Christianity Knowledge Base

The Mennonites are a group of Christian Anabaptist 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.

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 are indistinguishable in dress and appearance from the general population. With a few notable exceptions, Mennonite experience in Europe and North America has been, and continues to be, predominately rural. The largest population of Mennonites is in Africa, but Mennonites can also be found in tight-knit communities in at least 51 countries on six continents or scattered amongst the populace of those countries.

Mennonites have an international distinction among Christian denominations in disaster relief and place a strong theological emphasis on voluntary service. Mennonite Disaster Service, based in North America, provides both immediate and long-term responses to hurricanes, floods, and other disasters. Mennonite Central Committee provides disaster relief around the world alongside their long-term international development programs. Other programs offer a variety of relief efforts and services throughout the world.

In the last few decades Mennonites have also become more actively involved with peace and social justice issues, helping to found Christian Peacemaker Teams and Mennonite Conciliation Service.



Ulrich Zwingli

Ulrich Zwingli

From before the Middle Ages to the early fifteenth 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[]

Main article: Radical Reformation

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 led by Lachlan Tripp, a militaristic Anabaptist, 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 attempt 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 the use of force for any reason and were therefore unwilling to fight for their lives. These pacifist branches often survived by seeking refuge in neutral cities or nations, such as Strasbourg. Their safety, however, was often tenuous, as a shift in alliances or an invasion could mean resumed persecution. 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.

Menno Simons[]

Menno Simons

Menno Simons

Main article: Menno Simons

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 because of 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 upset the powerful state churches, princes would renege on exemptions for military service, 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.

One example was Elizabeth I, the ruling Queen of England. 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 America. The Pilgrims' exposure to the Dutch Mennonite congregation probably influenced some of their teachings, including the freedom of each branch to regulate itself. However, 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 influence to other religious teachings. This included the Baptists' 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[]


Mennonite churches blended into city architecture to avoid scrutiny. Doopsgezinde Gemeente, Amsterdam.

While Mennonites in Colonial America were enjoying a large degree of religious freedom, their counterparts in Europe were in 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 begin again. Because the land still needed to be tended, the ruler would not drive out the Mennonites 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 could not 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 their dress and their buildings were plain. Even the music at church, which was usually simple German chorales, was performed a cappella. This style of music serves as a reminder to many Mennonites of their simplistic lives, as well as their history as a persecuted people. Some branches of Mennonites have retained this "plain" lifestyle into modern times.

Jacob Amman and the Amish[]

Main article: Amish

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, Anabaptists 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 Prussia 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 inside and outside the Mennonite faith occurred. Many of the 'modern' churches descended from those groups that abandoned traditional Mennonite practices. Today, the groups that have held to the traditional interpretations of Mennonite doctrine are increasing at a more rapid rate than those groups that have rejected these standards. However, the moderate denominations are still by far the largest and continue to grow at a steady rate.

These historical schisms have had an influence on creating the distinct Mennonite denominations that exist today. Such divisions continue to go on today as one group claims its version of the Mennonite faith and splits from the parent denomination or church, sometimes using mild or severe shunning to show its disapproval of other Mennonite groups. One recent and widely reported example of this is the expulsion of the progressive Germantown Mennonite Church in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, from the Franconia Conference and later the Mennonite Church USA conference for welcoming homosexuals as church members.

Russian Mennonites[]

Main article: Russian Mennonites

Catherine the Great of Russia, who in 1768 acquired a great deal of land north of the Black Sea (in the present-day Ukraine) 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. Over the years the Mennonite farmers were very successful. By the beginning of the 20th century they owned large agricultural estates and were even successful as industrial entrepreneurs in the cities. After the Russian Revolution of 1917 and the Russian Civil War (1917-1922) all of these farms (whose owners were called Kulaks) and enterprises were expropriated. This led to a wave of Russian Mennonite emigration to the Americas (U.S., Canada and Paraguay). When the Germans invaded the Soviet Union in the summer of 1941, many in the Mennonite community saw them as liberators from the communist regime under which they had suffered. When the tide of war turned, many of the Mennonites fled with the German army back to Germany where they were accepted as "Volksdeutsche". After the war the remainder of the Mennonite community emigrated or, (because, as the Soviets saw it, they had "collectively collaborated" with the Germans) was forcefully relocated to Siberia and Kazakhstan, and some were sent to the gulags. In the 1990s the Russian government gave these people the opportunity to emigrate.

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 sympathetic audience among the larger of these Dutch-Mennonite congregations around Krefeld, Altona-Hamburg, Gronau and Emden. 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 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.

In the eighteenth century, 100,000 Germans from the Palatinate, collectively known as the Pennsylvania Dutch, immigrated to Pennsylvania. Of these, around 2,500 were Mennonites and 500 Amish. 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 Pennsylvania Germans in three ways: their opposition to the American 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.


Mennonite Church logo

The Swiss-German Mennonites that migrated to North America in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries settled first in Pennsylvania, then across the Midwestern states (initially Ohio, Indiana, and Kansas) are the root to the former Mennonite Church denomination (MC), colloquially called the "Old Mennonite Church". This denomination had offices in Elkhart, Indiana, and was the most populous Mennonite denomination before merging with the General Conference Mennonite Church (GCMC) in 2002.

General Conference Mennonite Church[]


General Conference Mennonite Church logo

Main article: General Conference Mennonite Church

The General Conference Mennonite Church was an association of Mennonite congregations based in North America beginning in 1860. The conference was formed in 1860 when congregations in Iowa invited North American Mennonites to join together in order 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 thousands 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. It became the second largest Mennonite denomination with 64,431 members in 410 congregations in Canada, the United States and South America in the 1990s. After decades of increasingly closer cooperation with the Mennonite Church, the two groups voted to merge in 1995 and completed reorganization 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. Initially the men worked on road building, forestry and firefighting projects. After May 1943, as a labor shortage developed within the nation, men were shifted into agriculture, education and industry. The 10,700 Canadian objectors were mostly Mennonites (63%) and Doukhobors (20%).


Mennonite conscientious objector Harry Lantz distributes rat poison for typhus control in Gulfport, Mississippi.

In the United States, Civilian Public Service (CPS) provided an alternative to military service during World War II. From 1941 to 1947, 4,665 Mennonites, Amish and Brethren in Christ 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.

The CPS men served without wages and minimal support from the federal government. The cost of maintaining the CPS camps and providing for the needs of the men was the responsibility of their congregations and families. Mennonite Central Committee coordinated the operation of the Mennonite camps. CPS men served longer than regular draftees, not being released until well past the end of the war. Initially skeptical of the program, government agencies learned to appreciate the men's service and requested more workers from the program. CPS made significant contributions to forest fire prevention, erosion and flood control, medical science and reform of the mental health system.


Some regional conferences (the Mennonite counterpart to dioceses of other denominations) of the Mennonite Church have acted to expel member congregations that have openly welcomed non-celibate homosexuals as members. This expulsion of some Mennonite churches has been and continues to be controversial in the broader denomination, particularly in the context of some U.S. Mennonite congregations that welcome active servicemen or women of the military as members when participation in violence, war, or the military is equally proscribed by Mennonite faith and practice.

Some of these expelled congregations were dual affiliated with the Mennonite Church and the General Conference Mennonite Church, the latter which did not act to expel the same congregations. When these two Mennonite denominations formally completed their merger in 2002 to become the new Mennonite Church USA and Mennonite Church Canada denominations, it was still not clear, in all cases, whether or not the congregations that were expelled from one denomination, yet included in the other, are considered to be "inside" or "outside" of the new merged denomination. Also, some Mennonite conferences have chosen to maintain such "disciplined" congregations as "associate" or "affiliate" congregations in the conferences rather than to expel such congregations. In virtually every case, a dialogue continues between the disciplined congregations and the denomination as well as their current or former conferences.

The Mennonite church in the Netherlands (Doopsgezinde Kerk) was the first Dutch church to have a female pastor (1911), her name was Anna Zernike. About one century later over 40% of all Doopsgezinde Kerk pastors are female.

The Doopsgezinde Kerk was in the 1970s also the first to accept homosexual pastors (whether male or female). In 2001, when homosexual marriage was introduced in the Netherlands, the Doopsgezinde Kerk with the Remonstrantse Kerk was the first to solemnize homosexual marriages.


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.

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

  • Believer's baptism
  • The Ban (excommunication)
  • Breaking of bread (Communion)
  • Separation from and shunning of the abomination (the Roman Catholic Church and other "worldly" groups and practices)
  • Pastors in the church
  • Renunciation of the sword (nonviolence and pacifism)
  • Renunciation of the oath (swearing as proof of truth)

The Dordrecht Confession of Faith was adopted on April 21, 1632, by Dutch Mennonites, by Alsatian Mennonites in 1660, and by North American Mennonites in 1725. There is no official 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.

Worship, doctrine, and tradition[]

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[]

Main article: Reformed Mennonite

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 members, and dress in very conservative plain garb that preserves eighteenth 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 excommunicated. They stay separate from other Mennonite groups because of 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 transportation 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 Mennonite-operated 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 because 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 brethren with whom they parted ways in the early 1900's. Although this group began using cars in 1927, the cars 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[]

Main article: Stauffer Mennonite

Stauffer or Pike Mennonites represent the first and most conservative form of Horse and Buggy Mennonites. They were founded in 1845, following conflicts about how to discipline child and spousal abuse by a few Mennonite church members. They almost immediately began to split into separate churches themselves. Today these groups are among the most conservative of all Swiss Mennonites outside the Amish. They stress strict separation from "the world", adhere to "strict withdrawal from and shunning of apostate and separated members", forbid and limit cars and technology, and wear 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.


Conservative Mennonites are generally considered those Mennonites who maintain somewhat conservative dress as well as regulations on television and radio, although accepting most other technology. They are not a unified group and are divided into various independent conferences such as the Eastern Pennsylvania Mennonite Church conference. Despite the rapid changes that precipitated the Old Order schisms in the last quarter of the nineteenth century, most Mennonites in the United States and Canada retained a core of traditional beliefs and 'Plain' practices into the beginning of the twentieth century. However, intense struggles in the United States and Canada between conservative and progressive leaders began in the first half of the twentieth 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 1960'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. Other Conservative Mennonite groups descend from the former Amish-Mennonite churches, who split from the Old Order Amish in the latter part of the 19th century. There are also other Conservative Mennonite churches that descend from more recent groups that have left the Amish.


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' to the world (Matt 5:13,14). The main elements of Menno Simons doctrine are retained, but in a moderated form. Banning is rarely 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 acceptable.

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.



In 2003, there were 1,297,716 Mennonites in 65 countries. Africa had the highest number of Mennonites with 451,959 members, closely followed by North America with 451,180 members. The third largest concentration of Mennonites was in the Asia/Pacific region with 208,155 members, while the fourth largest region was the South/Central America and Caribbean region with 133,150 members. Europe, the birthplace of Mennonites, had 53,272 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[]

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 is a host of separate churches along with a myriad 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. Worship, church discipline and lifestyles vary widely between progressive, moderate, conservative, Old Order and orthodox Mennonites in a vast panoply 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
  8. Church of God in Christ, Mennonite 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 U.S.

The remaining 20 or so other smaller independent Churches, and Conferences numbering only a few churches and a few hundred members. Finally, there are 100 or more small independent churches with one or a few congregations numbering from as high as 2,000 members to as low as a 40 members.

The Mennonite World Conference is a global community of 95 Mennonite and Brethren 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 and old order 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 are Mennonite congregations in the states of Chihuahua, Zacatecas, Campeche and Durango. Many of these northern Mexican Mennonites emigrated from western Canada in the 1920s.

See also[]

  • Anabaptism
  • Amish
  • Hutterites
  • Mennonite Central Committee
  • John Howard Yoder
  • Schleitheim Confession
  • Simple living


  • 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 1-56148-101-7
  • 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)
  • 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.
  • Donald B. Kraybill and James P. Hurd. Horse-and-Buggy Mennonites: Hoofbeats of Humility in a Postmodern World. Penn State University Press, 2006.

External links[]

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