A popular song once claimed that the Methodist Church was growing so fast, they were "building two a day." That might be a bit of an exaggeration but the denomination did see explosive growth from the late 1800s 'til the 1950s. Part of the credit goes to a clever idea that predated the famous Sears and Roebuck catalog and certainly Amazon.com. Learn how a church plans catalog changed the American landscape.
If you've ever had a sense of déjà vu after seeing churches in different places, you are not alone.
(Voice of Dale Patterson, United Methodist General Commission on Archives and History): "As you drive through the country you'll see churches and say, 'Gee, that church building looks a whole lot the one in the previous town.' It is."
The secret behind the similarities is this: a catalog of Methodist church plans first published in 1870, decades before the store Sears created its iconic catalog of ready-to-build homes in the U.S.
In response to explosive growth at the turn of the 20th century, the Methodist Episcopal Board of Church Extension published plans created by architect Benjamin D. Price. Historian Dale Patterson describes the innovative concept.
Dale Patterson: "We would actually not only send out the catalog, we would send out slides with the floor plan of the church — say, a floor plan for Plan #18 — and then two slides of churches that had been built according to that plan — one that used wood and one that used brick or stone."
For $2.50, there were plans for a small, wood church costing $300 to $1,000 to build … all the way up to plans for $20,000 churches with brick or stone.
Parsonage plans could also be purchased starting at around $3.
The back pages of the catalog included advertisements from suppliers of bells, furnaces, pews, and stained glass.
And the low cost options helped the church continue construction on a steady stream of new places of worship.
Dale Patterson: "There was at least one Methodist church in every county of the U.S. around 1968. That's easily over 39,000 churches."
So next time you're on a trip, take a closer look at those historic United Methodist churches. Odds are good you'll locate one found in the pages of this unique catalog.
View and download the Methodist Church Plans Catalog with nearly a hundred church plan designs.
The United Methodist General Commission on Archives and History and UMC.org have teamed up to share the life stories of early Methodists and interesting highlights from the history of the denomination.
View and download the Catalogue of Architectural Plans for Churches and Parsonages, 1889.
This video was first posted on January 24, 2018.