Top 5 Reasons Why Adventist Churches Don't Thrive



I've been an Adventist my whole life. 

I love this church. I love our energy. I love our history. I love our theology. But one thing that I really struggle with is our lack of cultural relevance at the local church level.

Today I want to share the top five reasons why Adventist churches don't thrive. While the list may differ from church to church, the points below are the most common trends I have seen.

1) Adventist churches do not thrive because they do not have a story. 

I have been a pastor for a few years now and I've discovered a common theme at each and every Adventist Church that I have worked at: none of them have a story.  I'm not speaking theologically of course, but practically. When I visit the members, including the leaders, and ask them "why does this particular church exist?" everyone has a different answer. One person might say "we exist because were here to reach this community" and another person on the same exact leadership team will say "we are here to glorify God" and then another person, once again in the same exact leadership team, will add something along the lines of "we are here to proclaim the three angels messages". So in the span of three conversations among one single leadership team and one local church I have three different stories. There is no single, unified story that that church is telling. 

As a preacher I have a simple rule: if I can't summarize my entire sermon into one sentence then I don't know what I'm saying and if I don't know what I'm saying nobody will know what I'm saying. I think it's the same with the church. If we can't summarize our story - our purpose for existing - into one simple mission statement that we are all unified on then we don't know why we exist. And if we don't know why we exist, then no one in that community is going to know why we exist either.

2) Adventist churches don't thrive because they lack strategies for reaching their community. 

I'm not one of these guys who enjoys using business principles and applying them to church because I don't believe the church is a business. However, there is some carryover that we can learn. McDonald's, if we want to keep this simple, has a very effective business and one of their goals is to get their burger inside of your mouth. McDonald's has a detailed plan on how they are going to get that  unhealthy slab of grease inside your mouth. That plan includes a 10-year marketing strategy. It may even include the color scheme inside of McDonald's or the way that the menu is laid out. Pricing and even drive-thru setups all are geared toward the same end.

Here is my question: if a company whose only purpose is to get a fatty burger inside your mouth can have a detailed plan and how to do it, how is it that the church that has been entrusted with the gospel often has no plans whatsoever? Most Adventist churches, pastors and members simply go with the flow. They have no plan. They have no strategy. They have no system. They just fly off the seat of their pants year by year and then wonder why they are barely making a difference. 

3) Adventist churches don't thrive because they don't have a discipleship process. 

Discipleship is the process by which someone can grow in their relationship with Christ. Seems very self explanatory and yet many of our churches simply don't do it. Let me tell you a quick story in case you're still confused. A few years ago I studied the bible with a young man who had a grown-up in a bike gang culture. His whole world was drugs and women and violence. He came to church after watching a David Asscherick DVD on prophecy that really really blew his mind. We did Bible studies together and he was baptized. He was excited, passionate and you could see that even though he had a long journey ahead of him that he was fully committed to his walk with God. Two years later I met up with him just to catch up and see how things were going and he had backslidden big time. He had started going back into drugs and the old lifestyle that he had left. When I asked him why he said that he was having a really hard time transitioning from bike culture to church culture. But as I dug deeper I found the real problem wasn't the transition. The real problem is that he was transitioning on his own. The church had no process to help him and he was lost.

This is why we keep hearing that more people walk out the back door of Adventist churches than the front door. We need discipleship in our churches, not just Sabbath morning clubs. We need a plan - a process - by which we can help seekers grow step-by-step in their walk with God.

4) Adventist churches don't thrive because they don't have authentic relationships. 

Years ago I did a survey at a church I was working at. One of the young ladies in the church dropped a bomb in her survey response that went something like this: "Relationships at this church end when you walk out the front door on Sabbath morning."

This is the reality of most Adventist churches. I don't really know why but it's really annoying. Our churches generally don't have any kind of real authentic relational social structure. It's like we show up to sing songs and hear sermons and then we're done. It isn't working.


5) Adventist churches don't thrive because the members are simply not equipped.

Pastors and conferences often complain about the fact that our churches are too pastor dependent. They want them to be less pastor dependent which is cool. But seldom do I see any intentional plan to train the members on how to effectively reach their community. What would it be like for pastors to invest in teaching their church members how to preach effective sermons, create an effective missional strategy or run a relevant Sabbath school? Elders are also not generally trained on how to create a vision for their church, how to create a mission, how to maintain a road map of success, and how to be effective servant leaders. What about training on social media, analytics and website management? Or teaching our members how to connect with the culture, how to build bridges with the neighbors or even their own youth? That would be amazing.

I suppose I could go on and on but I think I've made my point. The top five reasons why Adventist churches don't thrive, in my experience, are the ones I have laid out here. Have you seen any others? Please share in the comments below!

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Pastor Marcos is a millennial Adventist pastor with a passion for Jesus, the narrative of Adventism and the relevancy of the local Adventist church. He pastors in Western Australia where he lives with his wife and children. You can follow him on Facebook and Instagram. He also blogs weekly at pomopastor.com

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