Baptisms have always been the focus of the world church's programs such as Harvest 90 and One Thousand Days of Reaping. The Global Strategy Committee of the General Conference (of which I am a member) recommends a different approach.

While we may be very successful in winning large numbers of people (currently 1,300 a day), our baptisms originate from a small segment of the world's population. There are some 16,000 people groups untouched by Christianity, let alone by the three angels' messages. Two billion people have not even heard the name of Christ.

Three major religious groups still pose a seemingly insurmountable obstacle to the Advent message: Muslims (850 million), Hindus (650 million), and Buddhists (300 million). As long as the goal remains baptisms, there is little incentive to penetrate these immense groups. In order to reach our baptismal goal we concentrate on those areas in which people are the most receptive. What administrator wants to attend union or division meetings and find that he is the only one short of his baptismal quota?

But Jesus commanded us to go to all the world--to places where winning converts is difficult as well as where the work is easy. Maybe what we have described in the past as stony or hard soil has simply been unprepared soil. Fallow land takes much work to plow and prepare for planting.

So the Global Strategy Committee recommends a goal that includes baptisms but does not make baptisms the focus. The goal is "to establish an Adventist presence in all population segments of 1 million where presently there is none."

Adventist presence

What constitutes an Adventist presence in a population of 1 million? A certain number of Adventists? A radio program beamed into the area? An ADRA project? A colporteur selling books? Someone holding an evangelistic series? One person baptized out of that population? A company of believers? Or one local church?

The committee has chosen to define an Adventist presence as one organized church per population segment of 1 million. Some may argue that this hardly constitutes a presence, and they are probably right, but we had to begin somewhere. In addition, the committee recommends achieving a minimum density of one Adventist per 1,000 inhabitants in each population segment.

Forty-six countries with more than 5 million inhabitants each contain an Adventist population of less than 1 to a I,000. In some countries our ratio is 1 to II,000; in others, 1 to 500,000; and there are nations in which we have no members at all. In addition there are 1,766 population segments of 1 million or more with no Adventist presence (see map).

The recommended goal for the next quinquennium--indeed, until the year 2,000--is to plant at least one church in each population segment of 1 million where presently there is none.

This shift in strategy does not diminish the importance of baptisms; without them we could not establish these new churches. But the focus is on penetration of new territory rather than a specific number of baptisms. In one area 30 believers might constitute a church; in another area it might take 41. Whatever the number, we will be encouraged to evangelize unentered areas. Now when administrators meet, instead of discussing how many baptisms they have achieved, they will discuss what new territories have been entered or are in the process of being entered.

Financial help

The strategy calls for each level of the church to support financially evangelization of target groups within its territory based on the size of the group. Thus the General Conference will target groups with more than 20 million people, while divisions or attached unions concentrate on groups of 5 to 19 million. Unions will take responsibility for groups of 1 to 4 million. Conferences and local fields will support the work of groups of 100,000 to 1 million, and local churches will be responsible for smaller groups.

The Global Strategy Committee also recommends prioritizing the order in which we enter these areas. People groups without a Christian presence should be our first priority. Second priority should go to those areas with no Adventist presence. Encouraging growth where Adventists reside will also be a part of the second priority.

If the church implements this strategy, it will require a change of thinking on how we plan evangelism. We usually find it easier to win converts from Christian groups than from other religions. This poses a dilemma. While we must baptize as many people as possible, this must not be done at the expense of neglecting the hard-to-win groups. But if we shift our focus from the easy-to-win, to the hard-to-win we may then neglect the former.

Witness is the goal

It all depends on how we interpret Matthew 24:14: "This gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all the world for a witness unto all nations; and then shall the end come." What does it mean to preach the gospel? And what is a "witness unto all nations"? Christ's incarnation provides the clue. God did not simply announce the gospel direct from heaven or through angels, but He came Himself and lived among the people He came to save.

Thus, to preach the gospel in all the world means people, Adventists, moving to live the gospel in every community. Whether people respond or not is not up to us "I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God made it grow" (1 Cor. 3:6, NIV). What God wants is for every person on Planet Earth to have the opportunity of seeing the gospel lived in the life of a fellow human being. All the world needs to see are multiplied incarnations of God's love.


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June 1989

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