Gary Blanchard, youth director for the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, considers Pathfinders to be “the most effective evangelistic initiative” of the church today.
“Like ‘arrows in the hands of a warrior,’ God is sending Pathfinders young and old into churches, campuses, cities, and unreached countries of the world with the Three Angels’ Message,” he adds.
In 2020, Pathfinders celebrated their 70th anniversary–all two million Pathfinders in 60,000 clubs in over 180 countries around the world. And on September 18, 2021, they’ll celebrate again for the annual World Pathfinder Day, a tradition that’s been in place since 1957.
According to the Pathfinder ministry website, World Pathfinder Day is a special Sabbath–the third of each September–to celebrate what it means to be a Pathfinder. Each year the ministry’s directors choose a different theme around which to sing, preach, and honor the Pathfinder spirit. They provide resources such as social media posts, flyers, logos, slides, promotional videos, animations, and more, in English, Spanish, and French, all on the 2021 theme of “I Will Go.”
“We want our Pathfinders to know that they are a key component in evangelism,” says Kenia Reyes-de Leon, senior editorial assistant for the Youth Ministries Department. “We want them each to answer the call from God and choose to go wherever he may lead them, and we believe Pathfinders equips them with the tools they need to complete his work.”
In the past, Pathfinder clubs have celebrated with camporees, all-day Sabbath events, and even marches through cities, attended by thousands. When the pandemic hit, Pathfinders around the world still wanted to celebrate, so they organized drive-in events, with presenters and musicians on a stage surrounded by household cars full of Pathfinders. In Brazil, the government has even approved a National Pathfinder Day, and similar support is likely in other places such as Zambia, where the new president is a Master Guide.
“With the explosion of social media platforms such as TikTok, many clubs are conducting challenges in the week leading up to World Pathfinder Day,” Reyes-de Leon states. “These challenges are anything from acts of service to reading scripture to visiting the sick or elderly to singing in the streets.”
In Ghana, the Golden Eagles Club has an initiative called “Scarf On and Serve,” a spin-off of a common global lead-in to World Pathfinder Day, which sees Pathfinders wearing their scarves everywhere they go in the week before World Pathfinder Day, in hopes someone will ask them about it. The Chiapas Union in Mexico does “Stories of Bravery” on social media, giving Pathfinders and Adventurers the opportunity to share their experiences in documentary style clips shared on Facebook.
“In South America, studies have shown that seven out of ten people claim Pathfinders is what kept them in the church, making this ministry crucial for youth retention in the church,” points out Andrés Peralta, world Pathfinder director at the GC.
And with such high rates of success, many within the church may wonder about the ministry’s secret weapon. How have they remained relevant and engaging to so many young people for so long? How are they managing to retain members despite church membership overall continuing to diminish? The answer is unexpectedly simple: They had a great thing from the very beginning.
“We haven’t shifted our framework at all since 1950,” Peralta admits. “Our founders focused on providing an environment in which young people can engage with peers and mentors, share their thoughts and ask questions, learn by doing, and explore their relationship with God.”
And this, as Peralta points out, is exactly the model Jesus used: creating a community to foster relationships.
“Whether we’re in a post-modern era or not, this is something that should never change,” he says. “Young people are looking for deep, meaningful relationships, and Pathfinders supplies that.”
For information about World Pathfinder Day, visit youth.adventist.org