Nine Observations on the Mesoamerica Region’s 2018 Statistics

Scott Armstrong

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A few days ago, I shared ten observations I had after analyzing the 2018 statistics for the Church of the Nazarene. Admittedly, I focused on the world, and now would like to be more Caribbean and Central America-centric. What is the state of our Mesoamerica Region? Here are several things I have noted:

  1. Although we’ve seen encouraging growth in the last decade (38.27%), last year was paltry (0.76%). You read that correctly: in 2018 our Mesoamerican churches reported less than 1% growth.  Stated another way, for every 100 people who call themselves Nazarene in this region, we have discipled fewer than 1 person into membership. That’s a bit puzzling because (see #2 below)…
  2. We reported 31,640 conversions and 14,273 baptisms last year. In fact, 19,222 new members became a part of our churches in Mesoamerica last year by profession of faith or by transfer from other denominations. Praise the Lord! Those numbers would have signified a much more impressive growth than the 0.76% that we mentioned earlier, if it weren’t for all of the membership losses we suffered, whether by death, removal, or transfer.  Those are the combined reasons the overall growth rate was not higher.
  3. Although we have well over 420,000 members in Mesoamerica, slightly more than half that total weekly attend the largest worship service offered (53.7%) as well as discipleship groups (53.2%). Does that mean, in other words, that half our members are attending weekly worship and/or discipleship groups? Not exactly. We know, for example, that non-members are a part of worship every week, as well as Sunday School and discipleship groups.
  4. Total Global Missional Disbursements grew this past year by 46%. It is hard to express how exciting this is for our region! Missional stewardship and faithfulness have been emphasized greatly by NMI and all ministries in the last 4-5 years.  This rapid increase can only encourage us as we continue to expand our commitment to fund the mission around the world.
  5. Giving to the World Evangelism Fund (WEF) is at 1.54% of all non-missions giving. Remember, the denominational goal for every church and district is 5.5%. A total of five districts out of 80 in our entire region gave 5.5% or more: shout out to Guyana Demerara-Essequibo in the Caribbean, Upper Artibonite, South Central of Jacmel, and Lower Northwest in Haiti, and Gulf District of Mexico.  For the rest of us, what happened? The Church of the Nazarene in most of our countries was started by missionaries that were supported by WEF.  Now it is our turn to repay the favor.
  6. While the district-wide World Evangelism Fund totals are discouraging, 782 of 3,166 congregations (25%) paid their allocations in full last year. When the Church of the Nazarene speaks of allocations, we are referring to support of our district offices and ministries, educational institutions, as well as WEF.  Even though we still have a lot of work to do, this is a much more encouraging stat if only because it shows that, on a local level, many of our congregations are learning to be outward-focused and faithful to the denomination.
  7. NYI Membership in Mesoamerica declined -2.7%. It is one thing to experience hardly any growth from year to year, but in 2018 we have actually seen no growth, that is to say, fewer  In Mexico alone, we saw a -8.9% drop.  This should be a wake-up call to all of us as Nazarene leaders in the Caribbean and Central America.  If we do not prioritize children and youth, our church will become a relic before we know it.
  8. More than one out of every three Mesoamerican Nazarenes lives in Haiti. The exact statistic is 36.6%.  It is not the most populous country, and its land mass is quite small compared to many others’.  Innumerable political, social, and economic challenges exist. Nevertheless, Haiti has become a fertile soil for the gospel to take root – and the holiness message, in particular.
  9. As we noted in the global summaryDiscipleship attendance has grown more than overall membership numbers: 4.7% in our region, to be exact. The field that experienced the biggest increase in Sunday School and Discipleship attendance? The Caribbean with 8.2% last year.

I hope that these last two articles have been useful to you.  I’d love to hear from some Mesoamerican Nazarenes, specifically.  What do you notice when you look at the most recent stats? What is your reaction to my nine observations?

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Ten Observations on the Church of the Nazarene’s 2018 Global Statistics

Scott Armstrong

General Secretary David P. Wilson and Nazarene Research Services recently released the annual Church of the Nazarene statistical reports for 2018. These detailed reports documenting the missional activities of the denomination on a global scale show growth for the Church of the Nazarene over the statistical year, as well as continued growth over the past decade.

There is much to be thankful for!  God is on the move around the world and in our denomination!

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In an upcoming article, I will offer some observations on Mesoamerica’s statistics specifically. However, for now, and as I have done in the past, I have read through the document and offer some of my initial observations:

  1. The denomination’s membership has steadily grown during the past 10 years, although last year’s growth was tepid. Total membership has risen from around 1.84 million in 2008 to nearly 2.58 million in 2018. Additionally, in no year did we see a decline in membership worldwide in the last decade. More than 40% growth in only 10 years is quite encouraging! Nevertheless, last year’s growth was a mere 1.13% (see #4 below for one reason why).
  2. For the first time in a decade, we have reported a decline (-0.53%) in the number of churches. In 2017, 30,875 churches were reported, and in 2018, 30,712 were reported.  It should be noted that the decrease could be viewed as positive in one sense: while the number of missions went down (taking the overall numbers with them), many of those “not yet organized churches” most assuredly became organized, which is reflected in that number increasing by 0.58%.  Still, last year we organized the fewest number of churches of any year in the last decade.  One thing is certain: we must continue to emphasize church planting!
  3. Of the six world regions, Africa and Eurasia are pacing the way. Africa grew 7.3% last year, and 29.3% of the world’s Nazarenes are now African.  In a few years it is likely that one of three Nazarenes globally will be found on that continent. As far as Eurasia is concerned, membership has more than doubled in the last decade (112% growth).
  4. Membership in South America and the USA/Canada regions has declined. The -11.52% decrease in South American membership at first appears alarming.  However, Nazarene Research informs us that one district had over-reported fellowship members in 2017, and the -52,550 fewer members reported there in 2018 can be attributed to a correction of the previous year.  Thus, it should be characterized as an “artificial loss” (just as the purported growth in that district in 2017 should be labeled an “artificial gain”).  The decline in membership in the USA/Canada region is another story. While the overall Church has grown 40% in the last ten years, Nazarene membership in those two countries has gone down -4.57% in the same decade.
  5. A greater number of new Nazarenes are being received by transfer from other denominations (11.46%), while fewer new Nazarenes are being received by profession of faith compared to a decade ago (-9.47%). It is exciting to see that fellow Christians are changing their membership perhaps because of doctrinal alignment or experiencing the love of Nazarene churches. At the same time, the majority of Great-Commission Christians would agree that our primary growth must come from reaching those who do not know Christ with the good news.
  6. The denominational emphasis on discipleship during the last 10 years seems to be producing numerical fruit. Sunday School and Discipleship attendance has grown 62% in the last decade, a number much greater than the overall membership statistic.  To put it another way, last year discipleship attendance represented 51% of overall membership totals, while in 2008, that percentage was only 44%. It appears more of our Nazarenes are a part of some sort of discipleship group weekly, and/or our pastors and leaders are learning how to more accurately report the varied forms of discipleship that are occurring.
  7. God is calling and the Church is ordaining more and more leaders. 21% more elders and 48% more deacons have been ordained since 2008.  The number of licensed ministers keeps increasing, too.  A rapidly growing Church will require more and more leaders to preach, serve, and administer the Sacraments.  We praise the Lord for the growing numbers of pastors and lay people answering God’s call to shepherd His people!
  8. Membership in Nazarene Youth International has increased only 3% in 10 years. Let’s state that again: while overall membership has grown 40% since 2008, NYI has increased by 3%.  The one-year total is 0.53%.  I am almost at a loss for words.  Last year I addressed this issue, and I worry that any pleas to adapt are falling on deaf ears.  Every church wants youth to be present, but how many are willing to change in order to reach them and how many would then be willing to even hand over leadership to them? If we do not intentionally decide to wholeheartedly invest our time, resources, and love into children and youth, we will have forfeited our chance to be change-agents of society within the next 50 years.
  9. Giving to Global Mission (World Evangelism Fund + Approved Specials + Other Global Interests) went up considerably. 6% growth is exciting!  It reflects depth of stewardship and commitment around the world. That said (see #10)…
  10. We have a long way to go with regards to World Evangelism Fund (WEF) giving. On the first page of the report, the evidence cannot be denied: exactly one-third of global Churches of the Nazarene gave the minimum expectation of 5.5% or more of their non-missions giving to WEF.  Admittedly, on a positive note, that number is much higher than the previous year’s: only 26.8% of global congregations gave the full amount in 2017.  Still, nearly 29% of our churches did not give anythingto WEF last year! And 96% of all WEF came from one region: USA/Canada.  Around the world we have to do better! We have been blessed by WEF for so long; now it is our turn to bless others.  As a pastor friend in Dominican Republic who is in the process of transferring his credentials to our denomination once told me, “How can a church call themselves Nazarene if they don’t give to the World Evangelism Fund?!” Great question, José Luis!

Whew! That was a lot, I know.  And even then, I have undoubtedly missed dozens of other significant take-aways. What would you highlight, after looking at the document? Which of my ten observations encourages or alarms you the most?

The Harvest is Still Plenty

By Daniela Santiago

A few weeks ago I had the chance to be part of Third Wave 2019 in India. I am grateful that the Lord allowed me to be a part of this experience.

It’s natural for people to limit their vision of life to what is around them.  We know there is a bigger world out there, but it’s difficult to understand it. Beyond our borders there are different ways of living and different ways of understanding what it means to be a follower of Christ. Many times it means losing your life, and sometimes it means losing your freedom.  Still, none of these risks compare to the love we have and the commitment we have to extend the Kingdom of God to the ends of the earth.

It was incredible to be able to get to know and experience what the Church of the Nazarene does around the world.  What a blessing to know the gospel of Jesus extends to the furthest reaches of the earth, and that our Nazarene family is willing to go.

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One of the moments during Third Wave that most affected me was hearing the testimonies of people who live and serve in Creative Access Areas.  They are places where sharing the Good News of Jesus requires great commitment, patience, wisdom and perseverance.  They shared in India that they felt free to yell and praise God in that moment, but that in their countries, they must do it in silence, hidden away. The realization that the harvest is still plentiful, and that God still needs people to respond by saying, “Send me,” brought tears to my eyes and a burning desire to my heart.

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I am used to getting quick results, so it was challenging for me to hear how they work in those countries.  At the same time my heart kept filling with joy to know that the fire the Holy Spirit has placed in the hearts of our brothers and sisters to serve in those places is the same fire that burns inside of me.  I learned that God is a God of order and processes. My response to his call is valid, and despite my feelings of limitation to serve at this moment, I’m exactly where He wants me to be. The gifts of God are irrevocable, as is his call.

Having a chance to spend time and exchange ideas with people from more than 60 different countries truly changed my perspective of the world.  We exchanged ideas and talked about strategies, points of view and creative evangelism resources. I learned about culture and how much influence it has when the time comes to create and plan strategies to share the gospel.

I learned so many things on this trip. I learned patience is a reward from the Lord and that everything begins with prayer. But I also realized the profound importance of going to those who we do not know in order to share the love we have for Jesus and his gospel.

*Daniela Santiago is a youth leader in the Northwest Oaxaca District of Mexico.

“Restricted…but not Silent”

By Diana Gonzalez

A few days ago I had the blessing to be a part of Third Wave 2019 in Hyderabad, India.  I will never be the same after this experience.  I found new perspectives –  new ways of seeing life.  I was also challenged to hear the needs that exist, and what the Church of the Nazarene is doing to meet them in the name of Jesus.

People from more than 60 nations met to worship God. We shared our experiences, strategies, and ways of doing youth ministry in different contexts, just to share a few examples.  It was indescribable to be among so many nations, languages, cultures and flavors, but all with the same passion for the Lord.  I experienced a small taste of what it will be like after Jesus’ return.  On top of that, in some way, the world became smaller for me, because now I have friends all the way on the other side!

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50437954_447724335764950_2678421380508155904_n.jpgThe most significant thing for me in all of it was hearing the testimonies of the missionaries that work in Creative Access Areas.  In those areas, patience is part of their strategy, and what we understand in our contexts as “good results” must be reconsidered and valued in a different way.  In countries where they do not have the freedom to meet together for a service or the people are simply not interested in hearing about Jesus, the Word of God is “restricted, but not silenced,” as the Eurasia Regional Director shared.

I have learned about relational evangelism in a Youth Ministry class, and how Jesus established his kingdom through friendship and paying attention to important details. In Creative Access Areas, relational evangelism is crucial.  It is through years of friendship that someone is able to share the Good News.

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It is difficult to express how grateful I am for this experience.  It was a time in which God reminded us that this is our moment, this is our place, but it is also our decision to act!

*Diana Gonzalez is a youth leader and the Global Mission Coordinator in El Salvador.

Many Ways to Worship One God

By Saraí Ramos

A few weeks ago, God gave me the opportunity to travel to Hyderabad, India where I participated in Third Wave, a global gathering of emerging leaders within the Church of the Nazarene.  The main purpose of the event is to provide a space for youth to connect in a cross-cultural setting through fellowship, training, and group dynamics, in order to develop leaders who will make a global impact.

260 people from 61 countries came together January 8-13, 2019, and you can just imagine all the differences in language, forms of dress, food, and other craziness that we lived through there!

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In fact, one of the most memorable times of the event happened the first day when I was able to meet Olly and Clayton, two young men from Australia that love their Samoan culture and enjoy sharing it with anyone who will listen.  Throughout the week we were delighted to get to know them and admire their Hakas, typical Samoan dances, language, clothing, and many other things.

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Saraí with Olly and Clayton

But the thing that impacted me most was the passion on their faces when they danced during the talent show.  Clayton, Olly, and the Asia-Pacific Region made us all feel like we were part of a Samoan movie.  It was as if we were all in Disney’s Moana!  Can you imagine the excitement in the room when we were all experiencing that dance?!

84181241-c50c-4ec1-bc8b-5397c8b5e32d.JPGWhen they finished their presentation, they told us that the music was a typical Christian song. That was one of the ways they worshipped God in their home countries.

You know what? All of the time spent with them reminded me that there are innumerable ways to praise the Lord and share his love with others.  I believe every one of us should be like Olly and Clayton: proud of our Christian culture and passionately sharing the love and joy we have found in Jesus at every opportunity.

*Saraí Ramos is president of Nazarene Youth International in the Gulf District of Mexico.

Third Wave: Running the Race

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“The Glory of Heaven” by Giovanni da San Giovanni in the Basilica di Santi Quattro Coronati in Rome

Hundreds of teens and youth leaders from around the world are traveling today to the Third Wave youth conference that will be held in Hyderabad, India.  This initiative is one of the most significant events that the Church of the Nazarene holds every 3-4 years in order to raise up and equip emerging youth leaders.  Although I will not be participating this year, I had the privilege to travel to Bangkok, Thailand and San José, Costa Rica in 2012 and 2015, respectively, and those Third Wave conferences made an impact on all of us who were there.2019 3rd wave

One of the most influential moments in Thailand occurred on January 8, 2012 when General Superintendent Dr. Eugenio Duarte gave the closing message entitled, “Making Christlike Disciples in the Nations.” With youth from 56 different countries represented and the Lord’s Supper being served, this sermon was far from mere theory.  This was a challenge to those present and to all youth of every nation to engage in our core mission.

For young people who want to see the world changed in a blink of an eye, Dr. Duarte reminded us from Hebrews 12 that we are running a race, and that this race is a marathon, not a sprint.  Although there are many reasons why people race (to be healthy, to participate with others, or to compete and win, for example), we as Christians race to change the world.

Hebrews 12 is clear, as well, that this is a race that requires encouragement, clarity, perseverance, skills, discipline and motivation.  Many of these are in short supply in the world around us.  In fact, we may feel at times so weary that our goal seems unattainable.  But Duarte stressed powerfully that winning will come.  We will win the world!  We do recognize that there will be deep valleys during this race.  Yet, we do not overlook the blessings that come in disguise in the valleys.

As we race in this marathon, the question arises as our bodies and spirits tire: how are we able to run with perseverance? Hebrews 12 gives us the recipe.cloud of witnesses 1

  1. Remember the great cloud of witnesses (v.1).  Hebrews 11 is the encouragement we need: it is a chapter full of real people with real difficulties serving really faithfully.  But who are the people that have also gone before us in our lives: those mentors and leaders who have invested in us? We must not forget them! They gave their best. We must give our best! They gave all.  Jesus gave all (vv.1-2) and we must give all!
  2. Get rid of sin and travel light.  Many of us think of our need for forgiveness as a one-time thing.  But an app on a smart phone must constantly be updated.  There are bug fixes and new software tools. We also be constantly sensitive to God’s provoking and prompting.  We must never grow complacent.  We must not admire holiness, but rather PURSUE holiness.  Sin is not defined by culture.  Sin is defined by God and his convictions.  Susanna Wesley wrote to her son, John, in 1725 with this definition: “Whatever weakens your reason, impairs the tenderness of your conscience, obscures your sense of God, or takes off your relish of spiritual things; in short, whatever increases the strength and authority of your body over your mind, that thing is sin to you, however innocent it may be in itself.”  We must update our app constantly!  We must throw off all that entangles and hinders!
  3. Be disciplined and possess a singular focus. Faith is the subject of chapter 11.  But faith goes hand in hand with discipline.  The best marathoners say they cannot ever miss a day of training.  Why then are we so nonchalant with our spiritual discipline(s) and training? We must fix our eyes steadfastly on Jesus!  What are the goals that He has set for you? Consider him, know him, love him, and be a true follower of Jesus Christ!  Even as we think about and admire our mentors and the great people of faith who have gone before, we do not fix our eyes on them, but rather on JESUS, the author and perfecter of our faith.

We responded to the message from Dr. Duarte by praying at the altar and sharing a meaningful time of Holy Communion.  But I believe we all responded afterwards, too, by running the race.  Let’s pray this Third Wave in India helps create marathon-running, disciplined and persevering world changers once again.

God Can Use Every Career in Missions

By Scott Armstrong

Recently I published an article that I wrote for the NYI Online Magazine that highlighted how God has used volunteer missionaries from all kinds of “secular” careers for his glory in the Genesis Initiative.   There wasn’t enough space to share all of the testimonies I received when I asked for help from the 32 missionaries we’ve sent over the years.  That’s why today and in our next entry I want to share more of these powerful stories:

44733965_573786599724861_8443162038938632192_n.jpg“Being a doctor meant that many people were willing to get to know us when they needed some kind of medical attention.  It also allowed us to open a clinic in the community, and in that way the community got to know the church.   The local people knew us well and knew that there was a doctor in the church. They came for help at all hours. We could hold medical outreaches from the church and in other parts of the community where we worked.  I am grateful to God for the opening that my career has given me. Though sometimes it is exhausting, it brings me great joy to know that in some way it helps me to serve God.” – Eunice Zaragoza (sent from Tampico, Mexico to San Pedro Sula, Honduras)

WhatsApp Image 2018-10-17 at 10.22.20.jpeg“I am a social worker. The goal of my profession is to design and implement projects and strategies that assist individuals, groups, communities and societies inpreventing or solving societal needs and problems. The Church is called to show love and compassion in the midst of a vulnerable society. We created a program for teenagers to meet twice a week to play, spend time together, laugh and meditate on Scripture and what God wants from them. We’ve also developed strategies to work with women and children, such as a women’s conference and a Kids’ Club.  My career has helped me to focus on doing what God has called me to: preach his Word through actions and with compassion.” – Jhoselyn Barrios (sent from Guatemala to Queretaro, Mexico)

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“I have an Associates degree in Psychology.  My education has helped me a lot in family counseling.  When I mention that I have a degree in Psychology in a meeting out in the community, it opens doors for people to find me and open their hearts in search of help.  I also have a Bachelor’s Degree in Organizational Management, which has helped in general organization and in the planning for activities that we hold.”
 – Maritza Mendoza (sent from Miami, USA to Queretaro, Mexico)

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“I have a degree in Tourism Management that helped a lot in the ministry when I was in Genesis. I used to be very quiet and shy, but my career helped me to lose my fears and be able to talk with people. That is why during my time in Genesis, I always felt confident to talk to people, start a relationship with them, and then be able to share the love of Christ.” – Zabdi Jessica Delgado (sent from Tuxtla-Gutierrez, Mexico to Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic)

* For more information about Genesis, visit our website and let us know by leaving a comment in the space below.