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.



Sabbath School History — 28 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.

    • Praise God...I have trying to express the same thing to church members and family...Lord help us your people who you have called out of darkness

  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.

  6. Jesus Christ spent not more than one hour at the synagogue. Is it not stressful for a member to spend many hours in church. Using the Bible alone can we justify why we spend many hours in church on Sabbath? I am a bona fide member so do not worry about giving a direct answer. I will appreciate if people avoid opinions as they answer this question.

    • Dear Solomon,

      You wrote:

      Jesus Christ spent not more than one hour at the synagogue.

      Would you mind sharing where you find that in the Bible? I read that even as a young boy, Jesus spent many hours in the temple, and His parents couldn't find Him because they didn't think to look there. I find no record of how much time He spent in the synagogue.

      Of course, we must realize that synagogues were meeting places that were not directly specified by God. They were built for practical reasons, and the Hebrews developed their own customs regarding synagogues. Some of the customs were undoubtedly good, but they were not all necessarily good.

      Is it not stressful for a member to spend many hours in church.

      It seems to me that you are saying you find it stressful "to spend many hours in church." Would you mind explaining? If these hours serve no good purpose, I can see why that might be stressful, and perhaps you can work with your church to change your traditions.

      Here in the West, people spend anywhere from one hour (worship service) to four and a half or more hours in church. Sabbath School usually takes about one and a half hours, and it should be a positive time during which members share and study God's Word together. Then we often eat a lunch together, and sometimes we have meetings in the afternoon. No one is forced to attend, and people choose to attend because they find it helpful for one reason or another.

      Using the Bible alone can we justify why we spend many hours in church on Sabbath? I am a bona fide member so do not worry about giving a direct answer. I will appreciate if people avoid opinions as they answer this question.

      The Bible does not specify how many hours we should spend praising God, worshiping God, sharing testimonies, studying the Bible, eating together, etc. So you cannot demonstrate from the Bible that it is bad to spend more than an hour in church, and no one else can demonstrate that it is necessary to spend more than an hour in church. 😉

      In the New Testament, the main example is that of the Apostle Paul. He preached in the Jewish synagogues, and when he was thrown out, he gathered with people in their homes or in some open spaces. The churches that developed all seemed to begin as "home churches," and there is no biblical record of how much time people spent together on Sabbath.

      Immediately after Pentecost, when members were filled with the Holy Spirit, the Bible record tells us that the people met not only on Sabbath, but daily. But it wasn't in a synagogue (since these were Jewish).

      Perhaps some of our readers can share what they do in church on Sabbath. 🙂

    • Peter, I am not sure why you are asking such a question. The running of Sabbath School is up to individual churches and there is quite a wide variation in practice. Our large church does not have a formal Sabbath School but small groups meet for the period between 9:30am until about 10:40am for study. Some of the small groups dispense with formalities and get straight into the lesson study. Others have more formal preliminaries before starting the lesson study. However it should be noted that while this variety suits us it may not suit other churches. There is no single right way. The Church Manual has a suggested program but this is a suggestion only.

      It is important to have a Sabbath School format that you all agree on and it makes sense to make it a time where we can share and support one another as well. I like to think that the Sabbath School should be a place where we are involved in collaborative learning.

      Hope that helps a bit.

  7. being that I'm elder in-charge of sabbath school i had adjusted time of starting sabbath school.for two years we have adopted the time it reaches 9.30a.m we start our group discussion and indeed it has helped us a lot as stewards of God

  8. When was mission offering and 13th Sabbath Overflow Offering introduced to Sabbath School? How is this fascet of SS managed in SS programs?
    In our SS the only thing carried out was group lesson stady with an offering taken up without any particular mission promotion. About 2 years ago we introduced the concept that the first 20 minutes of formality where the SS Superintendent mage some general spiritual points and the Mission Spotlight was shown and the mission offerings were promoted and as a result, relatively little being contributed to missions.
    This format left about 45-50 minutes for group bible study and has resulted in many thousande more dollars contributed to missions.

  9. I feel the Sabbath school binds us people all over the world in to one family. It is amazing that every week we will have a consensus on certain view of the truth. Praise the Lord for that.

  10. Sweet Angel
    Ellen G White, and I read this years ago, that not one mandate of our platform, and our faith and practice should be changed.
    I accepted this lovely Message at the age of 27 1/2, always always always since then been early for 9:15a.m. Song Service, not the old bang bang music we are hearing now a days, and in those days, people off the street would hear our lovely singing and come in and join in the singing and left.
    Sabbath School was set in the beginning of time for 9:15 ... why should we change it... why are we never late for work, and our children must be ontime for 9:00 or 8:30 or whateve? If RESPECT the importance of punctuality, we will respect our Creator. He was on time for his birth, his baptism, his death, his resurrection, his ascension and he will be ontime for his 2nd coming again... we change too much... that's why the bang bang music is in our church.
    God bless all of you my "dears"!

  11. My great-great (I don't know how many greats exactly) grandfather Robert McBride taught at this school around 1871. Do you have any information on him?
    Thank you

    • Hi Alice. That would be a fairly difficult question for us to answer because none of us are serious church historians, nor do any of us live in the area where the first Sabbath School was held. There are a number of Adventist Historical Societies and some of them are likely to have the information that you need. A little bit of Googling may help.

    • Hello, there is a controversy on sabbath school table and the pulpit.
      Some believe that the pulpit should be solely reserved for preacher the word(divine service).
      Others also believe that there shouldn't be any seperation:the sabbath school and divine service can all be administerd from the pulpit.... No need of sabbath school stand/desk separate from the pulpit.
      Can you help clarify this?

      • In our church we have done away with both. The pulpit is brought out just before the preacher preaches if he needs it. And Sabbath school is run as small groups. The use of the separate pulpit and table is a cultural thing and while I am well aware that some churches make a big difference between the two, others have moved on to different protocols. Providing reverence is maintained, who really cares about the furniture?


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