THE SEVENTH-DAY ADVENTIST CHURCH AN ANALYSIS OF STRENGTHS, WEAKNESSES, OPPORTUNITIES, AND THREATS (SWOT) Roger L. Dudley

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1 THE SEVENTH-DAY ADVENTIST CHURCH AN ANALYSIS OF STRENGTHS, WEAKNESSES, OPPORTUNITIES, AND THREATS (SWOT) Roger L. Dudley The Strategic Planning Committee of the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists has been gathering data to use in helping the Adventist church move into the future in a manner that will maximize its mission to the world. In the spring of 2003, the commission employed the Institute of Church Ministry (ICM) of the Theological Seminary at Andrews University to conduct a SWOT analysis among leaders of the church in the world field. The plan was to request the presidents, executive secretaries, and treasurers of each of the world divisions and of each of the world unions - as well as the presidents of major colleges and universities and the chief executives of selected Adventist medical centers - to complete a questionnaire that would reveal their views on the state of the church. Given their positions of responsibility and the global nature of the sample, it was presumed that their combined views would represent a fair picture of the present condition of the church. In 2006, the Strategic Planning Committee decided to replicate the 2003 survey to determine what changes, if any, had taken place in the church over a three-year period and once again commissioned the Institute of Church Ministry to collect the data and analyze the results. The Questionnaire The 2003 questionnaire contained 81 statements to which respondents could respond on a five-point scale from not very important or not much of a concern to most important or most crucial or greatest danger. The statements were divided into four parts and clearly labeled as strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats. The first two categories related to

2 matters that are essentially internal to the church while the last two relate to external opportunities or dangers confronting the church. The 2006 questionnaire was different in several respects. First of all, the 81 items were reduced to 51 items by eliminating items that scored the lowest in the previous project. This was done to make room for a different set of questions. Secondly, the statements were no longer separated by the four SWOT parts. Rather they were mixed together and listed under topic or theme areas such as Organization/Leadership, Message and Doctrine, Membership, Education, Ministry and Evangelism, Sabbath School, Other Ministries, Finance, Growth, Resources: Personal, Resources: Material, Personal Devotion, and Religious Freedom. The third difference was the change in response options due to wording all items as sentences. Options were on a five-point scale from strongly disagree to strongly agree. A fourth difference was the addition of 22 questions to measure the extent of various General Conference initiatives. These were under the headings of Follow-up Plans, Developing Leaders, Evangelistic Outreach, Five Million Each Win One, and Sow One Billion. The items were chosen by ICM and the Strategic Planning Committee working together with consultation from specialists in the various areas. A copy of the questionnaire is attached to this report where the full wording of each statement or question can be seen. Data Collecting The questionnaire, along with a letter of request from Matthew Bediako, secretary of the General Conference, was mailed in December 2006 to the church leaders identified above. Surveys were sent to 444 individuals all over the world who were requested to return them directly to ICM. Securing the responses from such a widely-scattered sample proved to be -2-

3 extremely difficult. Five reminders were sent by ICM to non-respondents between January and June of Copies of the questionnaire were attached to the reminder s. Two appeals were sent directly from the General Conference Secretariat. The final data cut-off was made in August of By the August cut-off, 282 individuals had returned usable surveys. This represents a 64% return rate from the 444 sent out - a better-than-average response in a project this widespread and complicated. This positive response ensures confidence that the results do well represent the voice of the world-wide church and validates the lengthy collection process. Below is a list of the sources of the 282 questionnaires: 1. Division Presidents 8 2. Division Secretaries 6 3. Division Treasurers 5 4. Union Presidents Union Secretaries Union Treasurers Educational Institutions Medical Institutions Unidentified 17 divisions: In addition to a break down by position, the following list displays the sources by -3-

4 ECD 15 ESD 10 EUD 27 IAD 19 NAD 40 NSD 12 SAD 34 SID 18 SPD 13 SSD 23 SUD 12 TED 37 WAD 12 GENERAL CONFERENCE ATTACHED 1 Unidentified 9 Findings of SWOT Items 1-51 The 51 SWOT questions have been analyzed in two different ways. First, frequencies were calculated, and the combined percentages of those choosing options 4 and 5 (somewhat agree and strongly agree) were arranged in descending order. Second, means for each question were calculated and again arranged in descending order. This supplies two ways of viewing the most important strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats. Printouts from both of these methods are attached to this report (means at the end). However, inspection reveals that the two lists are generally in the same order with only slight variations. Therefore, the comments that -4-

5 follow will be based on the frequencies of those reporting somewhat agree or strongly agree. In Table One below which lists the frequencies, the first column lists the number of the question so that easy reference to the questionnaire can be made to determine the full wording of the sentence. The second column displays which of the thirteen themes contained the particular question. The next column has an abbreviated label for the question. Responses show how many respondents answered that particular question. The next column is the percentage that chose option 4 or 5. The valid column reveals what the percentage would be if non-respondents to that question were eliminated from the calculations. Thus it must always be equal to or higher than the percentage column. TABLE ONE RANKING OF FREQUENCIES BY OPTIONS 4 PLUS 5 # Theme Question Response Valid 5 Message and doctrine Message hope s 270 Percent 95.7 % Growth Loss of youth Finance Tithe-sharing Message and doctrine Health message Message and doctrine Bible based Membership Multi-cultural Ministry and Evangelism Global Mission Growth Radio to closed areas Growth Secularism hard Message and doctrine 28 fundamentals Education Education system Sabbath School Age levels Message and doctrine Members believe Growth New-growth areas Membership World presence Other Ministries Internet/TV Growth Post-modern society Resources: Material Culturally adapted materials Growth Access technology Organization/Leadership Organize/unity Sabbath School Study guides Personal Devotion Lack Bible study & prayer Message and doctrine EGW unity Growth New-people groups

6 24 Sabbath School Benefit spiritual life Finance Worldwide poverty Growth More languages Ministry and Evangelism Outreach programs Education Higher education Ministry and Evangelism Educate ministers Growth Openness to message Growth Poor retention rates Other Ministries ADRA Other Ministries Satellite evangelism Growth Ethnic rivalries Resources: Material Lack contextualized materials Resources: Personnel Youth decline ministry Organization/Leadership Layers/mission Message and doctrine Challenges/EGW Membership No spirit congregation Membership Lay dedication Growth Larger % of population Other Ministries Adventist World Finance Financial resources Resources: Material Literature for young people Organization/Leadership Leader training Organization/Leadership Nurture/disciple Finance Informed members Growth People in transition Religious Freedom Decreasing tolerance Membership Permeate society It will be necessary to examine the actual question (questionnaire at the end of this report) to determine if the agreement is about a strength, weakness, opportunity, or threat. The greatest agreement (95.7%) was on a strength: The overall message of the Church is one of hope. The second (95.4%) concerned a serious weakness: Loss of young people to the Church is a major concern. The third reverts to a strength in the finance theme: The tithe-sharing plan is a positive asset to the Church (95%). Four others garner agreement in the 90% range. The health message promotes longer and healthier lives (strength). Doctrines are seen by its members as Biblically based (strength). A multi- -6-

7 cultural church is a positive factor in mission (strength). Global Mission has helped us focus on unentered areas (strength). One has to go to the eighth-ranked item to find an opportunity statement: The Church can reach closed areas through radio (89.7%). One more step brings the first threat. Materialism and secularism are making evangelism more difficult (89.7%). So of the first ten rankings, seven are strengths and one each for weaknesses, opportunities, and threats. Agreement is generally high though. Seven statements were agreed on by at least 90%, twentythree in the 80% range, three in the 70%s, three in the 60%s, and six in the 50% range. Only nine elicited agreement from fewer than half of the respondents. In general, if a positively-stated item has low agreement, it can be considered a weakness. Adventist World reaching a majority of members (a weakness at 45.7%). The Church not limited by financial resources (a weakness at 44.3%) Suitable literature available for young people (a weakness at 44.0%). An adequate program for leadership training (a weakness at 42.9%). The Church has effective nurturing/discipleship programs (a weakness at 42.6%). Members are well-informed how offerings are used (a weakness at 40.4%). The lowest three fall below the 40% mark. Our churches are engaged in programs for people in transition (a weakness at 37.6%). In our area there is decreasing tolerance for religious freedom (a threat at only 36.5%) Lowest agreement of all (only 29.6%) is for the item Members have a tendency not to group together but to reach out and permeate society. This is a major weakness. A decision was made by the committee to word all sentences in the positive. Therefore, items which might indicate weaknesses were phrased as positive. This means that to discover areas of weakness, it is necessary to look at low percentage of agreement as pointed out in the -7-

8 previous paragraphs. Thus, items lowest on the scale call for careful study to see what areas should be strengthened. As an alternative way to view these results, Table Two lists the descending order of agreement (options 4 and 5) within each of the thirteen themes. That way it is easier to view strengths and weaknesses within each particular theme. TABLE TWO RANKING OF FREQUENCIES BY OPTIONS 4 PLUS 5 WITHIN THE THIRTEEN THEMES Theme Question Response % 1 Organization/Leadership Organize/unity Organization/Leadership Layers/mission Organization/Leadership Leader training Organization/Leadership Nurture/disciple Message and doctrine Message hope Message and doctrine Health message Message and doctrine Bible based Message and doctrine 28 fundamentals Message and doctrine Members believe Message and doctrine EGW unity Message and doctrine Challenges/EGW Membership Multi-cultural Membership World presence Membership No spirit congregation Membership Lay dedication Membership Permeate society Education Education system Education Higher education Ministry and Evangelism Global Mission Ministry and Evangelism Outreach programs Ministry and Evangelism Educate ministers Sabbath School Age levels Sabbath School Study guides Sabbath School Benefit spiritual life Other Ministries Internet/TV Other Ministries ADRA Other Ministries Satellite evangelism Other Ministries Adventist World Finance Tithe-sharing Finance Worldwide poverty Finance Financial resources Finance Informed members Growth Loss of youth Growth Radio to closed areas

9 agreement. 44 Growth Secularism hard Growth New-growth areas Growth Post-modern society Growth Access technology Growth New-people groups Growth More languages Growth Openness to message Growth Poor retention rates Growth Ethnic rivalries Growth Larger % of population Growth People in transition Resources: Material Culturally adapted materials Resources: Material Lack contextualize materials Resources: Personnel Youth decline ministry Resources: Material Literature for young people Personal Devotion Lack Bible study & prayer Religious Freedom Decreasing tolerance Looking at this table, it can be seen which item in each theme has elicited the most Organization/Leadership Message and Doctrine Membership Education Ministry and Evangelism Sabbath School Other Ministries Finance Growth Resources: Personal Resources: Material Personal Devotion Religious Freedom Organizational system fosters unity Overall message of hope Multi-cultural church a positive factor Extensive educational system benefits Church Global mission helps focus on unentered areas Study guides for age levels crucial for youth Internet, TV, & Publications essential outreach Tithe-sharing plan a positive asset Loss of young people a major concern Declining number of youth prepare for ministry Need for culturally adapted evangelistic materials Small percentage involved in Bible study and prayer Decreasing tolerance for religious freedom Findings on Follow-up Plans As mentioned before, a major difference from the 2003 project was the addition of questions other than the SWOT items. The first set asked: When a public evangelistic series is held in your area of administration, and new converts are added to the church, what follow up plans are currently in place? Respondents were given a list -9-

10 of five items (#52-56) to which the options were: 1 = We always do that; 2 = We often do that; 3 = We sometimes do that; 4 = We never do that. For reading ease, Table Three combines the percentage choosing 1 or 2 to represent those who carry out the practice on a regular basis and compares it with the percentage who never do that. The failure of the two figures to add to 100% indicates those who sometimes carry out the practice - option 3 (The complete list of frequencies for the entire questionnaire are attached to the end of this report). TABLE THREE FREQUENCY OF FOLLOW-UP PLANS Follow-up Plans Always/often Never Question Question Responses Percentage Response Percentage # 52 Personnel to new converts s Church for new converts Support follow-up Spiritual guardians Follow-up instruction It is a matter of concern that less than half of entities always or often provide any of the follow-up plans. Even the most frequent - providing a church structure for new converts - is done by only about 45% of the areas. Appropriations to support follow-up activities and assignment of spiritual guardians always or often take place in only a little over a third of the fields (37.6%). Personnel to coordinate ministry to new converts and material for follow-up instruction fall in the middle with about 40% participation. These rather low figures may suggest why new converts do not get integrated into congregations and, too often, fall away. This situation deserves some serious consideration. On the other hand, relatively small percentages never take any of these actions. But even these figures ranging from 8.5% to 14.5% (for spiritual guardians) can mean serious loss when -10-

11 applied to the thousands of baptisms that take place. It appears that the largest percentages say they sometimes but not often carry out follow-up procedures. Sometimes, of course, is a rather vague term that could disguise very little. Findings on Developing Leaders This next set of questions sought to determine how well the Church is doing in developing future leadership in various areas. The questionnaire asked: As established leaders in all fields move to new positions or retire, a constant supply of new leaders is required. What practices are followed in your area of administration? In responding to the list below: 1 = This system is already in place and operating, 2 = We are currently working on developing such a plan; 3 = We do not have such a plan at present The instructions were followed by a list of seven items (#57-63). Table Four compares those who have a working plan with those who Don t. The omission of those who are somewhere in the stages of developing a plan accounts for the failure of the two percentages to total 100%. TABLE FOUR FREQUENCY OF LEADERSHIP DEVELOPMENT PLANS Developing Leaders System in place No system or plan Question Question Responses Percentage Response Percentage # 57 Classes in leadership s Experienced mentors Materials on leadership Sponsor to conferences Support advanced degrees Training executives Orientation for new positions The practice most likely to be in place is support for workers taking advanced degrees in leadership areas. Still, only slightly over half of the administrations do this, but another third are working on developing such a plan. Just behind this item at slightly less than half is sponsoring selected individuals to attend leadership conferences. Other practices are in place in only the -11-

12 31% to 39% range. The most undeveloped plan is assigning experienced mentors to work with promising candidates. Only about a fourth do this, and 37% are not even developing such a plan. The area of leadership development appears to be weak and needs some serious attention if capable leaders are to be ready for service when the current leaders retire. Evangelistic Outreach Questions explored the current status of public evangelism in the various unions or divisions. Question 64 asked: In your view, what percentage of the churches in your union or division conducted some form of evangelistic event during the previous year? Table Five below shows the frequencies, the percentages, and the valid percentages if non-respondents had been eliminated. The Missing System is the 9 who did not answer this question. The results rest on the 273 usable answers. TABLE FIVE EVANGELISTIC OUTREACH Percent evangelistic events Frequency Percent Valid Percent Less than 25% % to 50% % to 75% More than 75% Total valid Missing Total returns The largest number of answers fall in the 25% to 50% range. While about 21% of the unions or divisions had more than 75% of the churches involved in some form of evangelistic event, there does appear to be room for growth here Question 65 asked for the estimate of the number of youth evangelistic events held during the previous year. This was rather complicated because it was answered by both union and division officials. Obviously, a division would not expect to have the same number as a union. -12-

13 So respondents answered separately for the two units. Unions chose on a five-point scale from under 50" to over 500. The corresponding choices for divisions was under 250" to over Table Six below attempts to combine these answers. TABLE SIX YOUTH EVANGELISTIC EVENTS Number of Events Frequency Percent Valid Percent Under 50 (250 div) ( div) ( div) ( div) Over 500 (5000 div) Total valid Missing Total Again, we have 19 respondents who did not answer that particular question. About half held fewer than 50 youth evangelistic events for unions or 250 for divisions. On the other hand, nearly 9% held more than 500 youth events in unions or 5000 in divisions. Question 66 explored a crucial area in General Conference planning. Has the evangelistic initiative TELL THE WORLD made a difference in your field? Table Seven below shows the responses. TABLE SEVEN TELL THE WORLD SUCCESSES Extent of Difference Frequency Percent Valid Percent No difference Some difference Quite a bit of difference Significant difference Total valid Missing Total

14 The option most frequently chosen (43.6%) was some difference. Only about a third expressed the belief that the initiative had made quite a bit of difference or significant difference in their field. Clearly, TELL THE WORLD is not making the impact that its planners had hoped it would. New strategies seem to be needed. A Statistical Note Six out of the last seven questions asked for write-in answers rather than multiple choices. These all have to do with numbers. While these solicit valuable information, in the preparation of this report it became evident that a problem of overlap existed. First of all, the reports come from both divisions and unions. This means that a division report overlaps with union reports from within that division. Secondly, surveys were sent to all three officers of both unions and divisions. So if the president, secretary, and treasurer of a union all reported the number of members trained in soul-winning, for example, the total would be counting that union=s result three times. Also, some of the respondents were from medical and educational institutions. While their input on the SWOT items are important, they would not be expected to know the answers to the initiative questions. This no doubt partially explains the large number of missing responses on these last questions. The Institute of Church Ministry decided to handle the reporting of this situation as follows: First, in the tables below all the figures from whatever source are given first, just as in the preceding questions. Then, to get a more accurate picture of totals, only reports from unions were considered since they constitute the largest number reporting and are the closest to the action in the field. To eliminate the fact that up to three reports could come from a single union, it was determined which of the three union officers gave the most responses to a particular question. The reports from those officers were then used for the total figures for that question. -14-

15 Thus, for the totals given after each table below, two are from the reports of presidents and four from secretaries. Five Million Each Win One Three questions explored the outcomes of Five Million Each Win One. Question 67 asked: In your union/division how many members were trained in soul-winning during the past year? While respondents wrote in actual numbers, for easier comprehension, the answers were grouped as shown in Table Eight. TABLE EIGHT MEMBERS TRAINED IN SOUL-WINNING Members trained Frequency Percent Valid Percent , Over 10, Total valid Missing Total returns The largest number trained between 100 and 1000, although nearly as many trained more than 10,000. What seems to be most significant is that more than a third didn t answer this question. This is partly explained by the respondents from educational and medical institutions not being involved in this activity, but can not account for more than a third of the missing answers. Whether these other respondents didn t have the information or whether no training was done in that field calls for further investigation. The total number of member trained in soul-winning in the previous year, as reported by the union presidents was 761,027. Remember that only 77 presidents reported so the actual world total will be higher. -15-

16 Question 68 asked: What percentage of your members are currently involved in witnessing activities? Here again the many possible answers were grouped as shown in Table Nine. TABLE NINE MEMBERS INVOLVED IN WITNESSING Percent involved Frequency Percent Valid Percent 0-20% % % plus Total valid Missing Total returns About a third of the fields have fewer than 20% of the members in witnessing activities. Only 11% have more than 40% active. Also notice that a fourth of the respondents didn=t answer this question. These low percentages will be a matter of concern to the committee. For this question the report was taken from the union secretaries to obtain the highest percentage that did not overlap with other reports. This indicated that about 26.7% of the members are currently involved in witnessing. Question 69 asked: How many have been baptized through the witnessing activities of the church members? The many different answers were organized into four groups in order to make the picture comprehensible. Table Ten displays this information. TABLE TEN BAPTISMS THROUGH MEMBER ACTIVITY Number of baptisms Frequency Percent Valid Percent , Over 10, Total valid Missing Total returns

17 Nearly 30% of the reporting fields had less than 1000 baptisms as a result of member activity. Unfortunately, the survey did not put a time period on this question. Presumably, this would cover the Five Million Each Win One period. While 13.5% of the respondents did report more than 10,000 baptisms, it would appear that the total falls far short of five million. Actually, the sum of all the numbers reported totals to 1,637,490. Three of the reporters gave figures of over 100,000: 124,500, 133,000, and 200,000. When the overlap is removed by taking only the 77 reports of union presidents, the total member participation baptisms are 382,184. This is a large discrepancy from the 1,637,490 figure obtained when all respondents are added. But notice that 109 respondents (38.5%) did not answer that question. Does that mean they had nothing to report? The data do not allow a firm conclusion on this matter. It seems fair to conclude by any measure that the initiative is significantly below five million. Sow One Billion Sow One Billion is another important initiative of the General Conference strategic planning. Three questions probed this area. Question 70 asked: How many of the tracts did your union/division distribute? A great variety of answers were given. These were organized into four groupings as shown in Table Eleven. TABLE ELEVEN TRACTS DISTRIBUTED Number of tracts Frequency Percent Valid Percent , ,000-1,000, More than 1,000, Total valid Missing Total returns

18 The greatest number of those who reported distributions (21.3%) claimed that their field had given out more than one million. That is encouraging, but 43% did not answer that question. Also over 35% of the fields gave out fewer than a million, over 10% fewer than 1,000. Nevertheless, the project seems to have been successful. The 160 respondents who answered this question reported a total of 1, 648,185,361 tracts distributed. Of course, as described above, since the report comes from both unions and divisions and from three sets of officers, there is considerable overlap. That may be partly compensated for by the unions or divisions that did not answer the question but still distributed tracts. At any rate, the 78 union secretaries reported a total of 113,936,819 tracts. Not a billion, to be sure, but still a great many. It cannot be determined how many more might have been distributed by the unions that did not report this figure. Question 71 asked: What percentage of your congregations participated in this program? These percentages were formed into three groups as shown in Table Twelve. TABLE TWELVE CONGREGATIONS PARTICIPATING IN SOW ONE BILLION Percentage of Congregations Frequency Percent of Total Valid Percent Over Total valid Missing Total returns Again, a large number (36%) did not answer this question. If just those who reported are considered, only slightly over a third claimed that more than 50% of the congregations in their territory participated in the Sow One Billion initiative. Nearly a third had less than 20% in the program. The average percentage of participation according to the union secretaries reporting was 39.5%. -18-

19 A final question (#72) in the Sow One Billion program asked about the response to the tracts that were delivered. What response did you get to the invitation for Bible studies? Table Thirteen displays the answers. TABLE THIRTEEN RESPONSE TO INVITATION TO BIBLE STUDIES Responses Frequency Percent Valid Percent Very little Adequate Overwhelming Don t know Total valid Missing Total returns It is difficult to see why 24% did not answer this question since the respondents had the option of Don t know, taken by only about half as many as did not answer at all. At any rate the largest group felt that the response was adequate. Very few saw it as overwhelming, and more than one-fifth perceived it as very little. Church Planting A final question on the survey asked: During this quinquennium, how many churches have been planted in unentered areas in your territory? The 74 different answers have been organized into four groups as shown in Table Fourteen. TABLE FOURTEEN CHURCHES PLANTED IN UNENTERED AREAS Churches Planted Frequency Percent Valid Percent Over Valid Total Missing Total returns

20 Nearly a third did not answer the question. No doubt, in some cases these were from the educational and medical leaders. Of those who did answer, the category most represented was (a third of the total). A total of 23,374 churches were reported, but, as has been shown, this figure is both over-represented and under-represented. Over-represented because of the overlap between divisions and unions and because of up to three officers from each field reporting. Under-represented because a number of fields did not report. Of the 74 different answers, the most frequent number of churches planted was 20, given by 20 respondents. Those union secretaries who reported the number of church plantings in unentered areas gave a total of How many additional plants were made in unions where this question was not answered cannot be determined from the present data. The results from this research project provide a rich store of information. They deserve careful study by the General Conference Strategic Planning Committee and other leaders involved in implementing the mission of the Adventist Church. The study uncovers areas where the Church is doing well, but also areas in which it is not meeting desired objectives. The latter will aid in setting new areas of emphasis in the coming years. -20-

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