A Brief History of The Seventh-day Adventist Church

Organized in 1863, the Seventh-day Adventist Church has its doctrinal roots in the ‘Advent Awakening’ movement of the 1840’s. Hundreds of thousands of Christians became convinced from their study of Bible prophecy that Christ would soon return. This re-awakening of a neglected Biblical belief occurred in many countries, with a major focus in North America.

After the ‘great disappointment’ of their hopes in 1844, these “advent believers” broke up into a number of different groups. One group, studying their Bibles for increased understanding, recognized the seventh-day Sabbath (Saturday) as the day of worship. This group that included Ellen and James White and Joseph Bates became the nucleus of the church congregations that chose the name ‘Seventh-day Adventist Church’ and organized in Battle Creek, Michigan, with 125 churches and 3,500 members.

Ellen White’s ministry under God’s special guidance greatly influenced the development of the Adventist Church. Her counsels and messages to believers and church leaders shaped the form and progress of the Church, while its beliefs have remained totally Bible-based.

Other early Adventists of note include John Harvey Kellogg, inventor of the ‘cornflake’ developed by his brother Will, and pioneer of the Battle Creek Sanitarium; Joseph Bates, retired sea captain and first leader of an Adventist administration; Uriah Smith, prolific author and inventor, and editor of the Church’s paper for almost 50 years.

Adventist missionaries began work outside of North America in 1874, when J.N. Andrews was sent to Switzerland. In 1890, an Adventist minister began working in Russia, while in 1894 Church operations commenced in Africa (Ghana and South Africa). Missionaries also arrived in South America in 1894, and in Japan in 1896. The Church now operates in 205 countries worldwide.

Growth from the early days has been dramatic. From the small group meeting in 1846 and the organization of the Church with 3,500 believers, Seventh-day Adventists now number

Church Structure and Governance
The Seventh-day Adventist Church is organized with a representative form of church government. This means authority in the Church comes from the membership of local churches. Executive responsibility is given to representative bodies and officers to govern the Church. Four levels of Church structure lead from the individual believer to the worldwide Church organization:

The local church made up of individual believers
The local conference, or local field/mission, made up of a number of local churches in a state, province, or territory

The union conference, or union field/mission, made up of conferences or fields within a larger territory (often a grouping of states or a whole country)

The General Conference, the most extensive unit of organization, made up of all unions in all parts of the world. Divisions are sections of the General Conference, with administrative responsibility for particular geographical areas.

Each level is “representative,” that is it reflects a democratic process of formation and election. Local churches elect their own officers and church boards by majority voting. Churches elect delegates to the conferences which meet “in session” every two or three years. Executive authority between sessions is exercised by the Conference Executive Committee and the executive officers (normally President, Secretary and Treasurer), all of whom are elected by the session. A similar process operates for Union sessions and General Conference sessions, at which times officers and committees are elected, reports given and policies decided.

Within these four levels the Church operates various institutions. In their world outreach, Adventists serve the whole person and have developed educational, health-care, publishing, and other institutions. The multiple units of the world Church, whether congregations, conferences, health-care institutions, publishing houses, schools, or other organizations, all find their organizational unity in the General Conference of the Seventh-day Adventists in which they have representation.

The General Conference is the highest earthly authority for the Church. The General Conference in session, and the Executive Committee between sessions, is the highest organization in the administration of the Church’s worldwide work, and is authorized by its constitution to create subordinate organizations to promote specific interests in various sections of the world. When differences arise in or between organizations and institutions, appeal to the next higher organization is proper until it reaches the General Conference in session, or the Executive Committee at the Annual Council. During the interim between these sessions, the Executive Committee shall constitute the body of final authority on all questions where a difference of viewpoint may develop.

Seventh-day Adventists in North America

The following gives the most current demographic profile of the nearly one million Seventh-day Adventists in North America:

Gender: Fifty-three percent of church members are women and 47 percent men. This is not significantly different than the adult population in general.

Generations: Based on year of birth, 20 percent of adult church members are from the “World War I” generation, born from 1909 through 1932 (now 67 through 90 years of age); 30 percent of adult church members are from the “Swing” generation, born from 1933 through 1945 (now 54 through 66 years old); 38 percent of adult church members are from the “Baby Boom” generation, from 1946 through 1964 (now 35 through 53 years of age); and 12 percent of adult church members are from the “13th’ generation (also called “Gen X”), born from 1965 through 1980 (now 19 through 34 years old).

Ethnicity: Fifty-one percent of adult church members are of white, Anglo or Caucasian ethnicity; 30 percent are African-American or immigrants from the Caribbean of African heritage; 13 percent are Hispanic; four percent are of Asian and Pacific Islander background; and two percent are from other ethnic backgrounds, including Native Americans.

Level of education: Twenty-two percent of adult church members have not completed a secondary (high school, academy or GED) diploma; 45 percent have only a secondary diploma, although nearly half of these have taken some college courses; 23 percent have completed a college degree; and 10 percent have completed a graduate degree. This means a total of 33 percent have completed higher education, a rate far in excess of that for all Americans.

Annual household income: Fourteen percent bring in less than $10,000; 21 percent from $10,000 to $19,999; 19 per-cent from $20,000 to $29,999; 23 percent from $30,000 to $49,999; 14 percent from $50,000 to $74,999; and 10 percent at $75,000 or more.

Tenure as a baptized member of the Adventist Church: Four percent were baptized in the past year; 12 percent have been members for one through five years; 10 percent for six through 10 years; 18 percent for 11 through 20 years; and 55 percent have been baptized members for more than 20 years.

Prepared by Monte Sahlin for the Seventh-day Adventist Church in North America, September 1999


A Quick Look At The Seventh-day Adventist Church

A Brief History of The Seventh-day Adventist Church

27 Fundamental Beliefs

Church World Divisions

What Seventh-day Adventists Believe