Can Sabbath School and Church Be Made Relvant?

Speaker: Categories: Oct 05, 1991


[57min, 36sec / 51min, 3sec]


"Where have all the people gone?"

"Well, if we just got back to preaching the message, they'd be here!"

"Where have all the people gone?"

"People liked the old songs; this new stuff may be O.K. for young folks, but not me."

"Where have all the people gone?"

"The Sabbath School secretary’s report, the mission story, the lesson review -- that's what people miss; that's why they're not here!"

"Where have all the people gone?"

"The preaching's not the same. I haven't heard a good sermon on the Commandments in years. People have to be told how to live in these last days."

"Where have all the people gone?"

Does this kind of dialog sound familiar?

Have you heard anything like it when Adventists get together and reassess Sabbath School and church attendance? Do you sense a concern, perhaps even a paranoia, that unless something dramatic happens soon -- very soon -- the Adventist Church, at least in the North American Division, may die a not-so-slow but very certain and very painful death?

And have you heard about "cut backs," reductions in staffing -- both administrative and pastoral -- freezes on hiring, budget crises, trends in tithe income, consolidating churches into districts, and . . . ?"

What is really happening in "our church"? Are these attendance and giving patterns temporary aberrations, flukes which will soon correct themselves as the next generation of Adventists comes on the scene? And why is it that, while the general trend seems downward, there are some congregations which are growing rapidly, some church and Sabbath School services which are packed, some church families which seem to defy the more common and depressing pattern?

Monte Sahlin, an individual uniquely qualified to assess what's happening in North American Adventism, our October speaker, notes: "Attendance at Sabbath School and worship has declined over the last two decades in Adventist churches across North America. The majority [emphasis supplied] of young people who grew up in Adventist homes and are now in their thirties and forties have dropped out."

Wow! The majority? Does that really mean that most of the SDAs who should now be the enthusiastic leaders of the church just aren't in church? This must be a computer or statistical error!

But there is some good news! Monte Sahlin continues, "But now these Baby Boomers are returning to church [emphasis supplied]. The North American Division has released several major studies in the last year, and several more studies are underway."


From this writer's vantage point, Monte Sahlin offers a creative, yet objective, bold, almost daring, contemporary critique of the "Adventist Scene" in North America. His publications, including the book, How to Share Your Faith with Your Friends: Without Losing Either and the four-part series on the imminent demise of the Sabbath School which appeared in the Review last spring would seem to support the assessment that he is knowledgeable, candid, and able to offer suggestions for reversing the pattern of depressing, negative-projection statistics.

A graduate of La Sierra University (then Loma Linda University, La Sierra Campus), he has done extensive graduate work at Windsor University, Fuller Seminary, Pittsburgh Theological Seminary, United Seminary, and Andrews University.

Our October speaker has pastored large and small, urban and suburban congregations ranging from seventeen to five hundred as well as serving in various administrative roles in the Atlantic Union, Ohio, and Pennsylvania Conferences.

In his current position he oversees the development and resourcing of a support system for 4200 local churches in the United States, Canada, and Bermuda, a system focusing on church members over thirty years of age. His responsibilities include programs for church growth, 1 ay witnessing, community service, adult Sabbath School, family life, and other specialized areas of ministry such as disaster services, prison ministries, outreach to refugees, and singles.

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