The Seventh-day Adventist Church will try to distribute 1 billion copies of Ellen White’s The Great Controversy around the world, in multiple languages, by the end of 2024. Many Adventists are thrilled and can’t wait to buy the books and start handing them out. However, some wonder about the cost and effectiveness of the project. Consider the following concerns.
The project represents a financial cost that may exceed $1 billion. Members are encouraged to distribute the books personally, representing an immeasurable amount of a valuable resource—time. Third, the project will impact the planet when more than 8 million trees are felled to create the paper for the books. Finally, some believe the The Great Controversy project might also tarnish the reputation of the Seventh-day Adventist brand as it draws criticism from society.
Is it still worth mobilizing ourselves to distribute 1 billion copies of The Great Controversy, or is the cost too high? Should we also evaluate if this is the best book to share? Is there a more cost-effective method of reaching people?
Is the Cost Too High?
The last few chapters of the Bible describe the New Jerusalem coming down from heaven as a bride (Rev. 20-22). The saved are in the city, and after the crowning of Christ, Satan leads everyone else to attack the city one last time.
At this point I’m sure we imagine ourselves inside the city, watching with dread what is about to happen. Fire is about to destroy evil and those who choose to cling to it. Imagine our eyes catching a glimpse of the Adventist logo on a ruinous large building. Everything we have ever branded as Seventh-day Adventist is about to burn. There is a dilapidated warehouse full of The Great Controversy books, still in their boxes, undistributed. Our eyes turn to the uprooted forests of the world, also about to be destroyed. Finally, as hell begins in earnest, we set our gaze on the people.
Would we not wish now, with all our hearts, that more of those trees would have been turned into more of those books to be read by more of those people? Perhaps more of them would now be near us, safe and sound, inside the city.
When seen through this lens, our concerns appear in a different light. Our reputations, as individuals and as a church, are secondary if it means helping more people be safe inside that city. Likewise, our money and our time are also expendable. As controversial as it may seem, despite our mandate to care for our planet, the trees also become expendable.
After all, it was on a tree that Jesus guaranteed the salvation of all people. If the value of humanity is measured by the blood of Christ, nothing else should hinder us from helping them be ready for His return, including our reputations, our time, our money, and yes, our trees.
Is This the Best Book to Distribute?
As Seventh-day Adventists, we are blessed to have rich resources in reading material to share with the world—resources on healthy living, family life, education, responsible stewardship, and more. The writings of Ellen White in particular offer incredible insights into the life and teachings of Jesus Christ, including the classic Steps to Christ and The Desire of Ages.
While we should not neglect to share these books that have touched the hearts of millions, we are living in very unusual times, and people are looking to the future with fear and uncertainty. The world seems to be reeling from one crisis to the next, and people are searching, longing, for answers the world cannot give.
The Great Controversy provides solid biblical answers to what has happened in the past, what is happening in the present, and what will happen in the future. It draws back the curtain into an unseen world where a very real, extremely deadly war is taking place. It exposes the plans of the enemy and points the way to eternal life. This is why The Great Controversy was the book Ellen White desired to see distributed more widely than any other of her books.
Can We Find More Effective Methods?
Despite new technologies and opportunities, there are at least three important reasons to prioritize the mass distribution of The Great Controversy hard-copy book over digital methods.
Digital Censorship. During the past few years the Seventh-day Adventist Church has invested millions of dollars in websites, social media platforms, and applications that would position our digital properties in a way people would find, follow, and download them. This has been done through search engine optimization, content creation, software development, and online pastoral care, leading every online relationship to a face-to-face encounter. We need to advance the use of these technologies and opportunities because they are available now, but this may not always be true. If we still believe in our prophetic eschatology, and that the world will increasingly become a more challenging place to share the gospel, we must rely on other means than digital technology to finish our mission. Why? Because of censorship.
The past two years have demonstrated, beyond a doubt, that our social media accounts and applications can be removed from their respective platforms and app stores instantaneously. Websites are no different. In one afternoon it is possible to remove everything the church has ever published online.
It is vital that we distribute TheGreat Controversy before these events happen, so that every household can access a book in their homes. Millions of Adventists have learned the truth because their families read The Great Controversy at some point. Millions of people will be saved because of this mass literature distribution.
Total Member Involvement. Mobilizing ourselves can be challenging in some places, as our cultures are so different. However, most of us can be motivated to buy a few books and distribute them personally. This decentralized method encourages personal involvement rather than mailing the books out. The human connection is vital and can be a lifesaving experience for those receiving the books. Considering that the digital distribution of TheGreat Controversy also counts toward the goal, members versed in digital outreach are highly encouraged to use their skills in this way too. These methods are not mutually exclusive.
Economies of Scale. The centralization of mass printing and decentralization of mass distribution makes it possible to achieve a low cost per book. This is achievable only when there is a coordinated effort in a short space of time by many people.
Is Present Truth a Thing of the Past?
At the core of TheGreat Controversy project is the belief that the Seventh-day Adventist Church is the remnant church of Bible prophecy, tasked with the final proclamation of the everlasting gospel before the second coming of Christ. We believe God has given us first a mission, and then all of our structure, resources, ministries, and assets, which exist to fulfill this mission.
In this movement’s history we have pleaded with loved ones and neighbors, as well as strangers, both near and far, to prepare for the glorious and terrifying day when heaven will break open and Jesus will return. In recent years, however, there has been a growing sentiment among our members that our church is simply another faith community that believes in Jesus. Some Adventists believe labeling ourselves as the remnant is arrogant and pretentious, hindering our mission of making disciples. Others posit that we should stop preaching doom and gloom and focus on the Gospels instead. Present truth should emphasize only the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. They think our world is so polarized that if we preach present truth as did our pioneers, we will be labeled as just another sect dominated by conspiracy theories.
These arguments tend to resonate with those who have come to believe in the myth of the irresistible church. Those who are convinced that when we create welcoming churches that actively alleviate the suffering of others in our communities, millions will become Seventh-day Adventists by the sheer power of our kindness. This myth is destroying our capacity to fulfill our true mission to proclaim the three angels’ messages as prophesied in Revelation 14. In the history of Christianity there has never been a time when the faithful remnant wasn’t persecuted or sanctioned.
We should, by all means, use the best outreach strategies and live our discipleship in love and compassion. However, if this love doesn’t materialize in the challenge to “follow Jesus” at all costs as we share God’s prophetic vision with others, we are not fulfilling our mission. Present truth isn’t a thing of the past. Since the time of our pioneers, our vision of the truth has grown. We have a more beautiful and urgent message to give to every human being. Let’s start by buying copies of The Great Controversy to gift to our loved ones, neighbors, friends, colleagues, and strangers. Let’s help as many people as we can to find themselves inside the city on that great judgment day.