The Christian Endeavor Collection
By: Robert Danielson
This April, the B. L. Fisher Library Archives and Special Collections will welcome the donation of the Christian Endeavor Collection with an official opening. This collection of material from both the International Christian Endeavor and the World Christian Endeavor organizations will make Asbury Theological Seminary an international center for research on this important historic movement, which was pivotal to the development of Youth Ministry within the Church.
The Young People’s Society o f Christian Endeavor was formed in Portland, Maine at Williston Congregational Church on February 2, 1881. It began as a small effort by the pastor, Rev. Francis E. Clark to involve more young people in his congregation. At this time, there existed Sunday Schools for young children and regular Bible Studies and worship services for adults, but nothing was in place for young people who did not fall neatly into either category. As a result, many young people were leaving the church.
Rev. Clark formed this first Christian Endeavor Society in the parlor of the parsonage, where young people signed a pledge to be active participants “for Christ and the Church.” They formed and ran their own committees and everyone was required to be involved in their worship activities beyond simply singing hymns. By giving the youth more responsibility and empowering them to live Christian lives in their society, the modern Youth Ministry Movement was born.
Christian Endeavor, as the Young People’s Society of Christian Endeavor, soon became called, was the first Christian youth fellowship and became the forerunner for modern day youth ministry. Rev. Francis E. Clark became recognized as the “Father of Youth Ministry.” The society grew rapidly and soon spread to all of the states of the United States and many other countries as well. It remained interdenominational, was interracial, and worked to include youth from all of the Protestant denominations. By the year 1906 there were over four million members of Christian Endeavor around the world in over 67,000 societies.
Because of size and global distribution, the organization broke into two separate groups. The International Christian Endeavor consisted of societies in the United States and Canada, while the World Christian Endeavor was made up of other societies around the globe. From early on, Christian Endeavor was strong in the churches of China, India, Britain, and Germany, as well as many other nations.
In the United States, Christian Endeavor was an influential movement, especially involved in the Temperance Movement. In its heyday it was a huge political and social force in the United States. Religious leaders of many denominations, as well as political leaders, including presidents of the United States, attended its annual and then biannual conventions. In the period following World War One, its numbers began to decline, in part as denominations founded their own youth fellowships in competition. Both the International Society of Christian Endeavor, headquartered in Michigan (now called Endeavor: http://endeavormovement.com/) and the World Christian Endeavor Society, headquartered in Germany, still exist and operate their ministries.
The B. L. Fisher Library Archives and Special Collections are excited about this large collection and its potential for research on the global Church as well as the historical importance of this movement for understanding Youth Ministry. We would love to hear from any alumni involved in Christian Endeavor and about their memories of how this movement impacted their lives!
Grace Yoder, Archivist, B.L. Fisher Library