Asbury called camp meetings “fishing with a large net.”

This entry is part 53 of 118 in the series Diagnosis, Dialogue, Decision: A DMin Project

Methodism has continually adopted new methods as expediency provides them. The camp meeting shaped prairie Methodism. Asbury called camp meetings “fishing with a large net.”[1] It is hard to imagine in this century the human hunger for socialization and activity which the camp meeting fulfilled in the prairie environment. When Alexis De Tocqueville asked a Detroit man in 1831 if religion had reached that “half peopled” area, he replied:

Almost every summer, it is true, some Methodist preachers come to make a tour of the new settlements. The noise of their arrival spreads with unbelievable rapidity from cabin to cabin – it’s the great news of the day. At the date set, the immigrant, his wife, and children set out by scarcely cleared forest trails toward the indicated meeting place. They come from fifty miles around. It’s not in a church that the faithful gather but in the open air under the forest foliage. A pulpit of badly squared logs, great trees felled for seats, such are the ornaments of this rustic temple. The pioneers and their families camp in the surrounding woods. It’s there that, during three days and three nights, the crowd gives itself over to almost uninterrupted religious exercises. You must see with what ardor these men surrender themselves to prayer, with what attention they listen to the solemn voice of the preacher. It’s in the wilderness that people show themselves almost starved for religion.[2]





[1] The quote is a selection from David O. Kueker’s Fuller Seminary Doctor of Ministry project submitted in September, 2007, entitled Diagnosis, Dialogue, and Decision: A Threefold Process of Revitalization For the Illinois Great Rivers Conference.
It is shared here in recognition of its 12th Anniversary along with comments to update and provide perspective on the material. The original project was a Training Manual/Study Guide of three Seminars supported by three chapters of research and an Introduction. The material is available for download at In 2009 it was provided for purchase as a softcover book entitled Designing Discipleship Systems: Christian Disciple Making For Any Size Church, Any Theology through

[2][3] [4][5] [6][7] [8]

All Scripture quotations are from the Revised Standard Version of the Bible, copyright © 1946, 1952, and 1971 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved. Please review the page How and Why We Use Quotes.

[1]Russell E. Richey, “From Quarterly to Camp Meeting: A Reconsideration of Early American Methodism,” Methodist History 23, no. 1 (July 1985): 202.

[2]G. W. Pierson, “Tocqueville and Beaumont in America,” quoted in Johnson, Frontier Camp Meeting, 231-232.

Series Navigation<< The camp meetings countered rural isolation by combining religious activity in the center of the camp with socializing, courting, barter and recreation on the outer edges.It is an gross oversimplification, however, to say that Methodism on the American frontier went “where the people were.” >>
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