(Religion News Service) Over the past 150 years, Seventh-day Adventists have built one of Christianity’s most inventive and prosperous churches – while praying for the world to end as soon as possible.

A small band of believers has mushroomed to more than 17 million baptized members, including 1.2 million in the U.S. Nearly 8,000 Adventists schools dot dozens of countries. Hundreds of church-owned hospitals and clinics mend minds and bodies around the world.

You might expect Adventists to celebrate their success while marking their church’s 150th anniversary this May. There’s just one problem: The church wasn’t supposed to last this long.

Back in the 1860s, the founders of Seventh-day Adventism preached that Jesus would return – and soon. That’s why they called themselves “Adventists.” By Second-Coming standards, the church’s long life could be considered a dismal sign of failure.

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