Thursday, April 14, 2011

Census reflections

For research the best source is a primary source. Everything else is secondary, in more ways than one. Now with the benefit of technology, the 1851 Census of Religious Worship is online. It is a primary source for the attendance figures on Census Sunday of the various denominational groupings in the England at that time.

It shows that over half a million people (511,193 to be precise) attended Primitive Methodist places of worship on that day. This includes people who attended multiple services.

The other Christian groups with larger attendance were

  • Church of England 5.2 million (5,202,551)

  • Independents 1.2 million (1,214,059)

  • Particular Baptists 740 thousand (740,732)

  • Wesley Original Connexion 1.5million (1,544,528)

What is remarkable is that the Primitive Methodists began with 10 formal members in 1810. Now just over forty years later they were the fifth largest denominational group in England.

The motto of the Primitive Methodists was “What hath God wrought!” Certainly this was a significant movement of God that grew rapidly.

Here is the Census extract



Other 1851 Census References


1. Every convert: one criminal, one drunkard, one improvident, less


2. Raising an army


3. Movements that Change the World


4. 1851 Census of Religious worship

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Changing the world, one life at a time

The 1851 Census makes the following observation about the effectiveness of the Primitive Methodists amongst the working classes:
“The community whose operations penetrate deeply through the lower sections of the people is the body called the Primitive Methodists; whose trespasses against what may thought a proper order will most likely be forgiven when it is remembered that perhaps their rough, unformal energy (sic) is best adapted to the class to which it is addressed, and that, at all events, for every convert added to their ranks, society retains one criminal, one drunkard, one improvident, less.” (An improvident is one who is careless, reckless or negligent)

A typical convert was someone whose life was characterised by drunken violence, cursing and swearing, fighting, gambling and reckless living. A prime example is that of one of the founders of the movement, William Clowes. The Primitive Methodists were a loud and noisy group, who saw lives, families and communities changed through the power of the gospel of Jesus Christ. They ministered to the poor, rough and tough members of the community.


How much we need a movement like this in our society today.

Here is the quote in context



Other 1851 Census References
1. Every convert: one criminal, one drunkard, one improvident, less
2. Raising an army
3. Movements that Change the World
4. 1851 Census of Religious worship

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Secrets of success

We all like to read success stories. How did they do it? How did the Primitive Methodists begin a church planting movement that spread throughout every county in England in just a few decades?

One of the answers is they used lay people. The 1851 Census makes the following observation:
At present, the grand employers of lay agency, amongst Dissenters, are the Methodists, who, in the aggregate, possess as many as 20,000 preachers and class leaders not belonging to the ministerial order. Nothing, probably, has more contributed than this to their success amongst the working population. (1851 Census of Religious Worship, page 100).


The Methodists, both Wesleyan and Primitive were skilled in raising up lay preachers and class leaders. The Primitive Methodists in particular, were a lay controlled movement. They understood the power and benefit of identifying and using lay people in ministry.

When Hugh Bourne died in 1852, he had an army of local preachers, class leaders and Sunday School teachers who carried on the work of ministry. Such a large body of lay leaders helps prevent the “cork in the bottle” problem, where a movement is limited by the scarcity of full time, professionally trained ministers.

In his book, Movements that Change the World, Steve Addison identifies rapid mobilisation as one of the essential keys for expanding church planting movements. An army of lay leaders enables rapid expansion.

Here is the actual Census quotation in context


Other 1851 Census References


1. Every convert: one criminal, one drunkard, one improvident, less
2. Raising an army
3. Movements that Change the World
4. 1851 Census of Religious worship