From Free net encyclopedia

The Mennonites are a group of Christian Anabaptist (Re-baptizers) denominations named after and influenced by the teachings and tradition of Menno Simons (1496-1561). As one of the historic peace churches, Mennonites are committed to non-violence, non-resistance and pacifism (or refusal to go to war).

There are about 1.3 million Mennonites worldwide as of 2006. Mennonite congregations worldwide embody the full scope of Mennonite practice from old fashioned 'plain' people to those who appear no different in dress from other people. The largest population of Mennonites is in the United States but Mennonites congregrate in tight-knit communities in at least 51 countries on six continents as well.

Mennonites are prominent among denominations in disaster relief, often being the first to arrive with aid after hurricanes, floods and other disasters. In the last few decades they have also become more actively involved with peace and social justice issues, helping to found Christian Peacemaker Teams, Mennonite Conciliation Service, and the Mennonite Central Committee.




Image:Ulrich Zwingli.jpg From before the Middle Ages to the early 15th century, most Christianity in Western Europe was known alternately as the Universal or Catholic Church, headed by the Pope. Every Christian infant born in Europe was baptized. The Catholic Church was of paramount importance to the daily life of the average person. Church services were conducted in Latin, which was the ecclesiastical language of the time. Because many common people were illiterate, the Church endeavored to instruct its members in the Christian faith by means of artwork in Church buildings: statues, paintings, and stained glass windows.

When the printing press was invented around 1455, the Bible was one of the first books printed and mass-produced with movable type. Although illiteracy was still widespread, more people could now read the Bible and interpret it for themselves, a factor leading to the Protestant Reformation in Europe. Key reformers Martin Luther and Ulrich Zwingli broke with the Catholic Church, each forming a new state church.

Radical Reformation and the Anabaptists

Some of the followers of Zwingli's Reformed church felt that requiring church membership beginning at birth was inconsistent with the New Testament example. They felt that the church should be completely removed from government (the proto-free church tradition), and that people should join only once they were willing to publicly acknowledge that they believed in Jesus and wanted to live as he commanded. At a small meeting on January 21, 1525, Conrad Grebel, Felix Manz, and George Blaurock, along with twelve others, baptized each other. This meeting marks the beginning of the Anabaptist movement. In the spirit of the times, many radical groups followed, preaching any number of ideas about hierarchy, the state, eschatology, and sexual license, running from utter abandon to extreme chastity. These movements are together referred to as the Radical Reformation.

Many government and religious leaders, both Protestant and Roman Catholic, considered voluntary church membership to be dangerous. Often further concerned by reports of the Münster Rebellion, which was lead by a militaristic group of Anabaptists, they joined forces to fight the movement. Laws were passed, and many people were persecuted, robbed of everything they had, driven from their homes and countries, and martyred. Modern-day Mennonites, in addition to the Amish and Hutterites, are the direct descendants of the Radical Reformation Anabaptists - many do not consider themselves to be Protestants (nor Roman Catholic), but rather a separate (radical) Reformation.

Despite the best efforts of the state churches, the movement spread slowly around Europe, primarily along the Rhine. Many of the earliest Anabaptist leaders were killed in an effort to purge Europe of the new sect. By 1530, most of the founding leaders had been killed for refusing to renounce their beliefs. Many believed that God did not condone killing or use of force for any reason, and so were unwilling to fight for their lives. Other groups of Anabaptists, such as the Batenburgers, were eventually destroyed by their very willingness to fight. This played a large part in the evolution of Anabaptist theology. At the same time, the branches that refused to engage the stronger enemy of the state churches survived, yet continued to be persecuted, robbed of their possessions and forcefully moved.

Menno Simons

Image:Menno Simons.jpg Template:Main In the early days of the Anabaptist movement, Menno Simons, a Catholic priest in the Netherlands, heard of the movement and started to rethink his Catholic faith. He questioned the doctrine of transubstantiation, but was reluctant to leave the Roman Catholic Church. His thinking was influenced by the death of his brother, who, as a member of an Anabaptist group, was killed when he and his companions were attacked and refused to defend themselves. In 1536, at the age of 40, Simons left the Roman Catholic Church. Soon thereafter he became a leader within the Anabaptist movement. He would become a hunted man with a price on his head for the rest of his life. His name became associated with scattered groups of nonviolent Anabaptists he helped to organize and consolidate.

Fragmentation and variation

During the sixteenth century, the Mennonites and other Anabaptists were relentlessly persecuted. By the seventeenth century, some of them joined the state church in Switzerland, and persuaded the authorities to relent in their attacks. The Mennonites outside the state church were divided on whether to remain in communion with their brothers within the state church, and this led to a split. Those against remaining in communion with them became known as the Amish, after their founder Jacob Amman. Those who remained in communion with them retained the name Mennonite. This period of persecution has had a significant impact on Mennonite identity. Martyrs Mirror, published in 1660, documents much of the persecution of Anabaptists and their predecessors. Today, the book is still the most important book besides the Bible for many Mennonites and Amish, in particular for the Swiss-South German branch of Mennonitism.

Other disagreements over the years have led to other splits; sometimes the reasons were theological, sometimes practical, sometimes geographical. For instance, near the beginning of the twentieth century, there were some members in the Amish church who wanted to begin having Sunday Schools and evangelize. Unable to persuade the rest of the Amish, they separated and formed the Conservative Mennonite Conference. Mennonites in Canada and other countries typically have independent denominations due to the practical considerations of distance and, in some cases, language.

Persecution, Welcoming Monarchs, and Early America

The first recorded account of this group is in a written order by Countess Anne, who ruled a small province in central Europe. The presence of some small groups of violent Anabaptists was causing political and religious turmoil in her state, so she decreed that all Anabaptists were to be driven from her state. The order made an exception though, for the non-violent branch known at that time as the Menists. This order set the precedent that was to be repeated many times throughout history, where a political ruler would allow the Menists or Mennonites into his/her state because they were honest, hardworking and peaceful. However, inevitably, their presence would ruffle the feathers of the powerful state churches, or a new monarch would take power, and the Mennonites would once again be forced to flee for their lives, usually leaving everything but their families behind. Often, another monarch in another state would grant them welcome, at least for a while.

An example was the ruling Queen of England, Elizabeth I. There, in a small village in Britain, a group of Dutch Anabaptists made the acquaintance of a congregation led by John Smythe, who would later lead his Pilgrims to the Netherlands and then to the America. The Pilgrims' exposure to the Dutch Mennonite congregation probably influenced some of their teachings, including the freedom of each branch to regulate itself; although the Pilgrims, known today as the Congregational Church, kept their practice of infant baptism despite the Mennonites' belief that baptism should take place only once the person had the capacity and willingness to accept Jesus as their Lord and savior. In addition to the Mennonites' impact on the first American Pilgrims, religious historians have traced their impact to other religious teachings. This included the Baptist's emphasis of adult baptism upon confession of faith, and the Religious Society of Friends' (Quakers) strong stance against war. The dissemination of Anabaptist beliefs helped build the religious freedom that is enjoyed in America today.

The Netherlands: Origins of Community and Simplicity

While Mennonites in colonial America were enjoying a large degree of religious freedom, their counterparts in Europe were in largely the same situation they always had been. Their well-being still depended on a ruling monarch, who would often extend an invitation only when there was poor soil that no one else could farm. The exception to this rule being in The Netherlands, where the Mennonites enjoyed a relatively high degree of tolerance. The Mennonites would reclaim this land through hard work and good sense, in exchange for exemption from mandatory military service. However, once the land was arable again, this arrangement would often change and the persecution would again set in. Because the land still needed to be tended, the ruler would not drive the Mennonites out, but would actually pass laws to force them to stay, while at the same time severely limiting their freedom. Mennonites had to build their churches facing onto back streets or alleys (which began the habit of meeting in someone's home rather than a formal church), and they were forbidden from announcing the beginning of services with the sound of a bell.

In addition, high taxes were enacted in exchange for both continuing the military service exemption, and to keep the states' best farmers from leaving. In some cases, the entire congregation would give up their belongings to pay the tax to be allowed to leave. If a member or family couldn't afford the tax, it was often paid by others in the group.

A strong emphasis on "community" was developed under these circumstances, and continues to be typical of Mennonite churches. As a result of frequently being required to give up many possessions in order to retain individual freedoms, these Mennonites learned to live very simply. This was reflected both in the home and at church, where not only dress, but the buildings themselves were very plain. Even the music at church, which was usually simple German chorales, were performed a cappella. Some branches of Mennonites have retained this "plain" lifestyle into modern times.

Jacob Amman and the Amish

Template:Main In 1693 Jacob Amman led an effort to reform the Mennonite church: to include social avoidance of baptised members who left the church, to hold communion more often, and other differences. When the discussions fell through, Jacob and his followers split from the Mennonite church. Amman's followers became known as the Amish. The acrimony between the two groups was so severe that they reportedly refused to talk to each other when embarked on opposite sides of the same boats upon emigration from Europe.

Mennonite schisms

Prior to migration to America, Anabaptist in Europe were divided between those of Dutch and Swiss background. However both Dutch and Swiss groups took their name from Menno Simons who led the Dutch group. A trickle of Dutch Mennonites began the migration to America in 1683, followed by a much larger migration of Swiss-related Mennonites beginning in 1707. Two centuries later in the 1870's, significant numbers of Dutch Mennonites who had settled in Poland and then Russia moved to the United States and Canada where they are now known as Russian Mennonites.

After immigration to America, many of the early Mennonites split from the main body of North American Mennonites and formed their own separate and distinct churches, a process that began in 1785 with the formation of the orthodox Reformed Mennonite Church and is ongoing today. Many of these churches were formed as a response to deep disagreements about theology, doctrine, and church discipline as evolution both within and without the Mennonite faith occured. What are now seen by many as the 'modern' churches descended from those groups that abandoned traditional Mennonite practices. Today, however, the groups that have held to the traditional interpretations of Mennonite doctrine are actually increasing at a much more rapid rate than those groups that have rejected these standards.

These historical schisms, caused by deep conflicts inside, and on occasion between Mennonite churches, have had a huge influence on creating the countless number of distinct Mennonite denominations that exist today. Such divisions continue to go on today as one group claims it's version of the 'true' Mennonite faith, splits from, and uses mild or severe shunning to show it's dissaproval of other groups that choose their forms of 'true' Mennonite faith. One recent and widely reported example of this is the progressive Germantown Mennonite Church's expulsion from the Franconia Conference and later the Mennonite Church USA conference for welcoming homosexuals as church members

The Russian Mennonites

Template:Main Catherine the Great of Russia, who acquired a great deal of land north of the Black Sea (in the present-day Ukraine) in 1768 following a war with the Turks, invited those Mennonites living in Prussia to come farm the cold, tough soil of the Russian steppes in exchange for religious freedom and military exemption. The arrangement remained in place for many years during her rule, until she died and the next monarch came to power. The Mennonites that had settled in Russia during that time have come to be known to history as the Russian Mennonites.

Avoiding the worldliness of the outside world remains another important keystone in the foundation of the Mennonite faith. However, as with all groups, worldliness is virtually impossible to keep out. In the Mennonite colonies of Russia, the Mennonites grew financially prosperous, in sharp contrast to the ex-serfs around them. Industrial operations were started and grew. Farms grew large and successful. With prosperity came a certain amount of licentiousness, including reported fondness for alcohol and greed. Although by no means accepted by all, these habits created strife within communities, especially when leadership was unwilling to ask for changes in behaviour. Occasionally, Pietist movements, often influenced by Baptist missionaries from Germany, formed groups opposed to the accepted community ways; one particular group formed was the Mennonite Brethren, who left to form their own colonies. Eventually, after many years of prosperity, the colonies of Russian Mennonites were torn apart by war, famine, disease and finally mass expulsions under the Soviet Union.

The state of Kansas owes its reputation as a wheat-producing state to its early Mennonite settlers. As a result of their time on the Russian steppes under Catherine the Great, they were familiar with a strain of wheat known as winter wheat that was resistant to the cold of the American plains. It was planted in the fall and harvested in the following summer, and was therefore ideally suited to hot, dry Kansas summers. They brought it with them when the railroads were seeking farmers for the land owned on either side of the tracks, and today Kansas is a top producer of wheat in America. Swiss Volhynian Mennonites settled in the Moundridge, Kansas and Pretty Prairie, Kansas areas. The Swiss Mennonite Cultural and Historical Association tells their story. Mennonites of Dutch-Prussian (Low German) descent settled much of South Central Kansas. One of the largest churches with Low German roots is the Alexanderwohl Mennonite Church in Goessel, Kansas.

After 1870 many Russian Mennonites, fearing state influence on their education systems, emigrated to the Plains States of the US and the Western Provinces of Canada. They brought with them many of their institutions and practices, including separate denominations heretofore unseen in North America, like the Mennonite Brethren. The largest group of Russian Mennonites came out of Russia after the bloody strife following the various Russian revolutions and the aftermath of WWI. These people, having lost everything they had known, found their way to settlements in Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, British Columbia and Ontario and in many regions of the United States. Some joined with previous Mennonite groups, while others formed their own. From there, many groups, fearing state persecution and searching for a way to "live quietly on the land," have left to form groups in Paraguay, Belize and Mexico beginning in the 1920s. Old Colony Mennonites went from Mexico and Belize in the early 1970's and to Argentina in 1986. A smaller number of Russian Mennonites emigrated as refugees along with the retreating German army after the failed German campaign of World War II.

Mennonites in North America

Persecution and the search for employment forced Mennonites out of the Netherlands eastward to Germany in the 17th century. As Quaker evangelists moved into Germany they received a sympathetc audience among the larger of these Dutch-Mennonite congregations around Krefeld, Altona-Hamburg, Gronau and Emden.<ref>Smith p.139</ref> It was among this group of Quakers and Mennonites, living under ongoing discrimination, that William Penn solicited settlers for his new colony. The first permanent settlement of Mennonites in the American Colonies consisted of one Mennonite family and twelve Mennonite-Quaker<ref>Smith p.360. Smith uses Mennonite-Quaker to refer to Quakers who were formerly Mennonite and retained distinctive Mennonite beliefs and practices.</ref> families of Dutch extraction who arrived from Krefeld, Germany in 1683 and settled in Germantown, Pennsylvania. Among these early settlers was William Rittenhouse, a lay minister and owner of the first American paper mill. This early group of Mennonites and Mennonite-Quakers wrote the first formal protest against slavery in America. The treatise was addressed to slave-holding Quakers in an effort to persuade them to change their ways.<ref>See A Minute Against Slavery, Addressed to Germantown Monthly Meeting, 1688 for text of the meetings message.</ref>

In the 18th century, 100,000 Germans from the Palatinate, collectively known as the Pennsylvania Dutch, immigrated to Pennsylvania. Of these around 2500 were Mennonites and 500 Amish.<ref>Pannabacker p. 7.</ref> This group settled farther west than the first group, choosing less expensive land in the Lancaster, Pennsylvania area. A member of this second group, Christopher Dock, authored Pedagogy, the first American monograph on education.

During the colonial period Mennonites were distinguished from other Pennslvania Germans in three ways:<ref>Pannabacker p. 12.</ref> their opposition to the Revolutionary War, resistance to public education and disapproval of religious revivalism. Contributions of Mennonites during this period include the idea of separation of church and state and opposition to slavery.

From 1812 to 1860 another wave of immigrants settled farther west in Ohio, Indiana, Illinois and Missouri. These Swiss-German speaking Mennonites, along with Amish, came from Switzerland, and the Alsace-Lorraine area.

General Conference Mennonite Church

Image:Gcmc-logo.gif Template:Main

The General Conference Mennonite Church was an association of Mennonite congregations based in North America from 1860 to 2002. The conference was formed in 1860 by congregations in Iowa seeking to unite with like-minded Mennonites to pursue common goals such as higher education and mission work. The conference was especially attractive to recent Mennonite and Amish immigrants to North America and expanded considerably when thousand of Russian Mennonites arrived in North America starting in the 1870s. Conference offices were located in Winnipeg, Manitoba and North Newton, Kansas. The conference supported a seminary and several colleges. In the 1990s the conference had 64,431 members in 410 congregations in Canada, the United States and South America.<ref>Horsch, p. 16</ref> After decades of increasingly closer cooperation with the Mennonite Church, the two groups reorganized into Mennonite Church Canada in 2000 and Mennonite Church USA in 2002.

World War II

Mennonites in Canada were automatically exempt from any type of service during World War I by provisions of the Order in Council of 1873. During World War II, Mennonite conscientious objectors were given the options of noncombatant military service, serving in the medical or dental corps under military control or working in parks and on roads under civilian supervision. Over 95% chose the latter and were placed in Alternative Service camps.<ref>Gingerich p. 420.</ref> Initially the men worked on road building, forestry and firefighting projects. After May 1943, as the labor shortaged developed within the nation, men were shifted into agriculture, education and industry. The 10,700 Canadian objectors were mostly Mennonites (63%) and Doukhobors (20%).<ref>Krahn, pp. 76-78.</ref>

Image:CPS141ratpoison.jpg In the United States, Civilian Public Service (CPS) provided an alternative to military service during World War II. From 1941 to 1947, 4665 Mennonites, Amish and Brethren in Christ<ref>Gingerich p. 452.</ref> were among nearly 12,000 conscientious objectors who performed work of national importance in 152 CPS camps throughout the United States and Puerto Rico. The draftees worked in areas such as soil conservation, forestry, fire fighting, agriculture, social services and mental health.


Mennonite theology emphasizes the primacy of the teachings of Jesus as recorded in New Testament scripture. They hold in common the ideal of a religious community based on New Testament models and imbued with the spirit of the Sermon on the Mount. Their core beliefs deriving from Anabaptist traditions are:

  • The authority of Scripture and the Holy Spirit.
  • Salvation through conversion by the Spirit of God
  • Believer's baptism understood as threefold: Baptism by the spirit (internal change of heart), baptism by water (public demonstration of witness), and baptism by blood (martyrdom and asceticism or the practice of strict self-denial as a measure of personal and especially spiritual discipline).
  • Discipleship understood as an outward sign of an inward change.
  • Discipline in the church, informed by New Testament teaching, particularly of Jesus (for example Matthew 18:15-18). Some Mennonite churches practice the Ban (shunning).
  • The Lord's Supper understood as a memorial rather than as a sacrament or Christian rite, ideally shared by baptized believers within the unity and discipline of the church.<ref>In connection with the Lord's supper, some Mennonites practice feet washing as continuing outer sign of humility within the church. Feet washing was not originally an Anabaptist practice. Pilgram Marpeck before 1556 included it, and it became widespread in the late 1500s and the 1600s. Today it is practiced by some as a memorial sacrament, in memory of Christ washing the feet of his disciples as recorded in the thirteenth chapter of the Gospel of John.</ref>

One of the earliest expressions of their faith was the Schleitheim Confession, adopted in 1527-02-24. Its seven articles covered:

The Dordrecht Confession of Faith was adopted on 1632-04-21, by Dutch Mennonites, by Alsatian Mennonites in 1660, and by North American Mennonites in 1725. There is no concrete creed or catechism of which acceptance is required by congregations or members. However there are structures and traditions taught as in the Confession of Faith in a Mennonite Perspective of Mennonite Church Canada and Mennonite Church USA.

Types of worship, doctrine, and traditions today

There is a wide scope of worship, doctrine and traditions among Mennonites today. This section shows the main types of Mennonites as seen from North America. It is far from a specific study of all Mennonite classifications worldwide but it does show a somewhat representative sample of the complicated classifications within the Mennonite faith worldwide.

Reformed Mennonites

The little Reformed Mennonite Church, with just 400 members in the United States and Canada, represents the first schism in the original North American Mennonite body. Called the First Keepers of the Old Way by author Stephen Scott, the Reformed Mennonite Church was founded in 1785. Reformed Mennonites see themselves as the only true followers of Menno Simon's teachings, the one-true Christian (and Mennonite) church worldwide, and as the lights upon men (reword). They insist on strict separation from all other forms of worship, use excommunication and social avoidance against former Mennonites, and dress in very conservative plain garb that preserves 18th century Mennonite details. However, they refrain from forcing their Mennonite faith on their children, allow their children to attend public schools, and have permitted the use of automobiles. They are notable for being the church of Milton S. Hershey's mother and famous for the long and bitter Ban of Robert Bear, a Pennsylvania farmer who rebelled against what he saw as dishonesty and disunity in the leadership.

Holdeman Mennonites

Founded from a schism in 1859, the Church of God in Christ, Mennonite church has about 19,000 members worldwide. They are known as Holdeman Mennonites after their founder. They emphasize evangelical conversion, strict church discipline and shunning of the excomunicated. They stay separate from other Mennonite groups due to their emphasis on the one-true church doctrine and their use of strict shunning against their own excommunicated members.

Old Order

There are many distinct groups of what are known today as Old Order Mennonites. Some groups use horse and buggies for transporation and speak German while other drive cars and speak English. What most Old Orders share in common is conservative doctrine, dress, and traditions, common roots in 19th and early 20th century schisms, and a refusal to participate in politics and other so-called 'sins of the world'. Most Old Order groups also school their children in parochial schools (?).

  • Horse and Buggy Old Order Mennonites came from the main series of Old Order schisms that began in 1872 and ended in 1901 as conservative Mennonites fought the radical changes that the influence of 19th century American revivalism had on Mennonite worship. Most Horse and Buggy Old Order Mennonites allow the use of tractors for farming although some groups insist on steel-wheeled tractors to prevent tractors from being used for road transportation. Like the Stauffer or Pike Mennonites, they stress separation from the world, excommunicate and wear plain clothes. Unlike the Stauffer or Pike Mennonites their form of the Ban is less severe as the excommunicant is not shunned, therefore is not excluded from the family table, shunned by a spouse or cutoff from business dealings.
  • Automobile Old Order Mennonites also evolved from the main series of Old Older schisms from 1872-1901. They often share the same meeting houses with, and adhere to almost identical forms of Old Order worship as their Horse and Buggy Old Order brethen with whom they parted ways in the early 1900's. Although this group began using cars in 1927 they were required to be plain and painted black. The largest group of Automobile Old Orders are still known today as 'Black Bumper' Mennonites because some members still paint their chrome bumpers black.

Stauffer Mennonites

Stauffer or Pike Mennonites represent the first and most conservative form of Team Mennonites. They were founded in 1845 following conflicts about how to discipline child and spouse abuse by a few Mennonite church members. They almost immediately began to schism into separate churches themselves. Today these groups are among the most conservative of all Swiss Mennonites outside the Amish. They stress strict separation the 'world', adhere to "strict withdrawal from and shunning of apostate and separated members", forbid and limit cars and technology much like the Amish and wear very plain clothing. They are now considered to be part of the larger less-conservative Horse and Buggy Old Order Mennonite group which formed from later schisms.


Despite the rapid changes that precipitated the Old Order schisms in the last quarter of the 19th century, most Mennonites in the United States and Canada retained a core of traditional beliefs and 'Plain' practices into the beginning of the 20th century. However, intense struggles in the United States and Canada between conservative and progressive leaders began in the first half of the 20th century and continue to some extent today. Following WWII a conservative movement emerged from scattered separatist groups as a reaction to these changes. 'Plain' became passé as open criticisms of traditional beliefs and practices broke out in the 1950's and 60's. The first conservative withdrawals from the progressive group began in the 1950's. These withdrawals continue to the present day in what is now the growing Conservative Movement formed from Mennonite schisms and/or from combinations with progressive Amish groups. Due to the large number and many distinctions between Conservative Mennonite denomations in existence today, space allows just a short study of common themes, sizable groups, and significant distinctions between groups here.


Moderate Mennonites include the largest denominations, the Mennonite Brethren and the Mennonite Church. In most forms of worship and practice they differ very little from other conservative evangelical protestant congregations. There is no special form of dress and no restrictions on use of technology. Worship styles vary greatly between different congregations. There is no formal liturgy; services typically consist of singing, scripture reading, prayer and a sermon. Some churches prefer hymns and choirs; others make use of contemporary Christian music with electronic instruments.

Mennonite congregations are self-supporting, and appoint their own ministers. There is no requirement for ministers to be approved by the denomination, and sometimes minsters from other denominations will be appointed. A small sum, based on membership numbers, is paid to the denomination, which is used to support central functions such as publication of newsletters and interactions with other denominations and other countries.

The distinguishing characteristics of moderate Mennonite churches tend to be ones of emphasis rather than rule. There is an emphasis on peace, on community and service. However members do not live in community - they participate in the general community as 'salt and light'. The main elements of Menno Simons doctrine are retained, but in a moderated form. Banning is hardly ever practiced, and would in any event have much less effect than those denominations where community is more tight-knit. Excommunication can occur, and was notably applied by the Mennonite Brethren to members who joined the military during the Second World War Service in the military is generally not permitted, but service in the legal profession or law enforcement is.

Outreach and help to the wider community at home and abroad is encouraged. Mennonite Central Committee is a leader in foreign aid provision. Ten Thousand Villages acts as a reseller of fair trade goods.


The Germantown Mennonite Church and about 5? other churches who welcome homosexuals and are much more liberal than other Mennonites make up this classification.



In 2003, there were about 1.3 million Mennonites worldwide. Africa had the highest number of Mennonites (about 452,000 members) closely followed by North America with about 451,000 members. The third largest concentration of Mennonites was in the Asia/Pacific region with about 208,000 members while the fourth largest region was the South/Central America and Caribbean region with about 133,000 members. Europe, the birthplace of Mennonites, fell a distant last with about 53,000 members.

Growth and decline

Africa has the highest membership growth rate by far. Growth in Mennonite membership is slow but steady in North America, the Asia/Pacific region, and the South/Central America and Caribbean region. Europe has seen a slow and accelerating decline in Mennonite membership since about 1980.

Some churches in North America have begun profiling potential members and with some success have targeted inner city minorities in their recruitment efforts. Growth in the traditional churches is outpacing growth in the moderate churches.

Organization: worldwide (under construction)

The most basic unit of organization among Mennonites is the church. There are hundreds or thousands of Mennonite churches many of which are separate from all others. Some churches are members of regional or area conferences. Some, but far from all, regional or area conferences are members of larger national or world conferences. Thus, there is no single authorized organization that includes all Mennonite churches worldwide.

Instead, there are a host of separate churches along with a host of separate conferences with no particular responsibility to any other group. Independent churches can contain as few as 50 members or as many as 20,000 members. Similar size differences occur among separate conferences too. Worship, church discipline and lifestyles vary widely between progressive, moderate, conservative, Old Order and orthodox Mennonites in a vast panopoly of distinct, independent, and widely dispersed classifications. For these reasons, no single group of Mennonites anywhere can credibly claim to represent, speak for, or lead all Mennonites worldwide.

A slim majority of Mennonites worldwide belong to large national or world 'Conferences'. The ten largest of these independent groups in descending order are:

  1. Mennonite Brethren (300,000 members on 6 continents worldwide)
  2. Mennonite Church USA with 114,000 members in the United States
  3. Brethren in Christ with 100,000 US and worldwide members
  4. Meserete Kristos Church in Ethiopia (98,000)
  5. Communauté Mennonite au Congo (87,000).
  6. Kanisa La Mennonite Tanzania with 50,000 members in 240 congregations
  7. Mennonite Church Canada with 35,000 members in Canada (seems automomous?)
  8. Church of God in Christ, Mennonite a single church with 16,000? members in 240 US churches and 2000? members in 13 other countries (1995 data)
  9. Beachy Amish Mennonite, a church with 10,000 US members (159 congregrations) plus many international locations.
  10. Conservative Mennonite Conference, 10,000 members in the US (?? others elsewhere, and affilliates?)

The remaining 20? other smaller independent Churches, and Conferences numbering only a few churches and a few hundred members.<ref>Mennonite & Brethren in Christ World Directory 2003</ref> Finally, there are 100? small independent churches with one or a few congregations numbering from as high as 2000 members to as low as a 40? members.

The Mennonite World Conference is a global community of 95 Mennonite and Brethen in Christ Mennonite national Churches from 51 countries on six continents. It exists to "facilitate community between Anabaptist-related churches worldwide, and relate to other Christian world communions and organizations", but it is not a 'governing body' of any kind. It is a voluntary community of faith whose decisions are not binding on member churches. The member churches of Mennonite World Conference include the Mennonite Brethren, the Mennonite Church USA, and the Mennonite Church Canada with a combined total membership of at least 400,000 or about 30% of Mennonites worldwide

Organization: North America

In 2003, there were about 323,000 Mennonites in the United States. About 110,000 were members of Mennonite Church USA churches, while about 26,000 were members of Mennonite Brethren churches. About 30,000 (according to Scott) were members of conservative, ultra-conservative, or orthodox churches. (That leaves about 159,000 Mennonites unaccounted for in other United States' churches)

Total membership in Mennonite Church USA denominations decreased from about 133,000, before the merger in 1998, to about 114,000 after the merger in 2003. The Mennonite Church USA has begun profiling potential members and has been successful at recruiting inner-city minorities into the church in several large cities in the United States. Significant growth in the conservative churches seems to be occurring by itself in the already existing communities.

In Canada, in 2003 there were around 130,000 Mennonites. About 37,000 of those were members of Mennonite Church Canada churches and about another 35,000 of those were members of Mennonite Brethren churches. About 5,000 belonged to conservative Old Order Mennonite churches, or other ultra-conservative and orthodox churches. (That leaves about 55,000 Mennonites unaccounted for in other Canadian churches)

In Mexico, there were about ?? Mennonites in 2003.

See also




  • Gingerich, Melvin (1949), Service for Peace, A History of Mennonite Civilian Public Service, Mennonite Central Committee.
  • Horsch, James E. (Ed.) (1999), Mennonite Directory, Herald Press. ISBN 0-8361-9454-3
  • Krahn, Cornelius, Gingerich, Melvin & Harms, Orlando (Eds.) (1955). The Mennonite Encyclopedia, Volume I, pp. 76-78. Mennoniite Publishing House.
  • Mennonite & Brethren in Christ World Directory 2003. Available On-line at
  • Pannabecker, Samuel Floyd (1975), Open Doors: A History of the General Conference Mennonite Church, Faith and Life Press. ISBN 0-87303-636-0
  • Scott, Stephen (1995), An Introduction to Old Order and Conservative Mennonite Groups, Good Books, ISBN 1561481017
  • Smith, C. Henry (1981), Smith's Story of the Mennonites Fifth Edition, Faith and Life Press. ISBN 0-87303-060-5

Further reading

  • Comparing the One True Churches (Holdeman Mennonite and other non-Mennonite churches from cult exiter sources)
  • CNN:Mennonite Church Expelled for Accepting Gays
  • Espenshade, Linda, Silenced by Shame: Leaders Willing to Lift the Shame and Reconsider, Lancaster (PA) Intelligencer Journal, 7/15/04, (4-part series on domestic violence, child abuse and incest).
  • D'anna, Lynnette, Post-Mennonite Women Congregate to Address Abuse (Winnipeg, Canada), Herizons, 3/1/93.
  • Holmes, Kristin E., Tradition Ends as Mennonites Choose Woman: Election is Radical Change, Buffalo News, Buffalo, NY, Aug 28, 1993. pg. A.5.
  • Sherk, Mary, Pennsylvania Dutch Country? Well, Yes--but It's in Ontario, Boston Globe, Boston, MA: Jul 5, 1992, pg. A5.
  • Laurie, Georing, Land-Poor Indians Unsettle Paraguay's Mennonites, Chicago Tribune, Chicago, IL: Apr 29, 1996. pg.11, 2 pgs.
  • Allen, Eddie B Jr., Mennonites Work to Convert Africans, Americans, Detroit News, Detroit, MI: Mar 13, 992. pg. B3
  • Goldman, Ari L., Mennonites Finding Vitality in Minority Converts, New York Times. (Late Edition (East Coast)), New York, NY: Aug 7 1989. pg. A11
  • Tony Smith, Paraguay Mennonites Find Success a Mixed Blessing, New York Times, 8/10/03, pg. 1.4.
  • K. Connie Kang, Mennonites in Mexico Battle Temptations: The Austere Sect Sought to Escape the World but Worldly Vices--Alcohol, Drugs--Are a Forbidden Fascination Now to Some., Los Angeles Times, 4/30/05, B.2.
  • Arthur, Linda, B., Deviance, Agency, and the Social Control of Women's Bodies in a Mennonite Community, NWSA Journal, v10.n2 (Summer 1998): pp75(25).
  • Toews, Miriam, A Complicated Kindness, Counterpoint, 2004.

External links

cs:Mennonité da:Mennonitter pdc:Mennischt de:Mennoniten es:Menonitas eo:Menoanismo fr:Mennonitisme nl:Mennonieten nds:Mennoniten pl:Mennonici pt:Menonitas ru:Меннонизм