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.

This entry is part 52 of 118 in the series Diagnosis, Dialogue, Decision: A DMin Project

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.[1] This tradition of combining evangelistic preaching with family vacations evolved into the Chautauqua movement, both in resort settings and traveling tents.[2] Camp meetings eventually became campgrounds and then conference owned church camps, at Asbury’s suggestion.[3] The camp meeting was the primary evangelistic tool of the Second Great Awakening in United States history and so successful that it doubled the proportion of church members in America from one in fifteen to one in seven between 1800 and 1850.[4]

            The camp meeting is the quintessential “come structure” of American religious history. Both the camp meeting and the prairie church met the human need for socialization in the midst of rural isolation. Both drew a large crowd because they were the only source for human interaction on the frontier. Revivals would later be organized around the visit of an elder at quarterly conference who would provide the sacrament to members followed by camp meetings open to the public. These events created a community that “defined itself by act” or by an event, rather than by an address.[5]





[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]Ferguson, Organizing to Beat the Devil, 119-120, 124, 129-131. Cf. Johnson, Frontier Camp Meeting, 3, 208-228, 234-236, 240, 243-244. Cf. Evers, History of the Southern Illinois Conference, 24-25. Cf. Melton, From Log Cabins to Steeples, 115.

[2]Charles A. Parker, “The Camp Meeting on the Frontier and the Methodist

Religious Resort in the East: Before 1900,” Methodist History 18 (April 1980): 179-192. For an example, see The Lakeside Association, History of Lakeside, History.aspx (accessed June 18, 2007). Cf. Johnson, Frontier Camp Meeting, 245-247. Cf. Melton, Log Cabins to Steeples, 119.

[3]Ferguson, Organizing to Beat the Devil, 145.

[4]Jeffrey K. Hadden and Anson Shupe, Televangelism: Power & Politics On God’s Frontier (Reading, Massachusetts: Addison-Wesley, 1981), powerpolitics/C6.html (accessed May 1, 2007), 102. Cf. Rodney Stark, The Victory of Reason: How Christianity Led to Freedom, Capitalism, and Western Success (New York: Random House, 2006), 206-210.

[5]Russell E. Richey, “From Quarterly to Camp Meeting: A Reconsideration of Early American Methodism,” Methodist History 23, no. 1 (July 1985): 205, 203-213.

Series Navigation<< Prairie DNA continues to focus on events as the method to bring people into the church building to hear the gospel.Asbury called camp meetings “fishing with a large net.” >>
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