Sabbath School History

Adventist Sabbath School, the general equivalent of Sunday Schools of other denominations, began in 1852 when James White wrote the first Sabbath School lessons.

Early Sabbath Schools had only two divisions, one for children and one for adults, called the Bible Class. In 1863, the first series of Sabbath School lessons adapted for children appeared. That same year the first adult Sabbath School lessons, written by Uriah Smith, an early Adventist pioneer, appeared in the Review and Herald.

There was little organization until G. H. Bell, a pioneer teacher in Battle Creek, became editor of the Youth’s Instructor in 1869. He introduced two series of lessons, one for children and the other for youth. He also published a plan of organization providing for a staff of officers and regular reports of attendance.

Organization of Sabbath Schools began in California in 1877 with the formation of the first state Sabbath School Association. In March 1878 the General Sabbath School Association was organized. In 1878, in Battle Creek, Michigan, the first division for smaller children was formed called “the Bird’s nest.” In 1886 this became the kindergarten division. In 1879, the first Branch Sabbath Schools were organized.

A major reorganization of the Sabbath School Department took place at the 1985 General Conference session when it became a part of the newly created Church Ministries Department. At the 1995 General Conference session, the Church Ministries Department was dissolved and the Sabbath School department was reestablished in combination with Personal Ministries. Today it is know as the Sabbath School/Personal Ministries Department of the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists.

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Sabbath School History — 14 Comments

    • The answer would probably have something to do with your location.

      Not all churches start Sabbath School at 9:30am. At our church, we are lustily singing at 9:15am. Others start a bit earlier or later.

      If members are willing, there'd be nothing amiss with starting at 7:30 am. And some groups meet in the afternoons.

      Whatever the starting time is at a particular location, it becomes a tradition and sometimes difficult to change. But if a change seems like something that would improve the Sabbath School, it should probably be attempted.

      Just one little bit of advice about starting later: In over 50 years experience with Sabbath School, we found that the same people who come late for a 9:30 starting time will come late for a 10:00 starting time -- or a 10:30 starting time. It seems to be their tradition to come late. To change that will take something different than trying to accommodate their lateness.

  1. I agree with Mercedes. 9:30 is later than they have to go to work all week. So why do people feel the need to sleep in and be late to Sabbath School? I feel it is my appointment with my creator and I must be on time out of respect for Him.

  2. To begin Sabbath school between 9 an 10 am depends also on the way a family has to drive to Sabbath school. Sometimes this is 60 or 70 km. But if somebody means to sleep on Sabbath more or resting on Sabbath means sleeping they make a big mistake. Sabbath is not given to sleep what, don´t you sleep the whole week:

    2 Testimonies p.704: None should feel at liberty to spend sanctified time in an unprofitable manner. It is displeasing to God for Sabbathkeepers to sleep during much of the Sabbath. They dishonor their Creator in so doing, and, by their example, say that the six days are too precious for them to spend in resting. They must make money, although it be by robbing themselves of needed sleep, which they make up by sleeping away holy time. They then excuse themselves by saying: "The Sabbath was given for a day of rest. I will not deprive myself of rest to attend meeting, for I need rest." Such make a wrong use of the sanctified day. They should, upon that day especially, interest their families in its observance and assemble at the house of prayer with the few or with the many, as the case may be. They should devote their time and energies to spiritual exercises, that the divine influence resting upon the Sabbath may attend them through the week. Of all the days in the week, none are so favorable for devotional thoughts and feelings as the Sabbath.

    • In our experience, those living farthest away are often earlier than the ones who live close by.

      For much of our lives, we've had to drive 60-90 km to church, and often we were among the "early" folks there. I think it's more a matter of attitude than distance from the church.

  3. Why do our children have sabbath school? Does the bible allow children to learn without their parents? If not where did the idea of children learning on their own come from? Or children's chapel?

    • Hi Jessy,

      Many of us like Children's Sabbath School. It is good for children to get input from others besides their parents and this can happen in Sabbath School. Some of the best memories some adults have is in their childhood clustering around their Sabbath School teacher. 🙂 Many children's Sabbath school teachers have some teaching ability and are perhaps able to give their Sabbath School children new insights adding to the education the child may receive at home. I was a children's Sabbath School teacher for about 12 years.

      Many of us are not in favor of Children's Church -- at least theoretically. Pastors are supposed to keep the children in mind when they preach, and children need to be with their parents in church.

      We are not the Sabbath School Department of the church, but lay folk and anything that is said by us is an opinion and not a church policy statement.

      Here is a link to the General Conference Children's Ministries:

      Thanks for the questions!

  4. [Please use first and last name when commenting on this site. Thank you. ]
    The first sabbath teacher in the history of the seventh day Adventist is G H Bell

  5. Can you give me an outline of how the first organised Sabbath school would have been run..Was it similar to today?.Welcome, Prayer, Hymn, Talk, mission talk, offering, hymn Lesson study.Thankyou

    • I seriously doubt that it was as formal as it is now. We have developed a whole crust of tradition around the actual "Sabbath School" since then. Originally it was literally thought of as a "school" for learning Bible truth. There was no Superintendent's Program, but I wouldn't be surprised if they had a hymn before prayer, followed by a Bible study.

      Many current Sabbath Schools have gone back to a simple plan closer to the original, focusing on a longer lesson study (about an hour or so), rather than taking up time with "Superintendent's Remarks," "special music" and other distractions. Unfortunately some have also dropped the Mission Emphasis, which I believe to be a mistake. In one church I attended, we had the longer lesson study (about 50 min), then had the Mission Emphasis before the church service. That worked out well, because more people were exposed to the mission emphasis that way.


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