Personal Ministries Resources

10 Ways to Build Bridges of Understanding to Former Adventists

by Dr David Foster

1. Stay Friends
When Adventists start on the "drop-out track", one of the first consequences observed is that their level of social acceptance and involvement in the church declines. Intentionally keep the friendship circle and involvement in church alive. Let them know that when absent, they are missed.

2. Listen to the stories
A common criticism made by former Adventists is "nobody really listened to me." Story listening gives the teller a chance to deal with what is going on in his/her life. It also gives the listener a chance to offer trust and determine how best to be supportive. Be open to hearing people's stories. Most importantly, do not gossip about the story entrusted to you.

3. Seize the initiative – quickly
When an Adventist stops attending church, within two months that person has re-invested his/her time and energies in their family/friends or in other community organisations. If you know a person who is finding life difficult to the extent that s/he is considering leaving church, don't wait – make contact by phone, letter, e-mail or visit the person. Let that person know you are thinking of them.

You do not need to have all the answers to their situation, just be available. This will help restore the person's sense of hope.

4. Do not react
Adventists who experience unresolved anxiety may become negative towards their church and/or one or more of the members, including the pastor. Regardless of the behaviour and emotional state of the person, do not speak or act defensively or reactively. In all interactions, take a positive, emotionally supportive and caring attitude. Consistently demonstrate Christian graces (Gal 5:22-23).

5. Respect the person
If a former or absent member has withdrawn because of personal failure or interpersonal conflict, it is imperative the local church and its individual members continue to offer the basic respect human beings deserve. Treat the person in such a way that s/he is able to maintain human dignity. On occasions, when it is difficult to do this, ask yourself, "How would Jesus treat this person?"

6. Check your church's health
Is your church an attractive community to which people enjoy belonging? One of the best ways to encourage people to remain active Adventist Christians is to have the church board/business meeting check the "health" of the local church.

To what extent does your church emphasise the following qualities of a "healthy" church?

  • empowering leadership
  • gift-oriented ministry
  • passionate spirituality
  • practical organisation
  • inspiring worship services
  • wholistic small groups
  • need-oriented evangelism
  • loving relationships

7. Check for absent members
One of the best ways to note absent members is through a "head-count" in Sabbath School classes. When you notice a person is absent, and you don't know why, assign a class member to contact the missing person. Elders and/or deacons can also be assigned the task of connecting regularly with missing members.

8. Be prepared to work through the situation
Nobody likes pain – physical, mental or emotional. However, in most cases the only way spiritual insight develops is when difficult situations are correctly confronted and resolved.

It may be easier for the church and a former Adventist to avoid the situation by mutual withdrawal. When this is done, the situation and the resulting pain is repressed and sealed off, perhaps never to be dealt with by the church or the former member. To do this robs all involved of the opportunity to corporately and personally mature as human beings and Christians.

How a local church deals with painful situations measures the extent to which all involved understand and live the gospel. Do whatever it takes to work through the situation to a mutually acceptable resolution.

9. Take formal action slowly
When an Adventist leaves, do not hastily censure the person or remove the name from membership. Such action may keep the "roll tidy" but, in most instances, it should be the last resort.

Hasty formal action often closes off any future chance of being together in church again with that person. A formal letter from the church to the absent member asking the person what the church should do about their membership is not the best course of action. Personal contact on several occasions is essential.

10. Assess the church's involvement
At times, the local church or individual members are perceived to be responsible for producing anxiety, loss and grief in the life of one of the members of the church. What church leaders need to do is –

(a) assess the situation and tactfully determine the extent to which the church is responsible; then
(b) if the church realises that they could have handled the situation more graciously and redemptively, the church need to apolgoise to the member concerned; then
(c) if possible, the church needs to negotiate a mutually-agreed-upon process for satisfactory future dialogue.

Building bridges of understanding to former members is part of Adventist mission.