Rapid Growth and Denominationalism

PS30 FRANCIS ASBURY PREACHING BY LAMP LIGHTAfter its formation at the Christmas Conference in Baltimore, the Methodist Episcopal Church exploded in size from 15,000 members in 1784, to more than ten times that at 150,000 in 1810. That was just 16 years! (By contrast, membership stood at nearly 11 million when The United Methodist Church was formed in 1968 by the merger of The Methodist Church and the Evangelical United Brethren. Membership today is 7.3 million.)

With continued rapid growth and the westward expansion of America, by 1830, Methodist membership stood at close to 500,000 people. In the decade 1800–1810 Methodism had almost tripled in size.  By 1810 Methodists constituted 7.4 percent of the population in Maryland and 8.4 percent in Delaware. Imagine if nearly one out of every ten citizens of Texas today were a Methodist!

Increasingly, Methodists moved outward from the middle Atlantic and upper south states. In the competitive religious-free-for-all of the westward movement, Methodists, in their various permutations, weaned America from its predominantly Calvinist colonial nursing and ethnically-linguistically-racially closed confessional systems. In so doing, Methodism defined and modeled a new denominational order. That new order was voluntaristic, expansionist, and oriented to the expanding nation and evangelistically open.

Methodists, preaching prevenient grace and Wesley’s Arminianism, altered revivalism from Calvinism’s expectant waiting to active, aggressive invitation. And the result was … GROWTH!

(Source: “American Methodism: A Compact History,” by Russell E. Richey, Kenneth E. Rowe, and Jean Miller Schmidt)

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