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SDA: Maverick in church growth

The Seventh-day Adventist (SDA) Church in Zambia is a success story that can’t go untold. We have seen and heard about its unprecedented membership growth lately. Last year President Edgar Lungu graced its one million membership attainment. The occasion took place at Heroes Stadium where even leaders of opposition political parties were in attendance.
It was through interviews that I did with the church hierarchy; Dr Pardon Mwansa, then one of the vice-presidents of its world governing body, Dr Paul Ratsara, division leader, and Dr Akombwa, the church’s national leader, that I got insight into this exponential growth.
In the space of one year, this church has subdivided into two regions now dubbed as North Zambia Union and South Zambia Union for administrative conveniences.
And, also, it’s worth mentioning here that when its 60th General Conference met last May in San Antonio, Texas, USA, with  about 2,571 official delegates world over, the Zambian church could not go unmentioned. In fact, one of the items on the agenda was for the world church to vote that it splits into two administrative territories called Unions.
Even with the splitting, it was still deemed at the same gathering that the  church in Zambia remained the fastest growing church, that half of the Adventist membership in Zambia is twice bigger than the entire membership in many countries.
These two Unions are usually composed of regions called Conferences or fields, which consist of a group of churches called districts that are managed by pastors.
There are five conferences and three fields in Zambia. At their union or conference or field offices, they have a regional leader, a president who is helped by the executive secretary and chief financial officer, and the three are commonly referred to as O+fficers, and are assisted by departmental directors.
This church in Zambia started in 1905 when William Anderson, a Christian missionary, settled in Monze at a place called Rusangu where its regional university and secondary school now stand.
Slowly it started penetrating into other regions and today it has a presence in nearly all parts of Zambia. The church, arguably, is one of the fastest growing churches among the protestants.
There are many factors that have led to this growth which can save as lesson for church growth in Zambia: Dr Paul Ratsara, leader of the church in the southern region of Africa, said: “The church is apolitical.” This has helped it not run into trouble, be it with the ruling party or opposition party. In fact, one of the renowned political party leaders is an adherent member of this church, but the church has never at any election time endorsed anyone.”
Of course this growth hasn’t been a happenstance. It is as a result of its members’ esprit de corps in its core value of evangelism. It is said values are best defined by an organisation’s calendar and chequebook.
This church has over 75 per cent of its budget and action plan allocated to evangelism exploits. Take for instance, the church in the Copperbelt through its evangelism director, Pastor Kapambwe. It has set K500,000 aside for evangelism as it implements its one member, one soul (new convert), one church, one campaign, one pastor, one campaign approach for the 2016 calendar year.
Evangelism runs through this organisation’s bloodstream.  Mission is its robust culture. And so its institutions of learning and health such as Rusangu, Chipempe, Mupapa, Mwami, Yuka and Eye Hospital stand as its ‘shaman’ to the church’s mission.
To solidify the mission, its young people are encouraged to belong to the youth club, something that resembles Boy/Girl scouts society. There they are taught the mission of the church through the church history inductions.
Today, the church boasts of over 300 pastors on its payroll. The senior pastors were persuaded to attend in-service training by enrolling most of them into the seminary for a Bachelor of Arts in Theology.
One can’t work for this church as a pastor without relevant undergraduate education. This phenomenon has seen the church sparkle flare to ministry. Away from its tradition, youth director position is no longer held by elderly pastors. This has made the young people of the church who comprise of 75 per cent membership feel valued and involved.
One Pastor Jato, quite young, probably in his 20s, just got elected into the position of youth director for South Zambia Conference. The young man is so action- oriented that just last year he was able to convert and baptise over 3,500. He was ordained thereafter.
Also, the church has maximised its usage of media. It runs some radio stations on frequency modulation channels. It runs a weekly national telecast called Voice of Prophecy on ZNBC TV1. This program was so much renowned during the time of the late prolific speaker Dr Cornelius Matandiko as its speaker. With his catchy prelude, he became an endeared preacher in many homes.
The church has a printing press for its literature. It has robust book centres that run more or less like a Bible society in most major towns. Each church does time and time again run Bible schools that cover 28 lessons and graduates receive diplomas upon completion.
Furthermore, it’s a denomination that has a communications department at congregational level. Needless to say, communication at conference level is now a stand-alone department which helps the church to effectively reach out to its publics.
Bishop Joshua Banda of Northmead Assemblies hinted that there has been a cordial relationship between the two churches’ leadership, especially during the reign of the late Dr Matandiko.
Indeed the church’s growth is a marvel and a case study of church growth in Zambia!
The author is a communication & media specialist, an apologist and pastor of the Seventh-day Adventists in New Mkushi.