The first devotional moment of the Plenary Steering Committee of the South American Division of Seventh-day Adventists reflected a clear concern: Sabbath School needs to be revitalized. Sabbath School is a department of the Seventh-day Adventist Church worldwide, whose regular program involves systematic study of a Bible study guide, as well as weekly fellowship meetings, intercessory prayer, and a strong emphasis on personal evangelism. The sermon presented by Pastor Stanley Arco, president of the church in the region, on Sabbath, May 14, became a strong message to leaders to strengthen biblical teaching and relationships. The intensification of work through the Sabbath School is among the four missionary emphases established by the South American Adventist Church for the coming years.
Arco stressed that the structure of the lesson, weekly meetings in the congregations, and small groups in the homes all constitute a favorable environment for the spiritual development of people. According to The Ellen G. White Encyclopedia, the first Sabbath School meeting was held in 1852 in the Rochester, New York, area by James White. He, too, was the one who published the first lessons in the same year. The embryo of the department, therefore, existed even before the formal organization of the Adventist Church, dated May 1863.
Vital Missionary Force
For Pastor Arco, Sabbath School brings together spiritual and relationship missionary strength. Based on 1 Peter 3:15–16, the South American leader stressed that the process of sanctification of Christians has at least some steps involved. There is a need, for example, for biblical solidity and prayer life. And this experience necessarily leads to personal witness and the fulfillment of the mission of preaching the gospel.
Arco also showed concern with the aspect of biblical foundation for Adventists. Quoting the ancient Bohemian reformer, John Huss, he asserted that "whoever does not speak the truth betrays the truth." The pastor who presides over the church in eight South American countries made a proposal in a definitive, challenging tone to all. He calculated that if, on average, each person devoted 20 minutes a day to the study of the Sabbath School lesson, for example, in 19 years, they would have studied the equivalent of a full course in theology.
The call for greater involvement of adults, youth, children, and teenagers in Sabbath School is echoed by statistical data. As reported by Pastor Bill Quispe, who heads the department at the South American level, in 2020, more than 1,480,000 people actively participated in Sabbath School meetings. In 2021, one year after the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, that number dropped to 1,245,000. In 2022, so far, there is a recovery trend. The number presented by Quispe to the Steering Committee delegates is 1,339,597 Sabbath School participants.
Quispe also brought revealing data. They show, for example, that the number of copies of the Sabbath School lesson, either individually or via subscription, has dropped in the last three years. In 2020, the number of people with lessons, in the territory of the South American Division, reached 1,080,611. In 2021, there was a drop to 987,531. Research released by the leader also shows that only 25 percent of registered Adventist members claim to study the world study guide daily.
In his sermon, Arco spoke of the need to motivate members and friends of the Adventist community to become more committed to the entire Sabbath School environment. He recalled that the department was once classified as the “heart of the church” and is still considered one of the largest Bible schools in the world. “It is the essential moment for us to give importance to the study of the Holy Bible in a process of expanding knowledge and relationships with each other. We need living witnesses, and this all goes through the Sabbath School,” said the leader.