Will Software Ever Eat Adventism?

The Adventist organization is comprised of members which attend churches which are grouped into Conferences which are grouped into Unions which are grouped into Divisions. This forms “the world church.”

Churches have pastoral staff overseen by Conferences, Unions and Divisions comprised of presidents, vice presidents, trust departments, communication departments, treasury departments, education departments, ministerial departments, HR staff, IT staff and administrative assistants.

At the Divisional level the Adventist organization also has a number of ministries such as Breath of Life, Faith for Today, It Is Written, La Voz de la Esparanza, Jesus 101, Voice of Prophecy and LifeTalk Radio which each mimic the same staffing situations and departments as those listed above.

Meanwhile software is eating the world. It has been.

More and more major businesses and industries are being run on software and delivered as online services—from movies to agriculture to national defense.

The world and the church are moving at a different pace. The world is jogging and the church is walking. If the walker wants to have a conversation with the jogger she’d better pick up the pace otherwise it won’t be long until the jogger is out of earshot.

Here’s my big question: could the entire structure of the Adventist organization be replaced by software?


It is often debated among Conference and Union office employees whether either is necessary. Conference employees tend to say they don’t need Union oversight. Union employees complain that conference offices overlap in duties and job descriptions. In the end, both are correct assessments.

Why, in fact, do we need any of them? By we I mean the church members whom the organization should be serving and empowering.

Staff is expensive. Buildings are expensive. Equipment is expensive. Land is expensive. Travel is expensive.

Software is comparatively cheap.

What if the Adventist infrastructure suddenly disappeared overnight. How would smart people rebuild and re-imagine the organization today, in 2015?

I think simplicity would rule the day. A simple voting mechanism would allow members to make quick decisions on both local and international levels: yes, let’s do this, or, no, let’s not.

What the institution calls leadership today is in many cases rungs upon rungs of middle-men. In Washington I can imagine these salaries being labeled as pork-barrel spending.

Okay, but if members are busy going about their lives wouldn’t it make sense to have a few people dedicated to managing things—paid to oversee items the rest of us don’t have time (and in some cases, interest) to look into?

Perhaps. In that case, the simple voting mechanism would allow us to elect such individuals. And by us I mean literally the entire membership, not just a few privileged delegates. And thanks to analytics software, transparency is a no-brainer. Where is money being spent? Why? How? LET US SEE IT and we can make a decision.

Let’s say the entire church infrastructure was simplified into one office with a handful of support staff. Decisions wouldn’t be made in this office. This office’s sole purpose would be to support the decision makers: any members that were interested enough in their denomination to vote on things.

I’m not going to hash out all the details or possibilities or potential pitfalls I can imagine here. Perhaps I will flesh these out a bit more in a later post. For now I will let your imagination run wild.

But let’s look at the numbers. The church operates on a “living wage” pay scale. It’s based on what the institution believes pastors should get paid. The numbers below are going to be “rough” numbers but that’s alright because we are after an idea of the denomination’s operational costs in order to see whether or not it is worth it or whether or not it can be operated differently (better).

The average salaried church employee costs tithe payers around $85,000 a year (pay + benefits, according to an Adventist treasurer). Doesn’t matter if you’re a pastor or a president, a director or an associate. Some employees are placed at 72% of the pastoral pay scale, say when they start, (which doesn’t make sense, really: I imagine it’s hard to live off a fraction of what it costs to live on). Some employees make over 100%. If you’ve ever seen a husband and wife team you can safely assume they rake in a cool 6-figure income.

So let’s assume the average Conference and Union office is comprised of a president, a vice president, a treasurer and an associate, a communication’s director and an associate, an education director and an associate and a ministerial director. That’s 9 salaried employees which costs tithers about $765,000 per year per office.

The Adventist denomination in the United States alone has 8 major unions each containing a number of conferences.

  1. Atlantic Union Conference (contains 6 conferences)
  2. Columbia Union Conference (contains 8 conferences)
  3. Lake Union Conference (contains 5 conferences)
  4. Mid-America Union Conference (contains 5 conferences)
  5. North Pacific Union Conference (contains 6 conferences)
  6. Pacific Union Conference (contains 7 conferences)
  7. Southern Union Conference (contains 8 conferences)
  8. Southwestern Union Conference (contains 5 conferences)

Using the numbers above we can quickly get a very rough estimate of what it costs the denomination to operate these Union and Conference offices: $765,000 per office times 58 offices = approximately $44,370,000.

The denomination is spending AT LEAST $44 million dollars just on staff and just in North America! I can confidently say at least (even though some offices may have less staff than what I figured) because I am not figuring in things like support (hourly) staff, building or rent costs, land costs, equipment costs, travel costs (Dan Jackson is more than 60 committees for instance), etc.

I also didn’t factor in the staff working at NAD headquarters.

Can you imagine what could be done if we, as members, shed the redundancy and setup an organizational infrastructure that cost say $1 million per year, rather than $44 million per year, using software and technology? What kind of difference could we collectively make in the world with $40+ million dollars to spend?

Mark my words: a good leadership team would to everything in it’s power to put itself out of a job. If hanging on to power (i.e. keeping the current middle-man system in place) is what current leaders find most important, it’s time to remove them from office. We’re on this planet to work for God, not for them.

What if, instead of continuing on with the status quo, we, as members (we don’t need the leadership’s permission, mind you, since we ourselves empower leaders in the first place) went through position by position and asked ourselves: what can technology streamline about this position?

What if we started asking questions like: how can technology save us money? How can technology make us more efficient? How can technology empower us to fulfill our mission for Jesus?

What if we confronted especially hard questions like: Won’t people lose jobs? Even if that is bad for them personally, is that better for us missionally as a body? Could we help them find new jobs? At the end of the day is it okay, or even ethical, to keep them around when there’s a better way of doing things—just because that’s the way it’s always been done?

Do we need a conference president? Do we need a ministerial director? Do we need these expensive buildings? What can operate on a strictly volunteer basis? What needs to be physical? What needs to be (not can be) virtual?

What is the best we can do for God?

God deserves our best, doesn’t he?

Is that what we’re doing now?

Are we afraid to do our best?

Am I?


Start A Conversation On Facebook And Twitter: #

Want to get your friends involved in the discussion? Here are a few intriguing title suggestions you can use to get their attention on social media.

Are you following @adventuprising on Twitter?


Now read this

Continental Drift

Adventists in America are drifting. As are those in Canada, Europe and Australia. Continental-drifting, that is—moving further and further away from reaching people on their own continents. People like themselves. Why are these... Continue →