Atlantic Caribbean Union

Discipleship Convention Promotes Member Retention

Discipleship Convention Promotes Member Retention

The Adventist church body recently (April 8) met for an internal review of best practices at Kings Church as a way to strengthen retention of members at the conclusion of evangelistic campaigns. The meeting sought to pre-empt attrition rates that are being experienced by churches worldwide.

As a key strategy to strengthen retention, the Cayman Islands Conference announced at this meeting that it had appointed Elder Joshua Lawrence, who is also the Assistant Personal Ministries Director, as its first Retention Director.

While appointing Elder Lawrence to this new leadership role, however, President Shion O’Connor hastened to drive home the message that it was the responsibility of all members to ensure that they create and sustain an environment that is conducive to retention. Pastor O’Connor drew on the parable of the ninety-and-nine sheep which the shepherd left behind in the fold to pursue the one lost sheep.

“The Conference continues to be troubled by the number of persons walking the streets” who are not being reached by focused discipleship strategies, Pastor O’Connor said.

In his introductory remarks, Pastor Jeff Jefferson reminded members that retention or discipleship was complementary to evangelism, and that in the same way that evangelism was everyone’s business, so was retention.

Pastor Jefferson urged continuing emphasis on involving new members in the work of the church: “God has gifted new members with spiritual gifts and these should be brought to bear on the work of the church” as a matter of urgency, the Personal Ministries Director for the Conference said. “We need to step back and allow the new members to show their talents.”

In reviewing statistics gathered by the Adventist church’s headquarters in the US, it was particularly troubling, Pastor Jefferson said, that two-thirds of those who gave up the church were in the category of young adults. When you add to this group those who leave in middle age, then you get a concerning picture of declining interest among younger age groups.

In analysing the reasons that people leave, Pastor Jefferson said that the key issue for many was that they did not find church to be “a kind and loving place;” instead, many reported they often experienced breakdown in relationships in the church or failure in forming meaningful relationships.

Offering hope, however, was the fact that the majority of persons who had lost inspiration reported a willingness to return to church if they were approached properly. And that approach was grounded, he said, in members’ ability to communicate “that we care about them,” adding, “It is not programmes that keep people; it is people who keep people.”

Pastor Jefferson identified factors conducive to sustained membership such as strong relationship capacities among members, conflict management skills, visitation and support programmes, new member involvement, and an emphasis on Adventist education.

“The foundation years, rooted in Adventism,” were among some of the most influential in determining whether members are retained or not, Pastor Jefferson said. Another key factor was the building of strong relationships, especially with persons who appear to be avoiding relationships.

Part of the the Sabbath afternoon’s programme was a panel discussion among two separate groups – Personnel Ministries and Retention leaders on the one hand and new members on the other.

Among highlights of strategies now being practised, the Personnel Ministries leader at the Maranatha Church reported that all church members were divided into teams and that the teams operated on the basis that “Jesus brought me in, but love keeps me here.” The Bodden Town church has regular fellowship lunches, prayer groups and visitation teams who frequently check up on new members.

The West Bay church reported that they have an active singles’ ministry and that they had adopted the philosophy that it was their duty to love members “twice as much” as anyone might have expected. They also emphasised that “Christ-like” behaviour of members was critical. Once a month, the Filadelfia Church does a 5K walk that reaches out to the community to join them. The Creek Church’s Personal Ministries leader said that that church was working towards a cohesive atmosphere, adding that communicating a sense of “protection” was a strong connective force, and that he was “willing to be the hedge of protection” for other members.

Meanwhile, the new members, some of whom demonstrated their musical and other talents earlier in the programme, described a family atmosphere at one church, where hugs are regularly dispensed. Another reported generous dollops of fellowship, including opportunities to share problems and challenges in a quiet room where members sometimes cry together.

A selection of new members offered their perspective on qualities and actions that make church environments welcoming.

Elder Joshua Lawrence appealed for support of church members following the announcement of his appointment as the Conference's first Retention Director. Conference President Shion O’Connor is at left.

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Pastor Jeff Jefferson encouraged the congregation to take the view that member retention is everyone’s business.