When I was a child growing up Seventh-day Adventist in Cleveland, Ohio, people would ask, “What is a Seventh-day Adventist?” The answer that I would hear most often is (or give most often) came from a laundry lists of things that Seventh-day Adventist did not do-at least, in those days: ”Seventh-day Adventists’ go to church on Saturday. We don’t drink. We don’t smoke. We don’t eat pork. We don’t wear jewelry”. Back in those days, Adventists were much more works orientated.
After hearing the laundry list of what Adventists couldn’t do, inevitability someone would say, ”Well, what can Adventist do?’
I thought about that as I prepared to talk to a group of Pastors in the Pacific Northwest on why Regional Conferences are still necessary (no one ever seems to ask if State Conferences are still necessary).
Regional Conferences are still needed to help in fulfilling the mission of the church-to expand the kingdom of God. Regional Conferences are still the best way to reach African-Americans (not the only way, but still the best way).
Need proof? Consider this:
According to the 1950 Seventh-day Adventist Yearbook, there were approximately 240, 000 Seventh-day Adventists in the North American Division at that time… Of that total, 21,000 members resided in Regional Conferences (I used the 1950 Yearbook because that was the Yearbook closest to the formation of the first Regional Conferences in 1944, that I could find).
Fast forward approximately 70 years later, to 2019. There are now nearly 1.25 million Seventh-day Adventist, nearly 330,000 of whom reside in Regional Conferences-meaning, that there are approximately 920,000 members in state conferences, or, roughly 4 times as many State Conferences members today as there were in 1950. We praise the Lord for the growth of our sister conferences.
In 1950, there were approximately 21,000 members of Regional Conferences. Today, there are nearly 330,000, which means that there are approximately 16 times more Regional Conferences members today than there were in 1950. That means that Regional Conferences have grown 4 times faster than the rest of the work in North America.
Please look at the membership of what were then 7 Regional Conferences in 1950 (Allegheny and South Atlantic each divided their territory, which means there are 9 Regional Conferences today (Membership numbers are rounded to the nearest thousand).
Allegheny Conference (now, Allegheny East and West):4,700 members then, 57,000 today
Central States-1,140 members then, 9,000 today
Lake Region-3,000 members then, 31,000 today
Northeastern-3,000 members then, 58,000 today
South Atlantic- (now, South Atlantic and Southeastern)-4,800 then, 102,000 today
South Central-2,800 then, 36,000 today
Southwest Region-2,000 then, 27,000 today
Add to those numbers, the fact that Regional Conference tithe has grown from a little over $500,000 when Regional Conferences began, to nearly $200 million today and I would suggest that Regional Conferences are one of the major success stories in the Seventh-day Adventist Church these past 75 years.
The main reason that churches exist is to expand the kingdom of God. Regional Conferences have expanded the kingdom of God at a rate that is approximately 4 times greater than the rest of the church in North America. They are still the best way (not the only way-but the best way) to reach African-Americans with the saving knowledge of Jesus Christ.
So when people ask “Do we still need Regional Conferences?” The answer is unequivocally “Yes”. There are still tens of millions of African-Americans and others who have not heard that “joyful sound-Jesus Saves, Jesus Saves!” Over the past 75 years, Regional Conferences have been the best way-by far-of reaching other African-Americans with that joyful sound. That is the most important reason (though not the only reason) for Regional Conferences: They are the best method for reaching people of color and fulfilling the mission of the church.
People say: “There is not going to be a white heaven and a black heaven-we all need to just come together”. It is true that there is not going to be a separate heaven then like we have separate conferences now.
But it is also true that there is not going to be a General Conference in heaven, either. Does that mean then that there should not be a General Conference now?
Besides, let’s define “coming together”; it sounds good-but what does “coming together” mean? In the United States and in our church, coming together has always meant people of color joining something operated by the majority culture. Diversity and integration in our church and in our country has always been, largely, a one way street.
No, there is not going to black heaven and a white heaven. But the mission of the church is to prepare people for heaven. Regional Conferences are still by far the best way of preparing people of color for heaven. That is why they are still needed.
But does that mean operating two different church structures who will never come together for any purpose until the end of time? If eliminating Regional Conferences is not the answer, what can we do to come together?
Tune in next month!
By Elder Dana Edmond