At a time when most other denominations are losing members, the Seventh-day Adventist Church is growing rapidly.
During the past half-century, its U.S. membership has more than tripled, from 311,539 in 1959 to 1,043,606 in 2009.
Worldwide, there are now an estimated 16 million Adventists.
G. Alexander Bryant, Secretary secretary of the church’s North American Division, headquartered in Silver Spring, Md., says evangelism has sparked substantial gains in the United States and around the globe.
“One of the distinctive [beliefs] that we have is the conviction that Jesus Christ is coming soon and that the world as we know it will not continue,” Bryant said. “So that gives us some sense of urgency.”
Ryan Long, pastor of Bonnerdale Seventh-day Adventist Church in Hot Spring County, agrees.
“We want to see people in the kingdom of heaven when Jesus comes again, so we put a lot of time and effort and energy into making that a reality,” Long said.
The word Adventist refers to the Second Coming (or Advent) of Jesus Christ.
The roots of Adventism lie in the mid-nineteenth.
A Baptist preacher from New York named William Miller, attempting to decipher biblical prophecies, declared that the Second Coming would occur at some point in 1843 or 1844 — and thousands believed him.
When the deadline passed without incident, many of Miller’s followers abandoned the movement. But others who lived through “The Great Disappointment” remained convinced that the Second Advent was imminent.
They kept searching the Scriptures for signs of the end times.
Eventually, some of these Adventists rejected Sunday worship, viewing it as unbiblical.
Instead, they hallowed the Seventh Day — the Jewish Sabbath — from sundown on Friday to sundown on Saturday.
Viewing other Christian denominations as apostate, Seventh-day Adventists consider themselves the Lord’s faithful end-time remnant.
In 1863, the modern Seventh-day Adventist Church was created in Battle Creek, Mich. Initially, it claimed 125 congregations and 3,500 members.
The denomination’s current statement of fundamental beliefs highlights the importance of honoring the Sabbath and keeping it holy: “The fourth commandment of God’’s unchangeable law requires the observance of this seventh-day Sabbath as the day of rest, worship, and ministry in harmony with the teaching and practice of Jesus, the Lord of the Sabbath.”
Like many other Christian bodies religions, Adventists teach that the Bible is God’s divinely inspired “infallible revelation” to humanity.
But Adventists also revere the writings of Ellen G. White, a woman they view as a latter-day prophetess, who lived from 1827 to 1915 and wrote extensively about Adventism. “As the Lord’s messenger, her writings are a continuing and authoritative source of truth which provide for the church comfort, guidance, instruction, and correction,” the statement of fundamental beliefs declares.
White urged Adventists to give up coffee, tea, tobacco, alcohol and meat — particularly meats (such as pork and shellfish) which were condemned in the Old Testament.
Today, many Adventists are vegetarians.
“We feel we have a responsibility and obligation to take care of our bodies, the temple of God, as best we can,” Bryant said. “We have a very strong emphasis on health and living a healthy life, diet, exercise [and] rest.”
Adventists also have an extensive private school network and a medical system with hospitals across the United States and around the world.
By feeding the homeless, caring for the sick and ministering to the poor, Adventists look for “ways to help other people to see the love of Christ,” Bryant said.