The Baptists and Methodists flourished because they mobilized common people to preach the gospel and plant churches wherever there was a need. The Presbyterians, Episcopalians and Congregationalists languished because they were controlled by well-paid clergy who were recruited from the social and financial elite. Early growth was dramatic for the Methodists – from 2.5 percent of the church-going population in 1776 to 34 percent in 1850, with four thousand itinerant preachers, almost eight thousand local preachers and over one million members. This made them by far the largest religious body in the nation. There was only one national institution that was more extensive – the U.S. government. This achievement would have been impossible without the mobilization of ordinary people – white and black, young and old, men and women – and the removal of artificial barriers to their engagement in significant leadership as class leaders, local workers and itinerant preachers. Unfortunately, the Methodist rise was short-lived. Whereas before 1840 the Methodists had virtually no college-educated clergy among their circuit riders and local preachers, their amateur clergy were gradually replaced by seminary-educated professionals who claimed the authority of the church hierarchy over their congregations. Their relative slump began at the same time; by the end of the nineteenth century the Baptists had overtaken them in numbers.
Movements That Change The World