Read This Week’s Passage: Luke 15:1–7 (4–7)

The Departed

Statistics tell us that in the Seventh-day Adventist denomination, more than four out of ten members have left the church over the past several decades. Though the organization has seen unprecedented growth rates around the world, it has also had alarming rates of departures. If any organization has 40 percent of its customers, members, adherents, or clientele departing, shouldn’t some emergency measures be taking place? Imagine 40 percent of patrons never coming back to a restaurant; 40 percent of customers never returning to a store; 40 percent never using a product again!

The question of why they are leaving naturally arises. Though many theories and opinions exist (and it is quite difficult to distinguish the personal anecdotes from the factual and sociological observations), the departures might be attributed to two primary causes. The “unripe harvest” and “members only” evangelistic strategies employed by churches have had a systemic effect on membership today. The former seeks to harvest souls prematurely through artificial pressure. The latter allows the mature harvest to spoil. Both miscalculate the timing of the harvest and its fruit.

Though much effort has gone into preparing, planting, cultivating, and harvesting, churches are reticent to take care of souls after baptism, which in the Grow cycle is referred to as preserving. Ellen White states, “After individuals have been converted to the truth, they need to be looked after. . . . They do not realize that these newly converted ones need nursing, —watchful attention, help, and encouragement. These should not be left alone, a prey to Satan’s most powerful temptations; they need to be educated in regard to their duties, to be kindly dealt with, to be led along, and to be visited and prayed with. . . . There should be more fathers and mothers to take these babes in the truth to their hearts, and to encourage them and pray for them, that their faith be not confused” (Evangelism, 351, 352). It is this stage that this week’s lesson will address.