In just a century and a half the Seventh-day Adventist Church has grown from a handful of individuals, who carefully studied the Bible in their search for truth, to a world-wide community of over eight million members and millions of others who regard the Adventist Church their spiritual home. Doctrinally, Seventh-day Adventists are heirs of the interfaith Millerite movement of the 1840s. Although the name "Seventh-day Adventist" was chosen in 1860, the denomination was not officially organized until Ma y 21, 1863, when the movement included some 125 churches and 3,500 members.
Between 1831 and 1844, William Miller--a Baptist preacher and former army captain in the War of 1812--launched the "great second advent awakening" which eventually spread throughout most of the Christian world. Based on his study of the prophecy of Daniel 8:14, Miller calculated that Jesus would return to earth sometime between 1843 and 1844. Others within the movement calculated a specific date of October 22, 1844. When Jesus did not appear, Miller's followers experienced what became to be called "the great Disappointment."
Most of the thousands who had joined the movement, left it, in deep disillusionment. A few, however, went back to their Bibles to find why they had been disappointed. Soon they concluded that the October 22 date had indeed been correct. They became convinced that the Bible prophecy predicted not that Jesus would return to earth in 1844, but that He would begin at that time a special ministry in heaven for His followers. They still looked for Jesus to come soon, however, as do Seventh-day Adventists yet today.
From this small group who refused to give up after the "great disappointment" arose several leaders who built the foundation of what would become the Seventh-day Adventist Church. Standing out among these leaders were a young couple--James and Ellen G. White -- and a retired sea captain named Joseph Bates.
This small nucleus of "adventists" began to grow -- mainly in the New England states of America, where Miller's movement had begun. Ellen G. White, a mere teenager at the time of the "great Disappointment," grew into a gifted author, speaker and administrator, who would become and remain the trusted spiritual counselor of the Adventist family for more than seventy years until her death in 1915. Early Adventists came to believe -- as have Adventists ever since -- that she enjoyed God's special guidance as she wrote her counsels to the growing body of believers.
In 1860, at Battle Creek Michigan, the loosely knit congregations of Adventists chose the name Seventh-day Adventist and in 1863 formally organized a church body with a membership of 3,500. At first, work was largely confined to North America until 1874 when the Church's first missionary, J. N. Andrews, was sent to Switzerland. Africa was penetrated briefly in 1879 when Dr. H. P. Ribton, an early convert in Italy, moved to Egypt and opened a school, but the project ended when riots broke out in the vicinity.
The first non-Protestant Christian country entered was Russia, where an Adventist minister went in 1886. On October 20, 1890, the schooner Pitcairn was launched at San Francisco and was soon engaged in carrying missionaries to the Pacific Islands. Seventh-day Adventist workers first entered non-Christian countries in 1894 -- Gold Coast (Ghana), West Africa, and Matabeleland, South Africa. The same year saw missionaries entering South America, and in 1896 there were representatives in Japan. The Church now has established work in 209 countries.
The publication and distribution of literature were major factors in the growth of the Advent movement. The Advent Review and Sabbath Herald (now the Adventist Review), general church paper, was launched in Paris, Maine, in 1850; the Youth's Instructor in Rochester, New York, in 1852; and the Signs of the Times in Oakland, California, in 1874. The first denominational publishing house at Battle Creek, Michigan, began operating in 1855 and was duly incorporated in 1861 under the name of Seventh-day Adventist Publishing Association.