This article was originally published by Mennonite World Review

Broad census counts more Anabaptists

The most inclusive census of Anabaptists in the United States counts 100,000 more members than the 2018 Mennonite World Conference tally.

Customers browse at the Lancaster Mennonite Historical Society’s Bookworm Frolic. The annual open-air event, scheduled for Aug. 14-17 this year, offers more than 40,000 used books. — Lancaster Mennonite Historical Society
Customers browse at the Lancaster Mennonite Historical Society’s Bookworm Frolic. The annual open-air event, scheduled for Aug. 14-17 this year, offers more than 40,000 used books. — Lancaster Mennonite Historical Society

The survey, by the Lancaster (Pa.) Mennonite Historical Society, counts nearly 604,000 members across 67 groups, working with self-reported numbers as well as calculated growth.

Beginning in 2015, MWC broadened its census to count more Anabaptist groups, including Old and New Order Amish, Brethren and Bruderhof communities. The census LMHS created last year is broader still, attempting to include all groups.

The most significant reason for the higher number is the inclusion of six groups not counted by MWC: the Breth­ren Church, Charis Fellowship, Hutterites, Apostolic Christian Church, the Fellowship of Evangelical Churches and German Baptist Brethren.

— Charis Fellowship, formerly known as Grace Brethren, counts 30,000 members across 294 congregations in the U.S.

— The Brethren Church (different from the larger Church of the Breth­ren) accounts for another 9,000 members in 110 congregations.

— Hutterites in the U.S. have 7,122 members in 148 colonies.

— Sometimes referred to as the “New Amish,” the Apostolic Christian Church has 12,000 members spread across 90 congregations.

— The Fellowship of Evangelical Churches — formerly Evangelical Mennonite Church — has 10,000 members in 65 congregations.

— Counted together, the Old German Baptist Brethren and Old Order German Baptists number about 6,300.

“We praise the Lord for knowing there are more Anabaptists than previously thought,” said Carl Garber, an LMHS volunteer who conducted the census by calculating membership or directly contacting the groups.

Amish growth

While the 2018 LMHS count is significantly larger than the 500,481 Anabaptists in the U.S. MWC reported last year, there are still more Anabaptist groups not included by LMHS.

One presumed reason they declined to participate was to follow a biblical injunction in 2 Sam. 24:1-17 against taking a census.

Both the Amish and Brethren in Christ were included by both LMHS and MWC, but have higher numbers in the LMHS census due to recent growth. In the three years since MWC updated its U.S. Amish population total, the number of Amish rose by almost 19,000 members, a growth rate of nearly 15 percent.

The Brethren in Christ (U.S.) also showed an increase of 5,440 members over that same period.

This increase of 24 percent is explained in part by the fact that not all BIC churches reported for the first 2015 MWC count.

“We hope that taking a broad look at the different understandings of living out Anabaptist faith can build a deeper understanding and appreciation of our diverse faith community,” said LMHS director of communications Joel Nofziger.

An average Anabaptist

Census results reveal inconsistency between both how Anabaptists are typically portrayed in the media and how they see themselves.

Mainstream media tend to portray Anabaptism by highlighting tradition-minded interpretations of faith, made especially visible by Plain groups.

Conversely, “innovation-minded” Mennonites like to think of themselves as the majority. Neither of these is true.

Conservative Anabaptist groups, such as the Old Order Mennonites and German Baptist Brethren, make up less than half of the total Anabaptist-originating groups in the U.S. However, neither does Mennonite Church USA’s almost 69,675 total membership — roughly a tenth of the total Anabaptist population — constitute a truly mainline representation.

Statistically speaking, the average Anabaptist person in the U.S. is Amish. If the Amish are treated as a discreet denomination, they are by far the largest single Anabaptist sect in the U.S.

“This should impact how we think about what it means to be an Anabaptist in the United States today,” Nofziger said.

A summary of the census by the Lancaster Mennonite Historical Society can be found in the January issue of Pennsylvania Mennonite Heritage. Full records are maintained in the LMHS archives.

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