Is the Church of the Nazarene truly an International Church? The Holiness Today’s graphs suggest “no”

The most recent issue of Holiness Today has two interesting graphs. One is a map of the world regions in the Church of the Nazarene with church attendance numbers. The other, on the next page, has a graph with the representation of the different regions in the two governing bodies for the Church of the Nazarene—the General Board and the data from the 2017 General Assembly.

The interesting point of the second graph is how the delegations to our most important bodies does not equally represent the membership. The General Board has 41.5% of its membership from USA/Canada. General Assembly has 40% of the delegates from USA/Canada with another 3% from the “General Superintendents, Directors, etc” category (not all in this category are USA/Canada members, but most are). The problem? USA/Canada represents just 23.2% of the total membership in the Church of the Nazarene. In contrast, Africa which has 30% of the Nazarene membership is only represented with 11% of the General Board and 14% of General Assembly delegates.  In other words, USA/Canada is over represented, while Africa is under represented in both the General Board and General Assembly.

This point leads to the curiosity of the picture of the world regions. We are given not just the visual representation of the regions, but also the average worship attendance of each region. Those are the only numbers given on the map. Membership is not reported—just average worship attendance. The problem? Average worship attendance is a flimsy number (at least at my church). It’s based on who is doing the counting. Did the people counters catch every one? Did they miss some folks? Membership is based on hard numbers. It’s real names of real people on a real list (or it should be). Average worship attendance is not used in choosing delegates to District Assemblies or the General Assembly. Church membership is the key statistic. So why have the average worship attendance numbers on the chart and not church membership? 

USA/Canada looks a whole lot better when the number reported is average worship attendance over membership. USA/Canada has the highest worship attendance of the regions (423,529 vs. Africa’s 367,490), but in membership Africa (798,111) is larger than USA/Canada (611,457). Could it be that since the USA/Canada has better numbers regarding average worship attendance (instead of membership) than the other world regions, that’s why those numbers were used?  If so, the over/under representation discrepancy of representation on the General Board and General Assembly (on the other graph) is not as evident?  

I am not suggesting that anyone intentionally skewed the numbers to make for a more favorable outlook on USA/Canada, but the truth is: USA/Canada is over represented on both the General Board and at the General Assembly no matter what numbers are used. This truth effects the decision making in these bodies and clouds the portrayal of the Church of the Nazarene as being a truly international church. 

Delegates from world regions may find it even more difficult to attend the 2023 General Assembly should the pandemic continue to rage. If gathering all delegates in one location cannot be accomplished physically because of the pandemic or visa issues, then providing an on-line delegate option for General Assembly should be considered if we want all regions of the church to be proportionately represented. If the Church of the Nazarene is truly an international church, let all regions be represented equally in our governing bodies.