The desert of the Sahara is spread out like an eternity. The vast expanse of nothingness is large enough to fit the entire U.S. inside of its 3.6 million square miles. According to Smithsonian Magazine, new research is revealing that the wasteland was once lush and green. Evidence includes satellite imaging revealing hidden rivers, deltas, and settlements underneath the endless sands. Archeologist David Wright hypothesizes that, “Through overgrazing, the grasses were reducing the amount of atmospheric moisture and vegetation.” Leading to soil failure and desertification.

This same evidence is likely what destroyed the once fertile lands of ancient Mesopotamia. Overgrazing along the ancient Tigris River led to soil degradation, making Babylon unfarmable. The Persian Gulf then filled in with nutrients that should have been going to the fields, leaving the once-prosperous waterfront city of Sumar, land locked and lifeless; not unlike what we are doing to the Mississippi today.

Learning from these hypotheses, China’s Chongqing Jiaotong University has been experimenting with reclaiming their northern deserts and valleys through redirecting grazing lands and soil reclamation… and it is working. Valleys that were dying are now green again. Deserts that were encroaching upon cities have now been pushed back by miles with self-sustaining reclaimed soil.

Systems Theory

The term I use to define all these various issues is called Systems Theory. It’s a social work term describing the importance of resolving problems holistically, rather than just at the point of the issue itself. Webster defines “system”, as an interdependent group of items forming a unified whole. Cake is a good example. It is a collection of ingredients that, should you leave certain elements out, it would cause the cake to either collapse or to taste terrible. Each individual part is just as important as the other.

A car is an example of a mechanically-based system. A computer is an electronic system. A building is a structural system. A plane is a redundancy of systems. A society is also a system that includes individuals, families, communities, cities, and the state. And so then, religion is also system of many parts making up a whole.

And as a system, Adventism has a sort of butterfly-effect taking place in the arena of evangelism. As David Trim’s research on Adventist attrition rates has shown, “Our net loss rate is 39.25%, which means 4/10 of church members have slipped away over the past half century.” If we are collectively losing nearly half of all our members, then there is a systemic problem, not just a local church issue.

Let’s be honest, 40% is an immoral number. Based upon attrition, our churches could be twice the size they are. And while there are a multitude of contributing factors, there is one issue I would like to address: Our existing members are people too! Simply said, if we are evangelizing the prodigal, we should also be sharing the good news with the elder! As Sky Jethani said in his book, With, “We have missed the whole point of the prodigal story: What mattered most to the father was neither the younger son’s disobedience nor the older son’s obedience but having his sons with him.”


Each individual part is just as important as the other. The system cannot work without every single one of us. Therefore, God needs every hand on deck. As Paul said in 1 Corinthians 12:12-13 “The human body has many parts, but the many parts make up one whole body. So, it is with the body of Christ. Some of us are Jews, some are Gentiles, some are slaves, and some are free. But we have all been baptized into one body by one Spirit, and we all share the same Spirit.

We are all part of the Spirit. We are all individual ingredients needed in the cake. Authentic evangelism, the kind without attrition, needs a hope centered in Jesus, and friendships based in genuine love. We need to put a tourniquet of love on the bleeding body by feeding the sheep that are already here.

Because mentoring is how people grow into mature Christians. It’s how they learn to avoid the ditches of extremism. It’s how they learn to use the Bible for themselves. Modeling shows them how to love better. How to break the chains of their family dysfunctions. How to follow through with commitments. How to be stable. Discipling shows them through example, how to live in the Spirit, how to know God for themselves.

That’s how the dying wastelands can become green again. How the encroaching deserts can be pushed back. Because the entire body will be authentically sharing joy with others. As it says in Acts 2:46-47, “Day by day continuing with one mind … breaking bread from house to house, they were taking their meals together with gladness and sincerity of heart, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord was adding to their number day by day those who were being saved.”

Shayne Mason Vincent is lead pastor, Casper Wyoming District. Email him at [email protected]