Thursday, May 15, 2014

Day Three Voted Recommendations

By lunch time today, nine recommendations were voted by the attendees, and they are as follows:

Mission to Contemporary Audiences

1. Develop a branding strategy for Adventism tied to a clearer sense of our identity, including shifting our evangelistic emphasis from educational to relational approaches. Empower members through training and internal promotions programs, to mingle with the secular community, including opening our churches more hours to be available to local communities.

2. Promote a stronger emphasis on discipleship which encompasses evangelism into nurture resulting in retention.

3.Create a program for educating, mentoring, and training members, including contextualizing the Adventist witness, providing a greater emphasis on contemporary issues, including listening to young adults.


1. Develop a program for the promotion of Adventist Education for pastors and members tied to mission.

2. Develop innovative strategies for the delivery of Adventist education including: after-school and online programs, requiring all churches in a given constituency to support their local Adventist school, whether they have students there or not.

3. Develop alternative funding streams for Adventist education, including endowments, changing tithe ratios, and expanding enrollment by including non-Adventist students already in our community.

Church Structure

1. Appoint a study group to examine the relationship between the size and complexity of our organization and achieving our mission, resulting in three recommendations based on the relationship between conferences, unions, and the division.

2. Make recommendations specifying ways that Administration and ministries of the church can streamline operations and eliminate duplications where unnecessary at every level.

3. Assign to a  representative commission the challenge of exploring at least three scenarios for the re-distribution of tithe for furthering the mission of the church.

The NAD will return proposals and recommendations based on the above nine, at NAD year-end meetings.

The rest of today is focused on discussion regarding Women's ordination, and the churches response to the LBGT issues.

In my opinion, this was, has been, one of the more meaningful events I've participated in since moving into the administrative area. The collective prayers of the attendees is that God would be a real and indispensable presence in directing His church toward new initiatives and/or changes that might enhance the mission of growing the Kingdom of God.

Day Two - Part Two - "The Vote"

The Wednesday session here at Dulles was quite interesting, characterized by the "votes"  highlighted in my last post. It seemed 'extraordinary,' at least to those of us present, that there was a 95% "yes" to "willing to change position" in order to accomplish the mission, meaning, changes that might mean moving to a different job, were, rather than 'feared,'  . . ..  'affirmed!'

No one would have expected that as historically, to some cynics, it has seemed that "loosing ones job" or better, having to "change jobs" was supposed to be more important that anything else. Not sure that was ever true for most, but some have that impression.

What was most interesting to me in yesterdays afternoon session was the speeches at the microphone which addressed the topic of "changing structure in order to facilitate" mission, save money, etc.,

Understand that there are 58 conferences  with Executive Officers represented,  9 Unions, much of the NAD leadership, University Presidents,  AHS officials, and, the cultural mix among these leaders represents significant diversity, and . ..  those perspectives and differences "played out" in the various speeches at the microphone. A number of those at the mic addressed the importance and role or questioning the value in today's society of the Regional State conference mix.

The comments at the mic were at times quite lengthy - probably too lengthy in most cases - as individuals addressed or offered various scenarios for changing structure, OR, warning that changes to structure posed risk. The treasurer from Florida, Duane Rollins?, proposed a thoughtful option, that suggested the Southern Union move from 8 local conferences to two Unions covering all the SE U.S., I told Steve Rose I was good on that idea,  " as long as one of the Unions is the Kentucky-Tennessee Union!"  (FYI - said with a smile)

Most intriguing to me were a few opinions that spoke of a desire to address redundancy, overlap, and financial waste in duplication, BUT, at the same time seemed to believe the present organization is "perfect." I'm not sure how you meaningfully address cost savings and "alignment for mission" while maintaining a 'hands off' the structure position.

In our break-out groups, an individual from AHS made a very helpful comment in the midst of conference leaders bantering back and forth about their version of what's important to change or not change . . He said, "In my world, you determine what end-result, or goals you are desiring to achieve, such as "we want to carve out, save, a million dollars, and then you determine a strategy to get there."

I thought that was quite helpful if simple advice in the midst of leaders doing what they sometimes do best in the church, talk, and talk, and talk and "detour" away from the agenda.  Remarkably, these meetings do seem very intentional on addressing change within structures.

A motion was made and passed around lunch time that in essence said, "By the time of 2014 NAD Year End Meetings, the NAD leadership will have comprised a committee that will bring recommendations to the NAD attendees." That passed with a 80% "plus" vote of support.

Now THAT"S the easy part. What changes would be recommended? The only organizational entity that the NAD is in charge of is the NAD. It can affect "policies" that may touch the rest of us, but it cannot 'force' a Union or local conference to "drop" a department, OR, collectively do their payroll in one center than than on multiple sites etc.,

I'll end with this thought: "which " organizations, and "what" level deserves to be the focus of structural change seems very uncertain as well as highly debated. At this early stage of conversation, that's not surprising. I am of the opinion, and I hope always will be, that within the organization the local conference IS the most important entity to the success and mission of the church. It is 'closest' to the ministry of church and school, less removed, more accountable to constituents, and is far more invested in the day to day operation of the local church.

However, again not surprisingly, speeches were made that spoke of the benefit of the "higher" organizations, which I would not deny, but if pressed to make tough decisions, as one president said in our break out group, we will all have to give up Something.  You can't give up  "nothing" in this conversation/issue, and expect to get back "a lot."

Someone asked me last night if the discussion and report on NAD education came with any motions or votes. The answer is "no." It was simply a report, but I found it enlightening and helpful as we navigate SDA education in KYTN.

Today's agenda is "Where do we go from here?" with a report from family ministries that will include the LBGT topic and the churches stand/position in the changing social landscape that now (have you noticed) not only embraces same-sex activity, but seems to celebrate it. Will also address women's ordination.  This should be another day of "engaging" conversation.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Dulles Meeting "Day Two"

Yesterday the afternoon session included a report on SDA education throughout the division. Statistics and information shared was both affirming to the mission as well as  highlighting the challenges. Larry Blackmer NAD Ed. supt., was the presenter.

In the 'affirmation ' category, there is enormous support for the mission of SDA education with almost all respondents prioritzing the value and contribution to mission and ministry. The areas of concern are known to most of us: Cost, and "mission" priority in the face of declining enrollments.

Blackmer noted that the solution to cost, is NOT reducing other areas of ministry and evangelism that the church is invested in. He noted what many believe: the church puts enormous financial resources into SDA education; far beyond any other endeavor, though, he noted how important SDA education is to growing the church.

More of the good. Our SDA test scores, across ALL grade levels, is consistently and significantly higher than the public sector scores.

We are the largest "collective"private school system in the world. The Catholics are larger numerically, but are divided in terms of structure.

89% of our SDA students in our schools, in the last survey, rate the "school experience" as the most important factor in their lives.

We are the only private religious school system that requires 100% of our schools to be certified. Now for the challenges . . . they were prefaced by Dr. Blackmer's comment that whenever he meets with his colleagues in private religious education leadership . . Jewish, Lutheran, Baptist, etc., the consensus is always the same . .

The two biggest needs present and in the future for the success of private religious education is:

LEADERSHIP and SUSTAINABILITY (I assume that means cost, etc,) Here are the stats:

1. In the last ten years, 170 (mostly small elementary schools) have closed.

2. There is an extremely sharp drop in enrollment that  progressively gets 'worse' from grade 4, through grade 12.

3. Only 26% of SDA families have school age children.

4. The median income for SDA families is around $25,000. Nationally, a low figure that underscores the challenge of family's to afford private education.

5. Though "younger" SDA members would vote to use tithe funds to subsidize education cost, Dr. Blackmer pointed  out that tithe contributions are largely from older members who strongly disagree in regards to funding education with tithe.

6. The average conf. subsidy to SDA boarding schools is $745,000 annually. KYTN is considerably higher though I don't have that figure in front of me.

7. The average 'total' cost, for a boarding academy student, once subsidy is factored in, is $24,000 a year. For elementary students, it is $9,000.

8. The average dollar "loss" per student in k-12 is $3,000 across the NAD. This means that $3,000 per student IS NOT covered by fees OR subsidy and must be made up in other ways. "Written off," or, individual fund-raising, etc.,

9. Finally, back to numbers, only around 33% of eligible SDA school children are students in our schools.

Dr. Blackmer told of one conference where a school owes the conference 7.5 MILLION! And the conference, he stated, wants the money NOW.

It was noted that we do not manage mergers and closings of schools well; it is done through 'attrition.' Dr. Blackmer offered a brief formula to be pro-active with this issue . . .

"Determine the LOWEST number of students acceptable for a school to remain open. If the school falls below that number for two consecutive years, it triggers a constituency meeting to determine the future. OR, a "upper limit' subsidy dollar figure is determined and IF that number is exceeded for two years (or three) it also would trigger an automatic constituency session.

This issue was a topic in our break-out sessions and it is clear that we all wrestle with how to manage the complexities of schools, cost, and managing - even guessing - God's will for continuing in the environment of declining enrollments.

The Morning session has begun with several interesting votes taken by the attendees:  Here are the three questions we voted on:

1. "Is the present organizational structure of the church optimal for succeeding in the mission?

85% voted "NO."

2 "Is the time to change the organizational structure NOW?"
81% voted "YES"

3. "Would you be willing to give up your present position if that was the result fo

The answer to this was quite interesting:

95% said "yes" meaning, no one wants to join the unemployment line, but a HUGE majority, (self included) said, "I'm willing to do something else if it might increase the effectiveness and success of the mission."

The remainder of the morning is spent in review of "how" the NAD is spending money and how that aligns with mission effectiveness and efficiency. Last year,$932 MILLION in tithe was contributed in the NAD with $163 million being forwarded to the NAD. The NAD has operated in a deficit budget position for a number of years.

The areas it supports are quite broad from evangelism to retirement, to the seminary, to various departmental ministries and functions. Also, a portion of NAD funds is returned to the GC; 8% which is far higher than any other world division. The other 12 divisions return 2% and the GC has agreed with the NAD that the NAD contribution will decline another 1% in 2017, on top of a present 1% drop.

Before lunch time, we will break into discussion groups.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Dulles Meetings Part 2 - Rise of the Nones

Greg Smith, Director of U.S. Religious Surveys, Religion and Public Life Project, Pew Research Center is now presenting. The Pew Research Center is a non-profit  research institution that receives no payment for its studies, does not hire out to clients, and is completely independent in attempting to provide objective information for policy-makers, religious leaders, and institutions can benefit from.
His thoughts were preceded by a few statistics of a survey that is reviewed annually by the NAD:

81% of American Public 'knows' of SDA's. However, 63% know too little to form an opinion. 27% knows 'something' but is not favorable - among these respondents, we are sometimes confused with JW's or Mormons.

16% are favorable. 2% like 'very much' or, very favorable.

In the last 40 years the Protestant portion of the population is dramatically declining. In the 80's, 60% identified themselves as such. But by early 90's the decline began; somewhat gradually, but now less than 50% of American's call themselves "Protestant."

The "Nones," which in the 80's was 10% choosing 'none,' has now doubled. Presently, 20% identify as atheist, agnostic, or 'nothing.'  That figure has increased 5% in the past seven years. Most of these are not 'agnostic' or 'atheist' but are choosing NOT to identify with any denomination, AND, the percentages are true across gender, economic classes,  education attainment, as well as race (though the increase in "nones" is less among african american than whites). AND, the numbers are larger among singles, than married individuals. By a high percentage, most of these individuals are "liberal" in both their political and social views.

Catholic numbers are "steady" in the U.S., benefiting largely from migrant populations from Latin America.

The decline in Protestantism is not only in the 'mainline' churches, but the Evangelical community as well.

What are the factors that are impacting this?

Generational replacement; one-third of adults under age 30 declare themselves as "none." Among those 65 and older, that percentage is only 10%. The question: as American's age, might they become more attached to religion?  Pew Research has interestingly identified that the "Baby Boomer" generation in particular is becoming much more "prayer focused" as they age. However, the same number who identify as "nones" 13%, are entering their retirement years as "nones" rising slightly to 15%

Gen X has also shown evidence that as they are getting older they "pray more." and Pew is not sure why this is true. Gen x are those born in the 1980's.

HOWEVER, religious affiliation, identification with churches, DOES NOT tend to change as individuals age. So, people pray more as they age, but do not choose to align with religion or church.

Key Finding: The Present generation is less religiously affiliated than any previous generation in the history of the U.S., and nothing in the data suggests that these individuals will return to religion as they age. There is also an increasing percentage who "doubt the existence of God."

The number of people who say both religion and prayer are important to them, percentage wise, has not changed in spite of the above statistics. The U.S. continues to be a much more religious country than other industrialized nations. Greg Smiths comment: "More people are aligning their practice with what they believe. Almost half of people who seldom attend religious services identify themselves as "nones." For those who DO attend with some regularity, identification with denominations remains very high. The result is that people who don't go to church, increasingly say they are "nones." In the past, there was perhaps a number who were of this classification but would CLAIM they were Catholic, Adventist, Lutheran."  Now, without embarrassment, these individuals say "I'm a 'none' and do not nor plan, to align with a church.'

Most of those individuals who were ever invested in church, -childhood or youth -  tend to stay in it. However, those who were on the margins from birth through youth, or had no church exposure,  are much more likely to choose "none."

Finally; 25% of adults in the U.S. who identify with a religion, or no religion, now connect with a faith OTHER than the faith they grew up in. More than 50% of adults who are religious have changed religions in their lives, with Catholics being the biggest "net loosers." Their are four former Catholics to every one new convert, in the U.S., with almost the same number of Protestants leaving their faith as those joining.

Half or more of those raised with "no religion" WILL join a religion in their adulthood.

Conclusions: "nones' mean non-believers. Many are, but many are not. Only 3 out of 10 'nones' say I'm agnostic or atheist. The rest, are not anti-religion, but are not associated with any faith.

Among all nones, 2/3rds state, "I believe in God," although a lot of them would add, " not certain whether he exists."  3 out of 10 say religion is 'somewhat important,' and 14% of them say 'religion is VERY important.'  The point is, that there is a "spiritual pulse" that is still beating among them.

Finally, 90% of the 'nones' are  NOT looking for any religion; most of them are NOT and feel no "need."

After Lunch, our agenda is "State of k-12 Education," "NAD HealthCare 2015 and Beyond," and break-out sessions for discussion among treasurers, presidents and secretaries.

NAD Dulles Meetings

I am in Northern Virginia,  at the Dulles Airport Hyatt, today through Thursday, attending an historic, perhaps 'first ever' meeting of local conference officers, union officers, NAD leadership, and even the presence of AHS vice-presidents. The agenda, as I've reflected previously in my Comments newsletter, is very significant in addressing major issues of concern across the Division, including organizational structure, evangelism methods, media ministry challenges, and even whether the time has arrived to identify a method by which students are admitted to the Seminary in relationship to the employment needs across North America.

The session has opened with a review of the on-line survey that was sent to the attendees. We were told that the participation/returns on the survey were extremely high: over 70% responded to the survey, which was comprised of 11 different sections, exploring opinions and sentiment in many areas that are tied to the agenda. Most of the survey was structured on a "strongly agree to a strongly disagree" scale.

Here are a few results from the survey and these are simply brief 'snapshot' comments:

1. The areas of highest concern "externally" - on the macro-level -  include challenges to the traditional family, the impact of the media and culture, and addictions were identified as the three most significant influences.

2. Of the "internal issues"-those specific to the church - the "loss of youth and young adults to the church" was the highest overwhelming concern to leadership. Other areas included, and listed from "highest concern" to "less."

Declining SDA school enrollments and financial challenges. While recognizing the issues, the value of the SDA education system is important, and strongly affirmed.

Belief systems; including people and relationships and the increasing impact of homosexuality on the church of and issues related to it. Issues that affect/threaten the family.

There was "good agreement' that SDA colleges help with the mission, but individual comments suggest that there is some "Missional drift" at the colleges as well.

The opinion on 'consolidation' was mixed. "Maybe" there should be some organizational consolidation, but  the "maybe" is couched with "what would it look like?"

In terms of SDA education, there is a desire to change, but 'how' and 'what' is not clear.

3. A REALLY highly stated opinion for change was the "GC policy on ordination of women." A small group is highly opposed, but  a strong majority favor. Ordination of women is very supported, however, around 30 individuals of the 145 or so respondents disagree, some strongly

A change over the years is that unlike a few decades ago, there is a strong belief in LEADERSHIP development. IN years past it was felt that "God equips who he chooses." The belief is that both pastors and administrators should be professionally developed.

Another "strongly favor" area was for collaboration between all levels of organization.

"Term Limits" for conference presidents was 'mixed' with some believing it was important and some believing it is not.

4. An important finding is that structures should not change - for the sake of change - without developing individuals in skill and leadership and that it is believed that there is presently very little provided to train and improve leaders.

It is believed that church 'structure' is beneficial, BUT, it is a church that might be 'over structured' and needs revision and review in how it does business.

When asked "what parts" of organization need re-structuring, the results are quite interesting:
There seems to be no difference in local or union respondents in terms of where to focus re-structuring; there was a 'mixed' opinion across the survey in "what and where" restructuring is needed.

- Opinions favor more streamlined church structure; mixed results on whether the Union or local conferences should be the focus of re-organization.

The survey resulted in the absence of a strong consensus on re-structuring 'vertically,' but more so in how organizations work together in collaboration.

My friend Paul Hoover, President in Upper  Columbia, just mentioned to me how the results of the survey might change if pastors were given the same set of questions, particularly in the area of "need for oganizational change." My thought is that pastors might agree more strongly for that need for two reasons, they may not see all of the 'value' that organizations above the local conference provide, and, may feel that much more resources need to be delivered locally rather than dispersed more broadly among 'higher organizations.'

Tomorrow we will look at more data on how the church is growing (or not growing) the indigenous population of North  America (caucasions, african-americans, multi-generational Americans of all races - those who've been citizens for multi-generations and are not more recent immigrants -

Finally, for this mornings post, while it is believed that North America is doing much good in evangelism, there is a desire to have less focus on "big once-a-year events"  (less spectacular evangelism) and more attention to the local church. Additionally, the mission to 'reach the lost' should guide ALL other priorities.  I heartily agree!