By Danny Bell
Want slow to zero conference growth? Follow these 9 points and you’ll be well on your way to enjoying total irrelevance and a revolving back door in all your churches. Just imagine having your conference look busy from the outside with nothing happening from the inside. Lets begin shall we?
1. Create Churches that Serve Only Ethnic Minorities
This is a really big one and at the top of the list because it isolates churches from their surrounding community. Stand back and do nothing when you see previously dying churches swelling with ethnic minorities. Let members think their church is healthy and growing but don’t let on it’s an illusion created by migrant cultures and not demographic growth. Ignore concerns of original members and invent words like “racism” and “control” to slowly replace the old culture with a totally different one.
You can also speed up this process by employing pastors from a minority ethnicity and matching them up with your new ghetto churches. When non-Adventists attend from the surrounding community, their experience will be awkward because the church doesn’t reflect their neighbourhood…..they won’t come back. Churches will change from the inside making them look busy but disconnected from their surroundings……the best way to kick off your new fake-growth campaign.
2. Rely on Biological Rather than Kingdom Growth
When it comes to making our fonts overflow without the inconvenience of real kingdom growth, look no further than quick easy baptisms from among our kiddies. It has been reported that 90% of our baptisms come from within our own ranks so keep that going. Poaching our children is a really cool and simple way to show fake growth on the scorecard while hiding the fact that your conference is dead. Adventist children require very little prepping with no heavy theological studies (which will be a relief to many ministers), and parents are insanely keen to get their kids wet to keep them in the church.
Have emotional camp meetings like Pathfinder or summer camps. Focus on a huge climax, and while the kids have wet cheeks from crying, get an international speaker (with a gangster past and preferably black), to make an emotional appeal. Don’t forget to bend all your financial resources to have it staffed by the best child salespeople. Spare no expense because this will result in font activity in the child’s dying home church, putting members at ease that they are still viable. No wonder you love your job!
3. Throw Thousands of Dollars at Public Evangelistic Campaigns
If you really want to enter the realm of low growth then you must have as your mantra, “you can’t place financial value on a soul” and proceed to spend accordingly. Don’t worry if at the end of spending 60- 100K you net only a few baptisms…….a win is a win. Besides, the usual style of evangelism is easy and local churches don’t have to engage their community as much. Put out large costly TV commercials and colourful mail advertising and then fly in the evangelist and his team. When you see attendees dropping off night after night……don’t worry……..those are the ones that won’t be duped next time by thinking they were attending an archaeological program.
Also don’t concern yourself about shifting opinions of Christianity in the community and how the goal posts have changed. Just keep flying the Union evangelists in, pay their expenses and plug the message in the face of a disinterested public. It’s a good style that breeds lazy church members while the conference evangelist does most of the work. Spend all your church budget on these yearly campaigns so there’s nothing left for grass roots ministry. Block any initiatives that look too hard or may result in your churches being connected to their community.
4. Focus on Women’s Issues from Top to Bottom
Here is an excellent way to cause high dropout rates among men and boys in your churches. If you minimise masculinity and set about to foster emotional sooky men then you will see immediate results. Start by locking step with the western world and what it’s doing in areas like domestic violence, women’s equality and pretty much anything to do with feminism. Ignore all the data that our boys are leaving at 14 and that the church is made up of 70% women…..keep the trend going. Add to the conference whole departments that deal specifically with women’s issues. Invent and spend millions on organisations attached to your conference that cater specifically for women and exclude men’s concerns. Raise women up on a platform of importance and train our boys to see this as a fundamental Christian viewpoint. Pacify boys who seem rowdy or restless, make them understand that to be like Jesus is to be effeminate.
Introduce equal employment of pay and position for women to appease any socialists in the church. Make sure you have gender quotas on committees and decision making bodies, this is more important than having positions based on performance or merit. Growth will slow because men are the drivers of growth in church finances and baptisms…….block and mute masculinity wherever it surfaces. When fathers get the picture they are not wanted they won’t come and their children will absent themselves in greater numbers than if their mother was absent. Be consistent, push feminism and watch your conference slow to a limp.
5. Spend Millions on Propping up Institutions that can’t Stand Alone
Here’s where you can start really hurting growth by being so wrapped up in your public image and scared to take criticism that it freezes you from making any changes. Borrow ridiculous amounts to keep up with the institutions of the world and pay it back with tithes and offerings. Pay large salaries for highly educated staff with letters behind their names and not their commitment to the church. Introduce all kinds of insurances, red tape and politically correct practices so as to impede and cripple the function of our centres. The more you spend on massive useless infrastructure and the less there will be for mission and grass roots initiatives.
Keep adding buildings around already overloaded Adventist estates. Don’t venture to have satellite outposts serving wider regions but concentrate them in only a few areas to make it easier for you to manage. Spare no expense and grab government funding where you can. Allow this funding to dictate how you operate, making your institutions toothless tigers…….the quickest way into red territory.
6. Create a Culture of Positivity and Exclude all Negativity
If we are honest, the best way to keep sheepish members in the dark and stop them from finding out about what we know is to put spin on everything…even the negative stuff. Start by producing propaganda newsletters that only show positive stories. Use anything, even from the Islands…..a good source of positive stories and takes the focus off your own poor performance at home. Try to get membership caught up in a myriad of wonderful happenings in the conference and successful mission activity abroad. If they find out the truth about their home conferences then they may want to do something about it and you can’t have that!
Shut down debate on social media, at church and in committee meetings with those who seem to interrupt the machine of positive hype. At your annual camp meetings use themes that don’t speak to reality but highlight only growth and wonderful expectation. Sell ABC books hard at regionals and recount only good stories leaving out any losses the conference may be having. Your conference executive meetings will develop a sanctimonious feel and those who seek reality will leave……..you don’t need their negative influence anyway.
Oh…one more thing…..when employing staff or leadership make sure they are photogenic and have an infectious smile. Exclude any rebels from leadership positions because it’s too risky and may spoil your public image. Only choose nice employees whose sole mission is not to upset anybody. We can’t state this strongly enough….hide reality from your membership……you will be reduced to a passive flat-lining conference when they are blocked from discovering the truth……..awesome!
7. Allow Leaders to Publicly Object to World Church Decisions
Do this despite what grass roots members may think. Send employed leaders and representatives from conferences to world meetings and have them push their own agenda there. If they return defeated, don’t worry, allow them to publish their hurt and dismay in bulletins and national Adventist papers. This will have a knock on effect to disenfranchised church members and cause them to divert tithe. Remember the rule, “do as I say not as I do” applies here. Stand ministers down for challenging the church but turn a blind eye to leaders when they do the same thing. This will create dissatisfaction among the thinkers (who you don’t need), in your conference when they see institutional hypocrisy.
8. Have Regular Expensive Junket Trips
When you get to a powerful position in your conference, you can start having an influence by employing your college buddies up the ranks. Subtly suggest their names in nominating committees and push that they are really nice guys and the committee will follow. When you have gotten enough of your friends together….just announce a treat for certain select departments. Your staff deserve the odd bi-annual trip to another country or an exotic Island region under the guise of helping out or exchanging ideas. Spare no expense even if it amounts to half a million, go for it. When the disaffected get wind of the excess, they will be furious, diverting tithe this way and that. As with point 7, you can easily rile up the unmanageable with reckless spending of their hard earned tithe and they will defect…tee hee!
9. Wink at Pastors and Leading Employees Disloyal to our Beliefs
Finally, when new pastors come into your conference, don’t screen them too heavily on their theology. Secretly allow pastors to flood the field who have questionable ideas about our beliefs and don’t make it a requirement to regularly preach on our fundamentals. As long as your churches on the surface are passive, (neither growing nor shrinking), and the gullible are quieted, you can have the appearance of stability. Institutional churches that are Adventist cultural hubs will be typical havens for your new apostate employees where transfers in and out will hide any anomalies.
It’s important to take recommendations for pastoral graduates that our liberal colleges favour when it comes to employment. Allow only those graduates that display progressive thinking and who don’t use words like Spirit of Prophecy or Ellen White from the pulpit. Being definite about Creation week or the 2300 Days is also a “no no” with any new employee. They also must display a healthy “I don’t know but will get back to you” attitude when in bible study because if we are honest……our teachings are not straight forward and provide more questions than answers don’t they?. This will frustrate truth seekers who will leave.
Ignore the obvious signs that our institutions are hotbeds for apostate ideas with employees that don’t go along with church teachings. Your goal is to mix it up and be hip with the new socialist breed of young church members. The last thing you want is a pastor who is stuck with old beliefs which are always being superseded and changing. Protect your Learning institutions at all costs, because this is where variant ideas arise and disseminate out into your wider constituency. That way, your conference will go onward and upward to disenfranchisement of members you don’t need.
So there it is. Even if you follow half of these your conference will be well on its way to slow growth and negative turf. Don’t worry about flat-lining as a conference, you can always blame it on worldliness or this beauty – “we can’t force our people”. Keep your membership as you would mushrooms…in the dark and feed them manure……..the last thing you want is for them to discover the true situation……..they may discover the truth and then revolt into a revival……you don’t want that!
Danny Bell – lives in Tasmania and has a BA Theology Degree. He has been a pastor for 6 years for the Seventh-day Adventist Church; a state School Chaplain for 2 years, a Family Court Mediator for 5 years. He has also been editor and regular contributor to papers like, Trench Mail, The Mashup and other online Adventist and Christian publications. He is a Men’s ministries pioneer, helping establish it in the Adventist church in Australia and runs a small man-friendly church near his hometown. He can be contacted on his facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/groups/adventistaustralia/ or by email: firstname.lastname@example.org