Amish church growth (think children)

Amish children playing baseballA few weeks ago I wrote about an increase in coverage of the “diverse Amish” lifestyles and found it curious that there had been a great deal of minor news articles on various legal conflicts the communities were having with the governments around them. An answer to my curiosity arrived in the form of an Associated Press article on the fact that the Amish have nearly doubled their population in about 16 years.

The article bases a lot of its facts on an upcoming book by a leading Amish expert from Elizabethtown College Professor Donald Kraybill. The book found that the states of Missouri, Minnesota and Kentucky have had Amish populations jump by more than 130 percent and now number 227,000 across the country. New Amish communities have been planted in about 28 states and a lot of this movement is due to their desire to acquire inexpensive farmland.

The article is a bit short on the theological aspects of the Amish (or Anabaptist) faith, but the description of the group is pleasantly descriptive, neutral in tone and accurate:

Also known as Anabaptists, most Amish reject modern conveniences and rely on horse-drawn carriages. They began arriving in eastern Pennsylvania around 1730. Along with English, they speak a German dialect called Pennsylvania Dutch or Pennsylvania German.

Amish couples typically have five or more children. With more than four out of every five deciding in young adulthood to remain within the church, their population has grown steadily. More than half the population is under 21.

A small portion of the increase is also due to conversions to the faith.

The Amish are attracted to areas with relatively cheap farms, a rural lifestyle and nonfarming jobs such as construction or cabinet making that fit their values and allow them to remain independent. In some cases, they have migrated to resolve leadership problems or escape church-related disputes.

More could be said of course on the issue of church-related disputes, but that is probably a subject for another in-depth article on that particular subject. Note the typical size of Amish families and the high rate of decisions to remain in the church: what goes unsaid is that one does not become Amish until the point of baptism. Baptisms do not happen until the person is older (think 18 or 19) and understands exactly what they are committing themselves too. (Thankfully the article doesn’t attempt to blame global warming on large Amish families. Horse and buggy communities don’t emit many fossil fuels)

The article notes the conflicts that arise when the Amish move into areas, but the article also notes the benefits of having Amish in a community.

Journalists in communities with an influx or new community of Amish should look to this article and this book (when it comes out) when reporting on the issues. I suspect that the book provides an excellent resource for reporters looking at these issues.

Photo of Amish children playing baseball used under a Wikimedia Commons license.

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  • Karen

    I live in Kentucky, and many of us have lived close to Amish and Mennonite communities for a long time. I was familiar with the conflict over vehicles and road use. What the future in-depth article needs to mention is a community that uses homes as churches can declare most of all of their shared property to be tax-exempt; this alters the common income in an area, because some settlements are large. I don’t know the extent to which that’s done, though. Another potential source of conflict is refusal of child vaccination; it’s important to note that vaccine refusal isn’t uniform in the old-order communities. I would look forward to reading an additional article on this topic.

  • Matt

    Saying that Amish are “also known as Anabaptists” is rather like saying that Catholics are “also known as Christians”. There are a number of other groups within the Anabaptist tradition. The Mennonites, in particular, are the predominant Anabaptist denomination, far outnumbering the Amish.

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  • Craig

    I highly doubt that Amish receive a property tax exemption for their homes/farms, etc. for using them as worship centers. I also don’t know that they have any “shared” property any differently than the “English” do. They own their own homes, businesses, and farms–unlike the Hutterites, who hold all property in common.

    I’d also think that rejection of vaccination is far more common in the organic/back to the land/environmentalist movement than in the Amish.

  • Julana

    It’s my understanding that the Amish generally don’t vote, except (in some cases) on local issues, as part of their commitment to separation between church and state.

  • Corban

    “Thankfully the article doesn’t attempt to blame global warming on large Amish families. Horse and buggy communities don’t emit many fossil fuels”

    You never heard of equine flatulence? Don’t you know the New Zealand Government’s contribution to fighting AGW was a proposal to tax dairy farmers. It was called the Cow Fart Tax.

  • Corban

    #6: I got wind of this news from this site, which is broken here:

  • John

    It’s hard to read anything about the Amish, unfortunately, and not think of this article on the incest crimes tolerated in their communities. My father, who owns a farm in the Lehigh Valley and who has worked with draft horses there, tells me Pennsylvanians sell their horses in private auctions to keep the Amish out. Why? They abuse their horses so badly with overwork and poor food.

    My assumption has always been that all the “Gentle People” are saints. No doubt most of them are closer to God than I have reason to hope I will ever be and I don’t want to suggest the men are all daughter, sister, granddaughter, wife, and animal abusers. Articles about their population growth, however, might include stories about more troubling aspects of their beliefs and practices than their thoughts on immunizations and effect on tax bases.

  • John L. Hoh, Jr.

    Well, that certainly explains the explosion of Amish-related articles in the Wall Street Journal and the local Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. This reminds me of a mentor in Mauston, editor of the Wisconsin Reminder, a weekly shopper I wrote a column in, which was distributed in an area with a heavy Amish influence. One column he featured the joke, “What goes clip-clop, clip-clop, clip-clop, BANG, clip-clop, clip-clop, clip-clop?” The answer was an Amish drive-by shooting, which is ridiculous when you think of it in relation to Amish beliefs and practices. He was criticized by one writer the following week–and again some months later when someone ran an Amish buggy off the road (ironically, he claimed the Amish was trying to run him off the road).

    A concern I have is, do the reporters actually verify these people wearing funny, drab clothes who eschew cars, electricity, phones, radios, etc., are in fact Amish? There are also Mennonites, German Brethren,and other small groups with similar beliefs and practices.

    There was an article I read recently about the expanding Amish presence, how they move for cheaper farmland and to expand (because of their growth), and the conflict with local governments unfamiliar with the Amish ways and insisting codes be followed. The courts are now just beginning to sort out the First Amendment issues.