Toward a History of the Future of Mennonite Church USA

Jason B. Kauffman

In 1975, the Gospel Herald published a series of articles focused on the church of the future. Over the course of several issues, editor Daniel Hertzler invited authors to offer suggestions on “models for the next quarter century” in relation to the institutional church, the family, economics, and education.[1] The point of the series, Hertzler explained, was not to predict the future or to prescribe an exact formula that the church should follow. Instead, Hertzler hoped the articles could “suggest patterns of response to the issues that are likely to face us.” He believed that a proactive approach would help the church to choose models that “honor[ed] the lordship of Christ” instead of simply being “swept along by the late-twentieth century tide.”[2]

Hertzler commissioned this series of articles in the midst of a historical moment in which the charismatic movement was gaining increasing attention and influence in Mennonite circles.[3] The movement itself was diverse in its origins and expression, but key tenets included the central role of the Holy Spirit in the life and mission of the church and the practice of New Testament spiritual gifts. With its emphasis on renewal and church revitalization, the charismatic movement was a forward-looking project. While it was not widely adopted by Mennonites in North America, the movement did help, in part, to spur Mennonites to think more about the future.

This particular moment of self-reckoning and its impulse towards renewal was just one in a long line of such moments in the history of Anabaptism. Another came 100 years ago in 1919 when the Young People’s Conference compiled a list of priorities they hoped would guide the “church of the future.” In the 1980s, both the Mennonite Church and the General Conference Mennonite Church adopted statements calling the broader church to renew corporate commitments and set goals for the future.[4] More recently, MC USA’s Future Church Summit gathered Mennonites in Orlando to identify the renewed commitments that will guide the denomination on its Journey Forward in the coming decades.[5]

Such periods of introspection and looking to the future exercise an important function in the life of the church. They help us to take stock of where we have come from and to chart a course for where we want to go. As John W. Miller put it in 1975, “By thinking about the future we can become more intentional about the present. We can decide whether or not we want that future that we see taking shape on the horizon.”[6] This was the main goal of the Future Church Summit and, at this summer’s convention in Kansas City (July 2-6), delegates will hear how multiple Mennonite communities are seeking to journey forward in their own contexts.

I would add that any efforts to chart a course for the future should pay close attention to the voices of young people. After all, these people will lead the Mennonite community forward in the coming decades and the decisions we make today will affect them the most. We are entering a phase in our history when MC USA will need to make decisions about how the denomination, its agencies, and related ministries can best serve a rapidly changing church. Young people should have multiple opportunities to speak into this process. The move to include youth as full delegates at convention this summer is a step in the right direction.

The Mennonite Church USA Archives is also planning a pilot, oral history project at convention that seeks to document and preserve the voices of young people that are part of MC USA. A few weeks ago, we sent invitations to all people who registered for convention between the ages of 20-40 and, so far, the response has been much greater than we anticipated. We are currently working to find extra team members who will help to conduct interviews with as many participants as possible. At this point, we anticipate that all interviews will take place at convention.

We realize that the interviews we gather will not represent the voices of all young people who identify as Mennonite, and that is not our goal. Instead, our goal is to record the voices of young people who have chosen to participate in this gathering of the broader church. Due to the nature of convention, these are most likely to be pastors, congregational delegates, youth group sponsors, and employees of church agencies and institutions: some of the people most likely to shape the direction of the broader church in the future. We believe the project provides a unique opportunity to learn about the lives and experiences of the diverse, young voices that make up our denomination. We hope that the project will capture a historical snapshot, documenting the hopes, challenges, and dreams of the church of the future.


[1] The articles appeared between August 19 and September 30, 1975. Authors included Ann and Paul Gingrich (church), David Schroeder (family), Henry Rempel (economics), and Dean R. Chamberlain (education). Digital copies of all issues are available online at the Digital Mennonite Periodicals website at: https://archive.org/details/gospelherald197568hert_0/page/n95 (accessed 5-16-2019).

[2] Daniel Hertzler, “Some Models for the Future,” Gospel Herald 68:35 (9 September 1975), p. 644.

[3] By 1975, Mennonite Renewal Services emerged as an organization to represent the interests of charismatic Mennonites and in 1977, the (old) Mennonite Church adopted an official statement in response to the charismatic movement entitled, “The Holy Spirit in the Life of the Church.”

[4] The Mennonite Church statement was entitled, “Vision ’95,” and the General Conference statement was entitled “A Call to Kingdom Commitments.”

[5] At the global level, Mennonite World Conference’s Renewal 2027 events are designed to commemorate the 500th anniversary of the beginning of the Anabaptism and, among other goals, “to renew and deepen our understanding of Christian faithfulness as shaped by the Anabaptist movement.” See the GAMEO article on Renewal 2027 at: https://gameo.org/index.php?title=Renewal_2027 (accessed 5-16-2019)

[6] John W. Miller, “The Mennonite Church in 2025?” Gospel Herald 68:32 (19 August 1975), p. 573.

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