The Seventh-day Adventist Church is organized with a representative form of church government. This means authority in the Church comes from the membership of local churches. Executive responsibility is given to representative bodies and officers to govern the Church. Four levels of Church structure lead from the individual believer to the worldwide Church organization:
- The local church made up of individual believers
- The local conference, or local field/mission, made up of a number of local churches in a state, province, or territory
- The union conference, or union field/mission, made up of conferences or fields within a larger territory (often a grouping of states or a a whole country)
- The General Conference, the most extensive unit of organization, made up of all unions/entities in all parts of the world. Divisions are sections of the General Conference, with administrative responsibility for particular geographical areas.
Each level is "representative," that is it reflects a democratic process of formation and election. Local churches elect their own officers and church boards by majority voting. Churches elect delegates to the conferences which meet "in session" every two or three years. Executive authority between sessions is exercised by the Conference Executive Committee and the executive officers (normally President, Secretary and Treasurer), all of whom are elected by the session.
A similar process operates for Union sessions usually 5 years and General Conference sessions, at which times officers and committees are elected, reports given and policies decided.
Within these four levels the Church operates various institutions. In their world outreach, Adventists serve the whole person and have developed educational, health-care, publishing, media (radio, print, television, web, satellite), and other institutions. The multiple units of the world Church, whether congregations, conferences, health-care institutions, publishing houses, schools, or other organizations, all find their organizational unity in the General Conference of the Seventh-day Adventists in which they have representation.
The General Conference is the highest earthly authority for the Church. The General Conference in session, and the Executive Committee between sessions, is the highest organization in the administration of the Church's worldwide work, and is authorized by its constitution to create subordinate organizations to promote specific interests in various sections of the world. When differences arise in or between organizations and institutions, appeal to the next higher organization is proper until it reaches the General Conference in session, or the Executive Committee at the Annual Council. During the interim between these sessions, the Executive Committee shall constitute the body of final authority on all questions where a difference of viewpoint may develop.