Stages of Country Church Evolution

16-year-old Helena Muffly wrote exactly 100 years ago today: 

Sunday, February 4, 1912: Didn’t want to miss Sunday School this morning, but all the same I did. It was too snowy to walk, and that was my only way of locomotion, so I staid at home. It was so stale this afternoon.

The old McEwensville Baptist Church probably was located somewhere on the lot that contains this yard and house.

Her middle-aged granddaughter’s comments 100 years later:

Wow, the weather must have been really bad. I believe this is the first (or possibly the second) time that Grandma’s missed Sunday School since she began the diary 14 months ago.

Some weeks Grandma was the only pupil in her class—but she always went the following week. Other diary entries noted that she was trying to memorize more than 700 Bible verses in the expectation of eventually getting a free Bible. (One week she memorized 27 verses!!)

It amazes even more that a teen like Grandma was so dedicated to attending Sunday School when I think that the church she attended was on its last legs. Grandma never mentioned the church by name. There were three churches in McEwensville a hundred years ago, but I believe that she attended the McEwensville Baptist Church—which closed a few years after she wrote the diary.

I recently found an article in an old magazine published by the YMCA called Rural Manhood that identified the four stages of Country Church evolution.

Stages of Country Church Evolution

1. The period of pioneer struggle and weakness, through which practically all churches have had to pass.

2. The period of growth and prosperity, sharing the growth of the community; or lacking this growth, a period of marking time under the burden of a building debt.

3. The third stage, in which I presume a majority of country churches are now found, is the period of struggle against rural depletion, and for many of them it is a noble struggle.

4. The ultimate stage of this evolution is the survival of the fittest, an inevitable and a desirable result of the struggle.

The Country Church (Rural Manhood, January 1912)

Using this taxonomy the McEwensville Baptist Church failed to successfully navigate Stage 3. I’m amazed how a hundred years ago Darwinian “survival of the fittest” language provided a lens through which to examine churches.

3 thoughts on “Stages of Country Church Evolution

  1. So interesting. I have been reading my Great Grandmother’s journals from around that same time period. Church seemed to be very important to her too, a major highlight of the week. She lived in rural Ontario, Canada. I’ve written a few posts about it – you can see my genealogy category if you’re curious.

    1. We are both so fortunate to have journals or diaries from that time period. Our ancestors words can provide such a wonderful window into their lives.

      I visited your site and really enjoyed it. I especially like how you used old family artifacts totell stories and create art.

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