Horseback Evangelism

Greene County Chapel Cemetery, rural Greene County, Indiana

The metal marker affixed to the gravestone shows a minister riding a horse.  The image is an appropriate one, especially for the Methodist clergy.  While many denominations had circuit riding ministers during the settlement of the Frontier, no single church grew at the rate of the Methodist church largely because of the horseback evangelism of the Methodist ministers.  In 1784, only 14,986 people belonged to the Methodist Church but by 1839, over 749,216 people were members.  The number of traveling clergy during that time had grown from 83 circuit preachers or “saddlebag ministers” as they were often called to over 3,500 serving congregants in the far-flung reaches of our new and sprawling country.  The circuit riders rode from village to village and met with people in homes, open fields, country stores, and courthouses, nearly anywhere, so they meet the needs of the people living in remote areas.  The tradition of the travelling clergy as they were officially called by the Methodist Church is gone, but Methodist churches can be found in every corner of the country largely because of the efforts of ministers who were willing to live a lonely life on the back of a horse spreading the Word.

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One Response to Horseback Evangelism

  1. Robb Clouse says:

    Great, informative post! Always learning new things from you. That growth rate from the travelling clergy is impressive (and worrisome in one sense).

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