Adventist Sabbath School work, 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, another 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.