May 15, 2013 Silver Spring, Maryland, United States…Ansel Oliver/Adventist News Network

The move, which will go into affect December 31, includes new unions in Ghana, Cameroon, Nigeria, and will split the Sahel Union Mission into two territories, which church leaders said would save on the high cost of travel in the region.

New administrative units in the Adventist Church’s West-Central Africa Division. Church leaders say the changes recognize growing membership in Ghana, Cameroon, Nigeria and the church’s Sahel Union Mission. Click to enlarge. Map by Tanya Holland/ANN

“The present structure in all four unions placed an unmanageable demand on union staff, which limited their presence and effectiveness in the areas that they served,” said Rosa Banks, an Adventist world church associate secretary and liaison to church administrations in Africa. “Dividing these territories will provide a strategic advantage for the fulfillment of the mission of the church,” she said.

David Trim, director of the world church’s Office of Archives, Statistics and Research said it has been demonstrated that adding more local structure helps membership and tithe grow, as well as increasing the rate of growth. “With more administrative units they can more effectively strategize and use resources,” he said.

The Ghana Union Conference reports a membership of nearly 397,000, which is more than the combined total of both of the denomination’s European divisions.

“Creating a second union in Ghana is long overdue, based on their tithes, membership or any other metric,” Trim said.

The current Ghana Union is a “union conference,” which means it is self-sustaining, both in finances and leadership. Other unions are classified as “union missions,” which rely on appropriations. Ghana currently has the only union conference in the division.

As part of the division’s reorganization, Adventist Church structure in Ghana will be divided into the South Ghana Union Conference, based in Accra, and the North Ghana Union Mission, based in Kumasi.

In Nigeria, the most populous country in Africa, the Adventist Church’s two union missions will become three unions, one of them a union conference.

The current North-Western Nigeria Union Mission, based in Ikeja in Lagos State, will divide and become a union mission in the north and a union conference in the south. In this region’s northern territory, the church will create the Northern Nigeria Union Mission, based in Abuja in the Federal Capital Territory. In the Southwest part of the country, the church will create the Western Nigeria Union Mission, with headquarters in Maryland, Lagos.

“This particular step is to facilitate mission in the northern part of the country where the church has yet to penetrate effectively,” Trim said.

The Central Africa Union Mission, now based in Yaoundé, Cameroon, will relocate its headquarters to Bangui, Central African Republic, allowing the newly created Cameroon Union Mission to operate out of Yaoundé.

And the church’s Sahel Union Mission, now based in Lomé, Togo, will become two union missions – the Eastern Sahel Union Mission, based in Lomé, and the Western Sahel Union Mission, headquartered in Dakar, Senegal.

“Dividing this field into two unions will afford better administrative oversight in these challenging fields and will save money on the high cost of travel in that part of the world,” said G. T. Ng, executive secretary of the Adventist world church.

Ng emphasized that reorganizing structure is a step in the right direction but not an automatic cure-all for slow or stagnant membership growth. Rather, he said, it is with both reorganization and a strengthening of individual congregations that best contributes to growth.

“It has been shown that local church-based evangelism is the most effective model of evangelism,” Ng said. “Members are the most important assets of the church. Pastors have to double up as trainers beyond playing their traditional role as baptizers and have a discipleship program in place for new members.”

The West-Central Africa Division, with headquarters in Abidjan, Cote D’Ivoire, is home to a reported membership of approximately 866,000. It currently has six unions; the reorganization later this year will give the division 10 unions.

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