for the British Columbia conference are somewhat better than the nation as a whole.)

This reminds me of something I heard a church planting expert say several years ago (it was probably back at seminary): that church planting is most effective in the most secular areas. I think that rather than old-school evangelism, the North American church should focus on church planting and building fresh congregations, because, like it or not, the newer a church is, the easier it is for it to draw new members--and vice versa.


  1. There is nothing wrong with routine's like a birthday party...something fun to look forward to :P

  2. I would contend with the assertion that the North Pacific is "by far the most secular region" in the United States. The Northeast is right there with them, if not more so.

  3. From USA Today's "Charting the Unchurched in America,"

    "The six states with the highest percentage of people saying they have no religion are all Western states, with the exception of Vermont at 22%."

  4. Tompaul,

    Does the phrase, "Once a Catholic, always a Catholic" mean anything? About 90% of those calling themselves "religious" in New England are Roman Catholic. For the most part, such individuals are beyond "nominal" Catholics, yet they will always identify themselves as religious.

    In addition to that, New England's religious landscape is full of Unitarians, UCC, and other congregational churches - essentially "secular" Christians.

    From a purely anecdotal perspective as well: I spent 6 weeks last fall in Washington/Oregon, and I was shocked at how many - contrary to what I was expecting - religious (and, specifically Christian) people were out there. This has been confirmed recently by a few people who have moved from Washington to my church and have been shocked at how cold people are here towards Christianity (in distinction from where they came from in Washington).

    Interesting, also, about Vermont. I came across this perspective a few years ago about Buddhism in Vermont: "Buddhism has taken root with astonishing vigor in Vermont. California may have the nation's largest number of Buddhists, but Vermont, where Asian-Americans are barely 1 percent of the state's population of 621,394, has what surveys suggest is the highest concentration of Caucasian Buddhists." (,00000000809,0,0,1,0")

    Not that it is a contest or anything, but I would maintain that New England is the hardest field in North America to spread the Gospel.

  5. Shawn,

    "Does the phrase, `Once a Catholic, always a Catholic' mean anything?"

    Yep--that's what I described in the initial post about Quebec/Canada.

    Sorry for the delayed response . . . I just now got back to this page.

  6. Tompaul,

    I thought you'd find this link rather enlightening. Fresh data!