It is an gross oversimplification, however, to say that Methodism on the American frontier went “where the people were.”

This entry is part 54 of 118 in the series Diagnosis, Dialogue, Decision: A DMin Project

It is an gross oversimplification, however, to say that Methodism on the American frontier went “where the people were.”[1] Early Methodism, according to Lovett Weems, “seemed more at home in rural settings” and was more successful there.[2] Asbury developed “a distinct rural orientation adept at expanding into thinly populated areas.”[3] Asbury and his contemporaries deliberately chose to plant churches in isolated rural settings, avoiding even the developing towns as “alien to Methodist values and ‘famous for wickedness.’”[4] Eighteen of twenty Methodist chapels in the Delmarva peninsula of Delaware in 1784 were in the countryside.[5] The Western Christian Advocate in 1843 notes that in the Midwest, “the towns were almost universally avoided by our preachers as places of too much dissipation for the Gospel to obtain a foothold.”[6] Asbury did not go where the people were or would be; Asbury went where there was no competition to holiness from outside influences.[7]





[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]Weems, Leadership In The Wesleyan Spirit, 21-22.

[2]Ibid., 23.

[3]Nathan Hatch, quoted by Weems, Leadership In The Wesleyan Spirit, 22.

[4]Weems, Leadership In The Wesleyan Spirit, 24.

[5]Ibid. For a broader description, cf. William H. Williams, “The Attraction of Methodism: The Delmarva Peninsula as a Case Study, 1769-1820″ in Russell E. Richey, Kenneth E. Rowe, and Jean Miller Schmidt, eds., Perspectives On American Methodism: Interpretive Essays (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1993), 31-45.

[6]Weems, Leadership In The Wesleyan Spirit, 24.

[7]Roger W. Stump, “Regional Migration and Religious Commitment in the United States,” Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion 23, no. 3 (September 1984): 292-304. Stump’s experimental results favor the “adaptation model’s prediction that religious commitment rises among migrants to regions of higher native commitment, such as the South, and fails among migrants to regions of lower commitment.” Asbury’s placement of churches in isolated settings, therefore, creates a high expectation environment which will have a higher evangelistic influence on those living nearby; placing churches in town would give the majority of “sinners” a greater influence over a minority of Methodists. Asbury did not need to locate churches in towns to draw a crowd, be visible or have an influence due to the camp meeting’s ability to draw a crowd during the nineteenth century.

Series Navigation<< Asbury called camp meetings “fishing with a large net.”As Methodists formed churches, the old timers in the class meeting experienced power struggles with the shift to resident clergy. >>
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