Book, Conference Push Recognition of Urban Ministry

By: Taashi Rowe/ANN
Date: 10/29/07
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As Seventh-day Adventist Church leaders meet at a conference this week to plan strategies for urban ministries in the United States, a new book released by an Adventist researcher chronicles the challenges the church faces in large cities, both in the community and within the denomination.

Though nearly a million people move to urban areas each week worldwide, few are pouring into Adventist churches, says Adventist researcher Monte Sahlin, author of "Mission in Metropolis: The Adventist Movement in an Urban World."

The book, released this week at the church's first Adventist Urban Congress at Oakwood College in Huntsville, Alabama, overviews Adventist ministry to urban areas at a time when the United Nations reports more than half of the world's population live in cities. Sahlin says the book also includes approaches for reaching large cities.

The Adventist Church has been touted as one of the fastest growing protestant denominations worldwide, but not so in growing metropolises. Most of the church's membership resides in rural areas and on islands.

Sung Kwon, left, director of Adventist Community Services in North America, with Monte Sahlin, director of research and special projects for the Adventist Church in Ohio. [Photo: Teresa Kwon/Adventist Community Services]

"We are strong where people are not, and not very strong where people are," says Sahlin, who also directs research and special projects for the Adventist Church in Ohio.

Adventist churches in North America only average one new member a year, after factoring in the baptism of returning members and children of members, says Sahlin, who has spent years researching Adventist churches along the East Coast of the U.S.

In his book, Sahlin also discusses the general unwillingness on the part of some Adventist churches to get involved in their communities.

Sung Kwon, organizer of this week's urban congress and director of Adventist Community Services in North America, says Adventists should ask themselves, "Is our community a better place to live because we as Christians invested our lives for others?"

Thirteen years ago, Sahlin asked Kwon, then a new Seventh-day Adventist, to get involved with Adventist Community Services in Dayton, Ohio. Kwon lead the transformation of what was once a small community house supported by local congregations into a full-fledged services facility. The Good Neighbor House now coordinates with 140 local agencies providing social services for working families and operates a clinic that served 1,200 patients last year.

Kwon recalls volunteers following up with people they helped, many attending birthdays, graduations and funerals. The churches then held evangelism meetings a year later and baptized 18 families. "More than half of those people had been recipients of Good Neighbor House services," Kwon says.

Sahlin says more Adventist churches have the potential for similar stories. "But the reality is that most local Adventist churches make zero impact on the community," Sahlin says.

Sahlin tells churches that an obstacle to telling people about Jesus is not having a presence in the community. Both Kwon and Sahlin have seen how Adventist churches becoming involved in their communities, particularly in urban areas, can help bring people into the pews.

Sahlin tells of the Walk of Faith Fellowship church plant in Cleveland, Ohio, which opened up a drop-in center as a safe place for teens to hang out after school. Other successful examples, he says, include the Symposia Community Book store in Hoboken, New Jersey, which sells books to support community projects, and CityLights, a small church plant in New York City that welcomes people from all faith backgrounds.

"Urbanization will substantially change the face of Adventist mission," Sahlin says. "And if we as a church are serious about mission we must tackle this issue."



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