In the recent past Minnesota Conference has emphasized evangelism and church planting. During the period 2017 -2021 we have organized seven new churches. Currently the Minnesota Conference administers 114 congregations with 10,903 members.
A few years ago the North American Division launched a program to partner with local conferences to plant 1,000 new community churches; they encouraged smaller conferences with less than 15,000 members to plant at least three new churches every year. The Minnesota Conference took that seriously, and in this period planted 24 new churches, of which five were multicultural, eight were African and 11 were Hispanic.
The question has been asked, “Why are we planting more churches when we have so many small struggling churches?” This question stimulated my desire to investigate the issue, as I wondered what the governing principles in church planting and revitalization are, what propositions define a successful church, and what life elements in a church will make it relevant to the community in which the church is established.
This investigation raised the question of congregational care. Thus, I recently asked eAdventist, the NAD statistics collecting office, to conduct a study on church vitality in Minnesota. I was shocked by the data provided:
58% of our churches in Minnesota are declining
6% are plateauing
33% are growing
3% are multiplying
The picture doesn’t look any better in the Mid-America Union Conference or the North American Division. The data showed that:
65% of our churches in Mid America Union Conference are declining
8% are plateauing
27% are growing
1% of our churches are multiplying.
62% of our churches in the North American Division are declining
11% are plateauing
27% are growing, and only
1% of our churches are multiplying.
I was fascinated by this data, coupled with the conversation in Christian Media in the last decade showing the decline of the Christian institution in the Western world, while at the same time the Pew Research Center was saying Christianity will continue to be the largest world religion.
My assumption is that people will become members of the Seventh-day Adventist Church if they perceive added value to their lives. I wondered, Are Seventh-day Adventist churches adding value to the communities in which our churches are serving? I also asked myself, When a person joins my church will they experience added value in their life?
I would submit that the Seventh-day Adventist Church in practice and function should be impacting life— adding value to the community, preserving morals, establishing sustainable life and everything that makes life worth living. The church should be our means to connect with our neighbors in the community.
During the 2016-2021 period, Minnesota has seen the Lord bless the work in amazing ways. We saw during this time 2,472 individuals unite with Christ through baptism or profession of faith, representing a net of 1,352 which is 14.16% growth. Because of our emphasis on evangelism and church planting, the conference invested in training the members so they could actively engage in ministry. The Great Commission (Matt. 28:18–20) calls us to make disciples by baptizing people. It follows then that these men and women, boys and girls must be joined to a church community.
Opponents of church planting would argue that “We have churches with lots of room; let’s fill them before we start planting new ones.” I take the position that planting new congregations is one of the best strategies for kingdom growth; therefore, continued church planting is seen by many soul winners as the means of extending the grace of God in our population centers.
The Minnesota Conference has seen that these new congregations seem to attract a higher percentage of risk takers. It seems a new congregation of people right out of the unchurched group will have more zeal to invite and attract nonbelievers. We have seen unchurched people and people who were not involved in any significant church ministry become part of a new church body as instruments of grace. We have seen the mushrooming of new leaders. Church growth experts all seem to agree that new congregations have more willingness to allow new people to be engaged in ministry than older churches.
New people have the ability to reach other unchurched people more easily than older members in long-established churches. It therefore goes without saying that growth happens by new cells. I propose that we need an extensive church planting movement to plant churches in every population center, in every people group, and in every county!
Our statistical analysis indicates that the Lord is blessing His work in our territory. As we move into the next quadrennium the next Minnesota Conference team will continue to fix our EYES on Jesus as we preach the everlasting gospel. We will try to find more methods to bring the gospel to the changing population landscape in Minnesota in ways that will not compromise the gospel.