Christian Missionary Societies Are Founded

The evangelical effects of the First Great Awakening and its revival in the Second Great Awakeing of the 1790’s were widely felt in the establishment of organizations committed to the “conversion of the heathen,” most notably the Baptist Missionary Society, the London Missionary Society, and the Church Missionary Society.

Summary of Event

Protestantism was relatively late in its involvement in the missionary movement. Throughout the seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries, continental Europe was still engaged in religious wars and the solidifying of religious positions. The Thirty Years’ War had established the position of cuius regio eius religio
Cuius regio eius religio (whoever rules sets the religion), which led to an attitude of contentment with the status quo. Among Calvinists, the belief in predestination led many to reject the need for evangelism. On the other hand, the rationalist movements of the eighteenth century led to growing secularism. [kw]Christian Missionary Societies Are Founded (Oct. 2, 1792-Apr. 12, 1799)
[kw]Founded, Christian Missionary Societies Are (Oct. 2, 1792-Apr. 12, 1799)
[kw]Societies Are Founded, Christian Missionary (Oct. 2, 1792-Apr. 12, 1799)
[kw]Missionary Societies Are Founded, Christian (Oct. 2, 1792-Apr. 12, 1799)
Missionary societies
Christian missionary societies
Missionaries, Christian
Protestantism;missionary movement
[g]England;Oct. 2, 1792-Apr. 12, 1799: Christian Missionary Societies Are Founded[3050]
[g]India;Oct. 2, 1792-Apr. 12, 1799: Christian Missionary Societies Are Founded[3050]
[c]Religion and theology;Oct. 2, 1792-Apr. 12, 1799: Christian Missionary Societies Are Founded[3050]
[c]Organizations and institutions;Oct. 2, 1792-Apr. 12, 1799: Christian Missionary Societies Are Founded[3050]
Carey, William
Fuller, Andrew
Wilberforce, William
Scott, Thomas
Venn, John

The Counter-Reformation Counter-Reformation[Counter Reformation] , however, led the Catholic Church to a renewed interest in missions, especially among the Franciscans, Dominicans, and Jesuits. In 1622, Pope Gregory XV established the Congregation of the Propagation of the Faith. Congregation of the Propagation of the Faith Since Spain and Portugal led the way in global exploration, they found success in India, Japan, China, and the Americas already in the seventeenth century.

In the second half of the eighteenth century, the population explosion in the Protestant countries of northern Europe served as an impetus to move outward. This was soon facilitated by the invention of the steam engine, Steam engines which increased the speed of travel, yet, for a time, there remained reluctance to engage in mission activity by trade organizations, especially in England. The official policy of the British East India Company British East India Company was not to disturb the local population, lest such a disturbance jeopardize the commercial venture. The trading companies did take chaplains along but mainly to support the European traders.

The missionary societies were a natural outgrowth of the Pietism movement Pietism led by Philipp Jacob Spener Spener, Philipp Jacob at Halle in Germany. His goal was not to create a new, competing church but a movement within the established Church of like-minded individuals in groups for mutual edification and fellowship, with a focus on personal conversion and holiness. The influence of Pietism spread through Europe. In England, the Society for the Propagation of Christian Knowledge Society for the Propagation of Christian Knowledge (England) (SPCK) was formed in 1698 and the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel three years later.

When the king of Denmark took control of the Danish settlement of Tranquebar on the southeast coast of India, India;missionary activity he turned to Spener’s successor, August Francke, Francke, August to train the first missionaries at Halle. Francke selected Bartholomew Ziegenbalg Ziegenbalg, Bartholomew and Henry Plütschau, Plütschau, Henry sent in 1705 as the first Protestant missionaries to India. Their success in a missionary approach that included education, Bible translation, and local leadership development provided a model for future missionaries. Just as important, they developed a communications network with interested persons back home. This included annual missionary letters and furlough visits. As a result, lay people in London, members of the SPCK, were able to participate, purchasing the printing press for the first Bible translation Bible translation in India. By 1728, this Anglican society had taken over responsibility for the Tranquebar mission. This was the seed that developed into the missionary society movement at the end of the eighteenth century.

When the missionary efforts of Ziegenbalg and Plütschau spread from the small Danish territory in India to British-dominated soil, English clergy and lay people sought to be involved in the missionary effort. There were also changing attitudes among Protestants in England, partly due to the influence of Jonathan Edwards Edwards, Jonathan and the Great Awakening Great Awakening, First of New England. Edwards believed that this movement was a sign that the last days of history were upon the Church, an era that would be marked by the spread of the Gospel throughout the world. This led to new evangelical fervor and openness among a number of Calvinist Baptists, Baptist Church;First Great Awakening among them ministers John Ryland, Ryland, John John Sutcliff, Sutcliff, John and Andrew Fuller. Fuller, Andrew When they were joined by William Carey, Carey, William a young shoemaker who had recently become a minister, their local gatherings began to debate the propriety of missions.

On October 2, 1792, meeting in the back parlor of a private home in Kettering, Northampton, England, the Baptist Missionary Society Baptist Missionary Society was founded with Andrew Fuller as its first secretary. As its first missionary, the society sent William Carey to Bengali in 1793. He had impressed the society with his message, “Expect great things from God and attempt great things for God.” The society sought to expand its base through contributions from congregations throughout England. By 1799, four additional missionaries were sent to Serampore, a small Danish colony near Calcutta, to join Carey in a successful missionary enterprise.

Among the English there were still obstacles to mission work. Carey and his colleagues had not been allowed to sail on British ships, and they continued to feel the harassment of the British East India Company. This seemed to fire their enthusiasm for mission all the more. In 1795, a group of Congregationalists, Anglicans, Presbyterians, and Methodists joined together to establish the London Missionary Society. London Missionary Society A year later, they sent their first group of twenty-nine missionaries to Tahiti Tahiti;missionary activity and other Pacific islands. As a united effort, they agreed to a basic principle that no form of denominationalism was to be preached by their members. The emphasis was on the development of a local leadership that would make all decisions about church governance.

Others chose a denominational focus: The establishment of the Methodist Mission Society (1796), the Glasgow Presbyterian Missionary Society (1796), and the Scottish Missionary Society (1796) soon followed. Within the Anglican Church, Anglican Church;missionaries the impetus for missionary activity was closely intertwined with social action. The nucleus for this group lived in a wealthy suburb of London called Clapham, already active in the movement for the abolition of slavery. Among them were Granville Sharp, Sharp, Granville who had been responsible for the founding of Sierra Leone for freed slaves, and William Wilberforce, who led the abolition movement in Parliament. On April 12, 1799, a group of sixteen clergy and nine laymen, with the rector of Clapham, John Venn, as chair, met at an inn on Aldersgate Street in London to organize the Church Missionary Society Church Missionary Society to begin missionary work in Africa—their original name had been the Society for Missions in Africa and the East. With the well-known biblical scholar Thomas Scott Scott, Thomas serving as the society secretary for the next two decades, the society became the most effective arm for missions in the Anglican Church, expanding into numerous countries and becoming a leader in biblical translation.


The organization of mission societies in the 1790’s bore fruit in the following century, characterized by church historian Kenneth Scott Lautourette as “The Great Century.” Numerous other societies sprang up. In England, these included the British and Foreign Bible Society in 1804 and the London Society for Promoting Christianity Among the Jews in 1809. The American churches followed suit with the American (Congregationalist) Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions in 1810 and the American Baptist Missionary Board in 1814. On the continent of Europe, these developments were paralleled by the founding of the Basel Mission in 1815, the Berlin Society in 1824, and societies in Denmark (1821), France (1822), Sweden (1835), and Norway (1842).

While the early missionary efforts included education and biblical translation, the primary focus had been on evangelism. Evangelism The focus of the missionary societies soon broadened, however, into a more holistic approach that included medical missions and economic development. This is not surprising, since many of those active in the initial organization of the mission societies were involved also in social reforms, especially in the movement to abolish Abolition movement;missionaries slavery.

Already in 1810, Carey had proposed a general missionary conference at the Cape of Good Hope in Africa. Although his “pleasing dream” did not materialize, it did demonstrate a new global outlook for Protestantism. The initial work of these mission societies in India, the Pacific islands, and coastal countries of Africa would soon be expanded to include China, Japan, Korea, Indonesia, New Guinea, Latin America, and the interior of Africa.

Further Reading

  • Hiney, Tim. On the Missionary Trail: A Journey Through Polynesia, Asia, and Africa with the London Mission Society. New York: Grove Press, 2001. This book traces the work of several early nineteenth century missionaries rather than presenting the founding of the organization.
  • Latourette, Kenneth Scott. A History of Christianity. San Francisco, Calif.: Harper, 1953. Still considered a classic. Latourette presents the history of the church with a special focus on expansion through mission.
  • Murray, Jocelyn. Proclaim the Good News: A Short History of the Church Missionary Society. London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1985. A popular history of nearly two hundred years of mission activity within the Anglican Church.
  • Neill, Stephen. A History of Christian Missions. 2d ed. Harmondsworth, England: Penguin Books, 1994. Originally published in 1964, this remains the standard work on the history of the missionary movement.
  • Stanley, Brian. The History of the Baptist Missionary Society, 1792-1972. Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 1992. Written on the two hundredth anniversary of the founding of this society. Chapters concerning mission activities in various countries are interspersed with a running survey of the work of the society at home.
  • Ward, Kevin, and Brian Stanley, eds. The Church Mission Society and World Christianity, 1799-1999. Grand Rapids, Mich.: W. B. Eerdmans, 2000. Written to commemorate the two hundredth anniversary of the founding of the Anglican Church Mission Society. Not replicating the thorough history written one hundred years earlier by Eugene Stock, this is a collection of essays concerning various aspects of the society’s work.

First Great Awakening

Rise of the California Missions

African American Baptist Church Is Founded

Episcopal Church Is Established

Second Great Awakening

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