On a hot summer day in 1879, fourteen-year-old Luther Warren and seventeen-year-old Harry Fenner ambled down a country lane in Hazleton, Michigan. They were worried about their friends who seemed to be slipping away from God and wondered what they could do to help them. As they walked and talked the idea of establishing a boys’ mission society began to develop in their minds. Kneeling in a corner of a deserted field they prayerfully committed their plans to God.
Soon after the first Adventist Youth Society was born in Luther’s bedroom and comprised of six or eight boys. Although the group was initially not too charmed by the idea of singing, praying and planning outreach together, Fenner and Warren persisted and soon their efforts paid off. The Society began to meet regularly, placing an emphasis on personal spirituality, healthful living, and mission.
The girls in the church got wind of what was happening and wanted to be in on the action. The meetings were the moved out of Luther’s bedroom and into the downstairs parlor under the friendly but watchful eye of an adult. The Society soon expanded their schedule to include social events as well and the youth of the Hazleton church began to thrive.
Other societies soon began to spring up in Nebraska, Wisconsin, Iowa, Ohio, and Australia. Soon Ellen White began to write to church leaders urging them to put together plans that specifically met the needs of the youth of the church. The Ohio Conference became the first conference to form a youth ministries department in 1899 under the name “Christian Volunteers” and two years later in 1901, the General Conference in session requested that the Sabbath School Department oversee the work of these Adventist Youth Societies that were mushrooming across the denomination.
The work grew so rapidly over the next six years that in 1907 it was recommended that the church form a separate department to oversee the work of the youth across the denomination. Soon after a convention was held in Mount Vernon, Ohio to nut out the details. As the delegates came together to work through organizational structure and missional focus they also minted a new name for the department. It was to be called the “Seventh-Day Adventist Young People’s Society of Missionary Volunteers.”
Among the new plans and ideas that surfaced at the convention some of the most impactful were the morning watch calendar and the Missionary Volunteer Book club. The convention also recommended that each local church set aside a special youth sabbath which later grew to become the Missionary Volunteer Week of Prayer.
The newly organized youth department captured the imagination of the world field and soon youth societies began to appear in Korea, the Philippines, South America, Central America, Hungary, and China.
The Junior Missionary Society was launched shortly after in 1908 and evolved into what we know today as the Pathfinder Department. In 1972 the Missionary Volunteers’ department was renamed the Youth Department of Missionary Volunteers. It was renamed the Adventist Youth Department in 1979 and as of 2005 is known as Adventist Youth Ministries. Today the Seventh-Day Adventist Church has an army of 10 million youth around the world.
Referencing the far-reaching impact that the youth of the church have on its mission Ellen White writes “With such an army of workers as our youth, rightly trained, might furnish, how soon the message of a crucified, risen, and soon-coming Saviour might be carried to the whole world! How soon might the end come—the end of suffering and sorrow and sin!”
The youth of the church have an important role in accomplishing its mission. May we all rally to support, nurture, train and disciple the youth in our midst.