The Adventist Church Dilemma with Evangelism
Winning of Souls
winning of souls truly our only
purpose for the existence of the Adventist Church?
This is an essay
with another view of total evangelism by
Barrington Brennen, June 15, 2015, Updated January 8, 2020
Barrington H. Brennen
Haven't you heard it loud and clear? It has been
riveted in our minds for decades. It is this:
only purpose for the existence of the Adventist Church is
the winning of souls--evangelism. Nothing is more important
This means, based on the practice observed, that our only
purpose is to baptize new believers. Is this really true? It
is absolutely not true.
As you read this article, you will observe that I believe
that this narrow view has really threatened the very
existence of the Adventist Church. It has poorly trained
members to be only critical observers of society and not
It has facilitated feelings of pride and arrogance among
many members. It has turned off progressive individuals and
pushed away the critical thinkers.
If the only purpose of the Adventist Church is to baptize
individuals, who will be the ones to baptized others if we
do not "keep" those that were baptized? What message would
the newly baptized persons have to give to others about
living for Jesus if all they are doing is baptizing?
Read with an open mind.
decades I have been thinking about the mission of the
Adventist Church, or what some say is our
mission--Evangelism, the “winning of souls” for Christ. I
am writing these thoughts as a retired (transitioned)
ordained minister of the Adventist Church for over 41 years
and a mental health professional for almost 24 years.
With the Adventist mission
of evangelism comes an assumed definition which might not be
right. This assumed definition, in my opinion, narrows the
meaning of evangelism. Let me challenge you. Suppose I say
that the only purpose for the Adventist Church is to win
souls for the kingdom of God. Would that truly be the full
or only purpose of our church? Bear in mind that language
or rhetoric used actually impacts our behavior, even when
what is actually said is not what is intended.
I have heard over and over
that the only reason for our existence is to "win souls" or
to "baptize." Now maybe, "to win souls" may need to be
defined. It might have different meanings for some people.
Here is my thinking
challenge for you. The real mission of the Adventist Church
is not to win souls for the kingdom--meaning just bringing
people into the church through evangelistic series. The
real mission is winning and keeping souls for the kingdom. Evangelism
has to mean keeping as well as winning. Therefore, we
should not only give awards to pastors or lay evangelists
for the amount baptized, but also for the number of new
converts who stayed over one year.
I have a philosophy about
evangelism. Here it is: "Those we keep will win others." It
is not "Those we win will win others." No way! My view is
that keeping comes first, then winning. The nurturing
agents of love, care and understanding are the most powerful
tools for winning and keeping. It is not preaching. We also
say that if you want more sheep then feed the sheep. But is
the psyche and structure of our church facilitating that
view? Do we really stop to feed our sheep? Or do we just
throw them a bundle of hay while we conduct another
"Those we keep will win others"
Barrington H. Brennen
It is my view that the evangelism culture in our church has
done more to push people out of the church than to keep them
in. We focus on “what is the number of converts." Yes, the
noise in the market (the evangelistic series) will attract
more "customers" in the beginning. However, when the
"customers" find out about the high price of the goods or
the poor customer service, or even the poor upkeep of the
premises, they leave and go to another “store.”
In the Bahamas, many say that there is poor customer service
in many of the service institutions. Poor customer service
includes but not limited to, the attitude and behavior, of
the one serving, the length of time to be served, the
treatment of customers, the unnecessary red tape to go
through, etc. Would we say the same about the Adventist
Church? If evangelism is the "store," what are we doing to
keep the "customers" (the potential and new members) coming
back and deciding to make that institution their main place
Another point is when the mindset is that the main or best
form of outreach (winning of souls) is an evangelistic
series, it minimizes the power of other equally powerful
methods that do not need an evangelistic series.
It is my view that our members are not taught that
evangelism is inclusive of keeping and winning. How do we
do that? Here is one way. Often a church leader will ask
all church departments or Sabbath School Units/Classes to
set a baptism goal for the year. The leader asks each unit
to develop plans to attain the goal. At the end of the
year, the leader asks for a report of the number of those
baptized. The unit with the highest baptisms will get an
is the problem. There is no assignment for the unit to have
a goal of retention (keeping). At the end of the year there
is no report of how many are still in the church. There is
no award to a unit for the highest number remained in the
church. Therefore, there is really no strategy to keep. It
is only to get.
I am postulating that if we truly focus on nurture--keeping
of souls--we will have more winning of souls. If we focus on
wining of souls only, with little or no nurture, we will win
lots of people in the short run but lose more in the long
Evangelism as “wining of souls” is a concept that needs to
be revamped. It
drives too many to focus on numbers. It fuels the methods of
our church services, appeals, and how quickly we have
baptisms without adequate preparation. This happens a lot
in areas of the world where evangelism is trumped as our
“only focus.” Truthfully, there are some churches or
church leaders with no "Keeping" or "winning" strategies.
Their churches are spiritually and emotionally stagnant.
It is my view also that evangelism as the “winning of
souls,” is more likely to cultivate legalism than evangelism
as the "keeping of souls" first, then "winning." I know
that many of you are thinking that the Adventist Church does
have the "keeping and winning." That is not really so. Take
an objective look at why we do things: How we make our
appeals; how often we have appeals for persons to get
baptized; how we set our goals for winning; how often we
have "winning" meetings. How often do we have nurturing or
I can hear the preacher saying with his booming voice: "Go
and win souls." I do not hear them say also, "Stay, and
let's keep the souls." We also instill a level of guilt in
the members if they "stay" and do not "go." In other words,
if they "keep" and not "win." Our narrative must change.
The language we use impact the psyche and drive away
members. There is an assumption that if there is no actual
organized public evangelistic series, it means that the
church has not evangelism plan. This is not necessarily
true. In several of the churches I pastored, I would not
have any public evangelistic series for the entire year, but
still baptize more than twenty persons. Why?I focused on
"keeping/winning" and not on "winning/winning"
The concept of "evangelism only" his caused us to ignore or
brush aside the depressed, those with suicidal ideations,
victims of child abuse, struggling single parents, abused
spouses, the wounded homosexuals/lesbians, children who are
academically struggling in school, the
unemployed, the autistic children, parents with
developmental disabled children, the socially or
academically illiterate, etc. What is evangelism if it
does not help these persons?
We have pastors who have the gift of winning. Even the
apostle Paul mentions evangelism as a gift of the Spirit.
Since the common meaning of evangelism is "wining" only,
these pastors' evangelism focus sometimes neglect the
smaller but most important things about winning--keeping. On
the other hand, we can have some pastors who say they are
focusing on "keeping of souls," but they are really lazy.
They really do not nurture or feed their flock. I have two
serious questions for you to think about. Is it fair to say
that traditionally, evangelists should not be church
pastors? Is it fair to say that traditionally, evangelists
create numerical growth and not necessarily spiritual growth
of the church?
"Is it fair to say that traditionally,
evangelists should not be church pastors?
Is it fair to say that traditionally,
evangelists create numerical growth and not
necessarily spiritual growth of the church?"
Traditionally, how do we
"win" souls? It
has been my observation that for some the winning of souls
include these and more:
Frightening the people to get them to the altar. Hitting
them over their heads with the "truth." Saying to them "You
are going to hell if you do not come to Jesus now, now, now!
Come! Come! Come!"
Assuming that all those who have on jewelry or obvious make
up are not born-again believers. Thus, targeting them
during an appeal.
Telling the people that they will no longer want to sin if
they come to Jesus (False hope).
Instructing them on what we believe and not allowing them to
think objectively and clearly.
Quickly squeeze them into the front door of the church but
neglect to close the back door.
Making them feel good on the day of baptism and forget where
they live after that.
Counting how many got in and neglecting to count how many
Shocking them with the messages of the Last Days Events,"
the "2300 Days Prophecy", "Seven Last Plagues", etc.
Putting them in a "New Believers” or Bible class, but when
it is over, we still do not know much about the new