Through the years the leaders of the worldwide Adventist church have invented many slogans to encourage the members to get actively involved in the recruitment of new members. I remember some of them: Win one soul—Double our Membership–Harvest 90–1000 Days of Reaping. I do not recollect in which sequence they came. Recently a new mantra is being promoted: Total Membership Involvement (with its inevitable acronym TMI).
Once again this motto is inspired by a desire for explosive numerical growth. The recent baptismal result in Rwanda of 100.000 new converts within a month is touted as a spectacular result of the involvement of every member in this nationwide evangelistic crusade. It is presented as an example for the entire church to follow.
In my mind this Total Membership Involvement concept raises a number of important questions. What are the overarching aims in this appeal to get ‘totally’ involved? The emphasis is clearly on numerical church growth. Without denying that measuring results in term of numbers of people who find their way into the church is legitimate, it would seem that there is a significant danger that the one-sided emphasis on growth in numbers may pose serious dangers for the long-term well-being of the church. I would suggest that total member involvement must be a much broader concept, where not only the size of the church, but also the many other aspects of the long-term wellbeing of the church are highlighted. It is often too easily assumed that, if we just start running we will automatically arrive where we want to be. If we just become active in public and personal evangelism, all other issues will somehow sort themselves out!
But there is another, possibly even more pregnant, question. Total Membership Involvement presupposes that all members may get involved on equal terms. Here, we must note some serious problems.
What about women? Are they allowed to be involved as fully equal to their brothers? Or must their involvement remain partial, and at a different level?
What about the younger generation? Can they be involved in ways that are relevant to them and that speak in meaningful ways to the millennials around them? How can they become totally involved as long as that is not the case?
What about the LGBTI community—our brothers and sisters who are gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender or intersex? Can they be totally involved, or are they, at best, tolerated as long as they keep quiet and stay in the shadow?
And what about the large segment in the church (especially in the West) of people who have gradually moved to the margins—those who have doubts about aspects of their faith and/or Adventist doctrine, and those who worry about some current trends in the church? Are they also welcome to somehow be involved, or are they rather seen as a problem that obstructs this Total Membership Involvement?
Total Membership involvement must mean what it says. If this ‘total’ is qualified and excludes parts of our Adventist community, this new slogan is no more than a shallow promotional gimmick and basically meaningless.