Seventh-day Adventists are a global family founded upon local churches, where God is worshipped each Sabbath and where all members are baptized, mentored as disciples, married and, at the end of the day, memorialized. All levels of church organization exist to assist local congregations and pastors—from the General Conference through its 13 divisions to union conferences and local conferences, to which local churches belong. Union conferences anchor this denominational structure, for the purpose of benefiting local congregations.
From its office in Lincoln, Nebraska, the Mid-America Union is tasked with advancing and implementing the Seventh-day Adventist mission in its nine-state territory. The union gives administrative support to six local conferences and their ministry departments, their K-12 schools, Union College and the five hospitals in Mid-America.
Union conferences exist to serve the needs of those member organizations. The goal is not to supervise as much as to synergize, seeking to leverage the combined resources of its various entities for maximum efficiency and fruitfulness. While union conferences provide a level of accountability between local conferences and the worldwide church organization, it is local conference delegates who elect them and hold them accountable through the process of ongoing executive committee meetings and constituency sessions. Thus, each union is custom built (within denominational guidelines) into whatever its constituents vote it to be, through locally designated representatives.
Union conferences are pooled service centers. The union department of education, for example, serves conference education departments by helping them meet teacher certification requirements. The union organizes joint activities such as Pathfinder camporees and ministerial convocations. The union also fosters collaboration between its education and medical institutions so that each can support the mission of the other in building up local churches. The union president oversees this process and promotes it through the union communication department via Outlook magazine and also the union website.
In the Seventh-day Adventist structure, each union conference is small enough to offer regional sensitivity yet large enough to leverage combined resources where most needed. The union can do this in ways not easily replicated at the conference level, both in terms of personnel and cost of services. Coordinating outreach—both personal ministries and public evangelism—financial services, education, religious liberty, communication, computer services, trust services and planned giving are examples of services and personnel provided by the union to conferences and congregations.
A much-appreciated service of the union is the revolving fund, which offers and manages low-interest loans to churches and schools for constructing or remodeling facilities.
A key objective of the union office is minimizing expenses to maximize funding available for local outreach and nurture. The Pacific Union commissioned an independent study to evaluate the costs versus the benefits of its existence. The study concluded that the conferences, if the union office did not exist, would need to pay 62% more to duplicate services and benefits that the union provides. All of this is done in a context of maximum efficiency. For example, the Mid-America Union headquarters staff has two-thirds fewer employees than formerly.
In conclusion: Local churches are the foundation of the Seventh-day Adventist global family, and union conferences serve them in the worldwide organization by facilitating efficient and synergetic collaboration among all church entities and resources.