Membership in the Maryland-based Seventh-day Adventist Church grew in 2020 despite the global pandemic, but church officials reported the lowest annual increase in 16 years at its annual business meeting Sunday.
Some 803,000 new members joined through either baptism or profession of faith, David Trim, who leads the group’s archives and statistics unit, said.
“Before last year, there had been more than one million accessions in eighteen of the last twenty-one years, and every year for sixteen years in a row,” Mr. Trim said in a video report shown at the church’s annual council in Silver Spring. There was a small in-person contingent, but most participants attended virtually due to pandemic-related travel restrictions.
Mr. Trim said there was “a marked decrease in public evangelism” resulting from government restrictions on in-person gatherings and a sharp decline in personal outreach, due to the pandemic.
At the same time, he said, “we should be surprised, not that accessions declined, but that more than 800,000 people joined the Seventh-day Adventist Church in 2020.”
Mr. Trim also noted the overall rate of membership losses. Although 24.4 million people are currently members of the church globally, 16.8 million of those who have been members since 1965 have left, giving a net loss rate of 41%.
“In other words, four out of every 10, two of every five, members slip away,” Mr. Trim said. When it comes to member retention, he added, “we continue to need to do much better in this regard.”
One bright spot during the pandemic, the Adventist official reported, was stability in donations: In 2020, church members contributed $2.39 billion in tithes, down slightly from $2.4 billion the year before. Missions offerings were down by 25%, however, from $88.6 million in 2019 to $66.5 million last year.
Formally organized in Battle Creek, Michigan, in 1863, the movement’s world headquarters relocated to Takoma Park, Maryland, in 1903 and has remained in the D.C. metro area ever since.