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Gemeinschaftsbewegung (movement for fellowship, community), the term used to designate the circles of earnest Christians arising in the Lutheran and Reformed state churches of Germany under the influence of Pietism (P. J. Spener, 1680 ff.) and more particularly the Moravians (from 1727) and T. A. Bengel (1687-1752) of Württemberg. These earlier groups, called "Old-Pietist" (Altpietistische) Gemeinschaften and found mostly in Württemberg and Baden, in 1881 organized an association, the Verband der Altpietistischen Gemeinschaften, with some 630 local circles in 1935. In addition to this group are the less numerous circles of the "Hahn" (named for J. M. Hahn, 1758-1819) Gemeinschaft, which two Baden Mennonite congregations joined in 1858. The Gemeinschaft movement was closely related also to the Inner (Home) Mission movement (J. H. Wichern, 1808-1881), which began ca. 1835, especially in the earlier period. The Protestant Union for Home Missions in Baden (Evangelischer Verein für Innere Mission in Baden), organized in 1848, and its daughter groups in the Palatinate, Hesse, etc., were particularly strongly involved in the Gemeinschaft movement. The St. Chrischona "Pilgermission" group, founded 1841, was also a part of this development. The Altpietistische Gemeinschaft remained formally inside the state church, although maintaining a strong separate fellowship life in the local circles with regular meetings. They had in general a sober, earnest, quiet though intensely devout character.

The modern Gemeinschaft movement in Germany dating from 1875, owes its rise largely to English-American influences such as the Plymouth Brethren of England, and the American Robert Pearsall Smith (d. 1898) and W. E. Boardman (d. 1886), whose influence was mediated in part through Otto Stockmayer, Jellinghaus, Rappard (St. Chrischona), Christlieb, and Elias Schrenk, the great evangelist. This movement was varied in character, but was characterized generally by an aggressive mass evangelism, a holiness emphasis, a millennialistic eschatology, and a Methodistic piety. It was in general more separatistic than the Old Pietists; many new Gemeinschaft circles were now founded and the whole Gemeinschaft movement was greatly enlarged. The new movement, which absorbed or transformed some of the older Old Pietist circles, created an all-over organization in 1888, called the "Gnadauer Verband."

About 1900 a serious division in the movement occurred, in which the Darbyite (Plymouth Brethren) more reactionary, strongly millennialist-dispensationalist and separatistical influences became dominant. This phase of the movement was centered in the Blankenburg Alliance (Blankenburger Allianz), whose annual conferences at Blankenburg, beginning in 1886, were very influential. Ernst Modersohn (b. 1870) and Ernst Stroeter (d. 1922) were strong leaders, Modersohn being the most influential writer of the entire modern Gemeinschaft movement.

A wing of the Gemeinschaft movement, taking a strong anti-state church position, developed circles which withdrew completely from the state church and in effect became nondenominational independent groups of Plymouth Brethren character and connection. The center of this group has been the Bible School (Allianzbibelschule) founded in Berlin in 1905, but located in Wiedenest since 1918, with Joh. Warns and Erich Sauer as prominent leaders.

A related movement which also absorbed some Gemeinschaft groups is that of the Free Evangelical Churches (Freie Evangelische Gemeinden, Eglise Libre) of Germany, Switzerland, and France. It was modeled at first on the Eglise Libre Evangelique of Geneva (founded 1846). The first local church of this group was organized in 1854 in Elberfeld-Barmen, an area which has remained the center in Germany and the seat of the Association (Bund) of the Free Churches. Its Bible School was founded in Vohwinkel in 1912.

The Baptist (since 1834) and Methodist (since 1831) churches of Germany have been similar in character to the Gemeinschaft movement, arid often closely related to it, but in a sense also competitors to it.

The Gemeinschaft movement has undoubtedly been a powerful influence, mostly for good, in Germany, although it has often met opposition from official church circles. It has gathered into local and larger fellowships countless thousands of earnest Christians eager for a deepening of the spiritual life and a more dedicated type of Christianity than the typical state church type has afforded. It has also furnished a large opportunity for lay participation.

The Gemeinschaft movement has characteristics which are similar to the original Anabaptist movement in the 16th century, although some of its features and emphases, in doctrine and piety, are quite un-Anabaptist. It has had considerable influence in the years 1875-1950 upon the Mennonites of South Germany and Switzerland, as well as in South Russia. Numerous Mennonites from these areas attended the conferences in Germany, particularly of the Blankenburg Alliance. Some of the leaders like Stroeter traveled among the Mennonites of Russia and influenced particularly the Mennonite Brethren there and in North America. Jakob Kroeker was an active leader in the Gemeinschaft movement, and mediated its spirit among the Mennonites of Germany, and earlier in Russia. The evangelists of the movement like Elias Schrenk (d. 1913) and Jakob Vetter (d. 1918) (also Pastor Böhmerle) had considerable influence in certain South German and Swiss Mennonite circles. A considerable amount of the revival of spiritual life and activity in these areas has been due to the influence of leaders and literature of the Gemeinschaft movement (writings of Otto Funcke, d. 1910) and the influence of schools which Mennonites have attended, such as St. Chrischona (1840 ff.), Baptisten Seminar in Hamburg-Horn (1881 ff.), Missionsanstalt Neukirchen bei Mors (1882 ff.), Evangelische Predigerschule in Basel (1876 ff.), Allianzbibelschule (Berlin 1905-18, Wiedenest 1918 ff.).

Although the hymnbooks of the German and Russian Mennonites did not adopt many of the Gospel songs of the Gemeinschaft movement, the typical hymnals of the movement, Reichslieder and Siegeslieder, were widely used in certain Swiss, Alsatian, Soutlh German, and Russian Mennonite congregations and families.

The "Conference for Faith" (Glaubenskonferenz) which was sponsored annually by the missionary society "Licht im Osten" of Wernigerode a. H., Germany, under the directorship of Jakob Kroeker, was closely related to the Blankenburg Conference and inspired by the Gemeinschaftsbewegung. One of its major purposes was to promote support for the work of "Licht im Osten."


Crous, Ernst "Mennonitentum und Pietismus (IV: Die Gemeinschaftsbewegung)."Theologische Zeitschrift 8 (1952): 279-296.

Fleisch, Paul Alwin Gottleib. Die moderne Gemeinschaftsbewegung in Deutschland. Leipzig: H. G. Wallmann, 1912.

Hege, Christian and Christian Neff. Mennonitisches Lexikon, 4 vols. Frankfurt & Weierhof: Hege; Karlsruhe: Schneider, 1913-1967: v. II, 65 f.

Author(s) Harold S Bender
Date Published 1956

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Bender, Harold S. "Gemeinschaftsbewegung." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. 1956. Web. 24 Sep 2023.

APA style

Bender, Harold S. (1956). Gemeinschaftsbewegung. Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 24 September 2023, from


Adapted by permission of Herald Press, Harrisonburg, Virginia, from Mennonite Encyclopedia, Vol. 2, pp. 456-457. All rights reserved.

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