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Planting More SEEDS
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By Tom Evans

It has been 19 years since the first SEEDS Church Planting Conference was held on the campus of Andrews University in June of 1996. SEEDS was initiated in response to an alarming trend in the North American Division. New churches were not being planted and 1995 actually saw a net loss of six churches throughout the NAD. Adventism proudly identifies itself as a movement. This nomenclature is hard to justify when the tide is going in the wrong direction.
 
It is exciting to report that the tide has changed. In 1995, there were 4636 churches in the NAD. In 1997, companies started being included in the statistics with a starting number of 383.  At the end of 2014, the number of churches in the North American Division stood at 5455, with 822 companies, for a total of 6277 churches and companies. Movement is happening again!

What role has SEEDS Conferences played in this turnaround? From its inception, SEEDS has focused on vision casting, with a clear call for church planters to step forward. Literally hundreds of individuals have responded to this appeal over the years. During the first 15 years of SEEDS history, the event was held on the campus of Andrews University. Attendees returned to their local conferences with a desire to make a difference through planting churches. Some conferences developed excellent support systems to fan the flames of church planting within their territory. In other cases, aspiring church planters didn’t find the encouragement they were hoping for. 

 
Beginning in 2011, a significant shift took place with SEEDS. Rather than one national event, SEEDS began to partner with local conferences. Today, there are 12 or more SEEDS events held throughout the North American Division annually. The intention is to partner for an annual SEEDS with Conferences desiring to make church planting a top priority. The weekend event focuses on casting a vision for new church planters and providing cutting-edge training and encouragement for church plants that have recently been launched. 
 
There are already some encouraging results from the shift in focus. The city of St. Louis, Missouri has been significantly under-churched, with only one Adventist church for every 192,000 people (there should be a minimum of one Adventist church for every 25,000 people, with a faith goal of one for every 10,000 people). In 2012, a church plant training event with 150 people attending, emphasized the need for aggressive church planting in St. Louis.  Sixteen people stepped forward indicating their desire to lead a church plant, with many more willing to be part of a team. In January of 2013, the first annual SEEDS Conference was held in St. Louis. At the time of the 2014 SEEDS, already seven new church plant groups had started. Elder Dan Jackson, president of the North American Division, was the featured speaker. 
 
One priority of SEEDS is to awaken an awareness of people groups that are not being reached. Single moms represent the largest unchurched group in the United States, with a total of 54 million people (when including their children). This is roughly 1/6 of the USA population. Sadly, only 1% of churches of any denomination have any type of ministry to single moms. New approaches must be initiated to reach this highly receptive group. Another opportunity that is trending is with the influx of refugees and immigrants who are relocating to the United States. According to the United States Census Bureau, one international migrant enters the United States every 33 seconds (www.census.gov).  Ellen White comments, “We should be able to see in the multiplying opportunities to reach many foreigners in America a divinely appointed means of rapidly extending the third angel’s message into all the nations of earth.” (Evangelism p. 570). SEEDS emphasizes not only new locations (geographic) where church plants are needed, but also people groups and segments of society that as Adventists, we should be focused on reaching.
 
Evidences of becoming a movement again can be observed all around the North American Division. However, progress has not reached the pace it should. To keep up with the population growth, new churches should be added at a rate of three percent annually. Based on the current 6277 churches and companies, there should be 188 new churches planted annually. In order to account for potential closures of some established churches, at least 200 churches should be planted every year in the North American Division. In 2014, a net of 45 new churches and companies were added. This is far short of where we need to be just to keep up with the growing population. Aggressive church planting would be six percent annually, resulting in a goal of close to 400 church plants annually.
 
How about an annual SEEDS Conference in your territory? It is time to pick up the pace and regain momentum in the North American Division. For more information, e-mail me at tevans@andrews.edu.
 
Pastor Tom Evans is an Associate Director for the North American Division Evangelism Institute (NADEI) and leads the SEEDS Conferences.