Camp Meetings

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Camp meetings were a type of open-air revival meeting that became popular in America in the first years of the 19th century. The origin cannot be stated exactly but evangelistic meetings in Virginia and North Carolina, well before 1800, attracted such large crowds that they had to be held outdoors. In Kentucky and Tennessee these became occasions for protracted outdoor services. Perhaps the best-known early camp meeting was that at Cane Ridge, Kentucky, in 1801, where over 20,000 people gathered. Visitors brought their own provisions and slept in covered wagons or put up tents. Stands were erected for four or five preachers to speak at once. At night the grounds were lighted by camp fires and the exhortation, weeping, praying, and singing continued. Physical manifestations as falling, laughing, and the "jerks" were common. Camp meetings were used by all the larger churches on the frontier —Methodists, Presbyterians, Baptists, but they were much criticized and largely dropped by the latter two. Among the Methodists the camp meeting became an institution and enabled them to reach large numbers of unchurched people. The more spectacular features disappeared as frontier conditions changed, and by the latter half of the century regular grounds were maintained with assembly halls, cottages, and educational features in the program. The Methodist campground at Chautauqua, New York, became, in fact, an educational institution after 1874 and gave rise to the Chautauqua movement. The campgrounds were located in groves of trees or on lakesides.

Most Mennonites reacted against emotional revivals including camp meetings; but they were accepted by the Mennonite Brethren in Christ (United Missionary Church) 1875 and following, and continued to be held annually in every conference district of that group for many years. Youth camps, summer conferences, and the summer retreats common among many Mennonite groups were modified forms of the old camp meeting.


Clark, Elmer. The Small Sects in America. Rev. ed. Nashville, 1949.

Johnson, C. A. "The Frontier Camp Meeting." Ph.D. dissertation, Northwestern University, 1950.

Sweet, W. W. Revivalism in America. New York, 1944.

Author(s) S. F Pannabecker
Date Published 1953

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Pannabecker, S. F. "Camp Meetings." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. 1953. Web. 5 Feb 2023.

APA style

Pannabecker, S. F. (1953). Camp Meetings. Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 5 February 2023, from


Adapted by permission of Herald Press, Harrisonburg, Virginia, from Mennonite Encyclopedia, Vol. 1, p. 499. All rights reserved.

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