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?

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Harmon Schmelzenbach III remembered

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A week ago I shared about the impact that the nazarene missionary Harmon Schmelzenbach III made in my life and particularly in my call to missions. Today we want to share an article published by NCN News that honors the memory of this great man of God. 

At 12 years old, Harmon Schmelzenbach III spoke to Swazi evangelist Joseph Mkwanazi at a camp meeting in Endingeni, Swaziland. Harmon later shared that this conversation confirmed his call to be a pastor and missionary like his father and grandfather. He would spend the next 13 years preparing for this work.

Harmon Schmelzenbach III was born in Nampa, Idaho, in 1935. His parents, Elmer and Mary, were about to become missionaries in Swaziland, where Elmer was raised. They took Harmon to Africa when he was only a few weeks old.

He spent his early childhood in Swaziland. When he was 11, he and his sister Marilyn began attending boarding school in the Republic of South Africa. Boarding school was a common experience for many missionary kids. In their case, the school was close enough to their parents that they could come home some weekends.

In 1952, Harmon returned to Nampa and enrolled in Northwest Nazarene College. He met Beverly, two years younger, and they married while they were students. After graduation, he served as a pastor in the area until Beverly completed her degree.

They received their assignment as missionaries to the RSA in 1960 and worked at first among the Pedi people of the Northern Transvaal. Harmon later commented that the Pedis spoke “a difficult, guttural language that I had been unable to pick up as a child.”

The next year, they moved to Blouberg, the northernmost Nazarene station in the RSA. The area’s rugged terrain required a jeep for travel. Southern Africa remained their field of labor for a quarter-century.

They stood, to some degree, on the shoulders of two generations of missionary predecessors. His grandfather, the first Harmon Schmelzenbach, opened the original Nazarene missions in Swaziland, South Africa, and Mozambique in the early 20th century. After a half-century in Africa, though, Nazarenes had barely reached beyond their base in the south.

By the late 1970s, there was a growing sense that expansion into West and East Africa was overdue. Implementing these initiatives would call for entrepreneurial leadership, and Harmon had been demonstrating precisely this.

In 1971, he took personal initiative to register the Church of the Nazarene in Botswana. In 1977, he and Beverly moved to Namibia to build a new district there. They remained there until 1984.

At that time, the World Mission Department chose Harmon to guide Nazarene expansion in a new area. He became the East Africa Field’s first director. They moved to Kenya, purchased property in Nairobi, and began directing strategies that led to opening new missions and churches in Tanzania, Uganda, Rwanda, and Zaire.

In Kenya, Harmon established a school to train preachers but dreamed of something grander — a Christian university for East Africa. His early planning laid the groundwork for others to build Africa Nazarene University, which the General Assembly and the Kenyan government authorized in 1993, which then opened in 1994.

“Dr. Harmon Schmelzenbach personally chose the land on which the university sits, claimed it for God and the Church of the Nazarene by faith in prayer and later arranged for the purchase of the land. Today, the building that houses the university’s administration is named after him — the Harmon Schmelzenbach Building,” said Stanley M. Bhebhe, vice chancellor of Africa Nazarene University.

By then, the Schmelzenbachs had been in Addis Ababa for two years, pioneering Nazarene work in Ethiopia and Eritrea. A Marxist regime had closed Ethiopia to new Protestant work for nearly two decades, but the regime had changed. Ethiopia would prove to be a productive field.

In 1994, Harmon was appointed “Missionary at Large” and began traveling widely, speaking at conventions and assemblies, raising mission awareness among Nazarenes generally by retelling family stories from Africa.

Harmon and Beverly retired in 2001, establishing their home in Clearwater, Florida, but they contributed to missions even in retirement. The Eurasia regional director at the time, Franklin Cook, asked them to train new Nazarene leaders in Hungary, and they lived, without complaint, in a cramped room in Budapest for a season.

Harmon Schmelzenbach III died on 2 January 2019 at age 83. He is survived by his wife, their three children, and their grandchildren.

This article was originally published at: NCN News

Harmon Schmelzenbach III: A Missionary Legacy

A few days ago much of the Church of the Nazarene worldwide was informed of the death of Harmon Schmelzenbach III on January 2, 2019.h schmelzenbach  NCN News published a worthy obituary of Harmon, which should certainly be read by any Nazarene who wants to become familiar with missions in our denomination.

I was never able to formally meet Harmon III, although I have ministered alongside his son, Harmon IV, and his grandson, Quinton, in different settings during the past several years.  However, without knowing me, Harmon III made an impact on my life.

I grew up as a part of Central Church of the Nazarene in Lenexa, Kansas, USA.  We often had 8-10 missionaries a year preach in our services (side note: I cannot fathom when churches who receive one or two missionaries a year complain of “having too many missionaries”).  All were important in building the foundation for what later I would recognize as God’s missions call on my life, although I would not say many were memorable, per se.

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Quinton and Harmon Schmelzenbach IV have carried on their family’s missions legacy.

Harmon Schmelzenbach III was the exception!  As an adolescent, I remember his tales of traversing the African landscape in order to preach the gospel to new villages and people-groups.  I remember some of the perils of the wildlife he encountered on those trips.  By the time he told us he had crossed the fourth river, I looked down at my watch and realized he had literally been preaching for an hour and 45 minutes! That may seem shocking, but what stuns me even more is that at that age I had not even noticed!  He had our entire youth group (and the rest of the congregation) entranced by his evangelistic passion and ability to tell the story of missions and of God himself.

Needless to say, when God called me five or six years later to be a missionary, I was ready.  It was not an “out-of-the-blue” thing.  If God was calling me to be like Harmon, my answer would be an immediate “yes.”  And now, having ministered cross-culturally for 16 years, I see how I have been influenced by this “giant of the faith” both on the field and as I share with churches on home assignment.

Missions has changed in the past three decades since then and now more of us live as missionaries in big strategic urban centers.  Many of us will never need to cross many rivers and fend off venomous snakes at every turn.  But the passion for spreading the good news of Jesus Christ must never wane.  Harmon III learned that from his parents and grandparents and passed it on to future generations of Schmelzenbachs.  But he also passed it on to me as well.