Let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.– Matthew 5:16 (NIV)
The illustration of a lighthouse has long been used when describing the Church. Just because a ship runs off course does not mean it all is lost. So it is with the Church; followers of Christ are to be a beacon of light in a world that is filled with darkness, leading those who are wondering and lost to safety.
A recent study (2014) conducted by the Adventist Office of Archives, Statistics, and Research examined reasons why people leave the Adventist Church, as well as reasons why some of them choose to return. Additionally, the study questioned former Adventists’ current relationship to and knowledge of the Church.
Respondents who started attending an Adventist church again after leaving were asked about factors that helped them reconnect with the SDA church. Forty-nine respondents indicated that family had been instrumental in their return, 48 credited their desire for God, and 47 believed that friends had been a key factor for them. Additional items credited with their return to the Church were: prayer (25 respondents), the Holy Spirit (23 respondents), and their pastor (21 respondents). As you can see, relationships were a key component in many respondents returning to the church.
Respondents who had not returned to the church were asked if there was anything the Church could do to make them interested in returning. Survey respondents shared that these inducements would be the most effective in bringing them back to the Church:
- Prayer (21 respondents)
- Independent choice (20 respondents)
- Visitation (20 respondents)
- Irresistible truths, such as eschatology, the Sabbath, etc. (13 respondents)
- Doctrinal or other reforms (11 respondents)
Survey respondents were also asked about their awareness of developments in the Church now that they have departed. Almost a third (36.2%) indicated that they hear things occasionally, nearly another third (31%) indicated that they are fairly knowledgeable, 19.5% admit to having detailed knowledge, while only 13.4% indicated that they have no knowledge at all of recent Adventist developments.
Respondents were also asked about the avenues through which they receive Church information now that they are gone. A little less than half (43.7%) indicated that friends who are Adventist keep them updated on the church; furthermore, a little over a third (37.7%) responded that Adventist family helps them stay informed. In addition to personal relationships, Adventist media is shown to play an important role in keeping former members updated on the Church. Respondents indicated they use the following media outlets to stay informed:
- Hope Channel – 12.1%
- Adventist Review – 11.2%
- Local Adventist radio station – 10.8%
- Voice of Prophecy – 8.3%
These research findings show that just because former members no longer attend the Church, this does not mean that they are no longer tuned into Adventist culture or goings-on. Also, it is notable that relationships play an important role in not only keeping former members up-to-date on the Church, but these relationships might later be instrumental in facilitating the return of former members.
Just as a lighthouse cannot shut off its light, so we must not cease to shine the love of Christ into the lives of others – especially those who have left the Church. Will you reflect the Light of Jesus to them? This is, after all, one of the ultimate ways to bring glory to your Heavenly Father!
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Created in collaboration with the Institute of Church Ministry.