Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
March 15, 1956

"Fastest Growing Church In America"


The bus was crowded, and the people getting on it were tired. It was Sunday night, January 1, (or, rather, 3:00 o'clock Monday morning, January 2). I had driven all the way from Gladewater, Texas, to Nashville, Tennessee, and was catching this bus enroute to Indianapolis to the Porter-Woods debate. Only one seat was left when I boarded the bus, so I took it. The girl in the other section of the double seat was already fast asleep before the bus ever left the station. We rode in silence through the darkness of early morning, until daylight began to break across the farm-lands of central Kentucky. The girl stirred in her sleep, opened her eyes half-way, and when she caught my glance, smiled and said a cheery "Good morning." We began to talk.

She lived in Pennsylvania, and was enroute home after a holiday visit in Nashville, her former home. Her father was a preacher in the Church of the Nazarene. She had attended Trevacca College during the time the family had resided in Nashville. She was enthusiastic in her attachment to the Nazarene Church, and not at all averse to talking about it. She was very careful in answering my questions to make it plain that the Church of the Nazarene should not be confused with the wild, fanaticism of the "snake-handlers" and "tongue-speakers."

"People often confuse us with the Pentecostal Holiness groups and others of those sects who go in for miraculous healings, tongue-speakings, and all that sort of thing," she said. "Actually, we are simply the conservative element of the old-time Methodist Church — quite respectable, really!"

We passed Bowling Green, stopped for breakfast at a nice bus center in the rich, rolling countryside, and resumed our journey.

"You know, we have something like a million members now," she said, "and for a number of years the United States Census reports have shown that we are the fastest growing religious body in America. We have missionaries in nearly all the foreign countries, we have our own national radio broadcast (it's called 'Showers of Blessings'), and we have about six or eight colleges."

"Do you have an official religious journal?" I asked, being particularly interested in that.

"Oh, yes," she replied. "It is published in Kansas City and is called 'The Herald of Holiness.' It has one of the biggest circulations of any religious paper in the nation. Nearly all our churches take it in bundles, besides the regular subscribers who receive it individually."

We talked and talked. Mostly, I listened, simply interposing a question now and then to keep her going. I asked specifically concerning the things I had heard about the Nazarene Church — their refusal to let their women wear lipstick or rouge ("well, yes, but only the older members still held to that; the younger girls use it"). I remarked that she was wearing both lipstick and rouge. Yes, she said, but she would remove it before she got home. Her daddy didn't like for her to use it; and, particularly, since she was the preacher's daughter, and played the organ for church services, it wouldn't look right for her to use it. Dancing? Well, some of the younger set do; some don't. The old folks frown on it as evil. Divorce and remarriage? Just about like other churches. Some preachers refuse to marry any divorced person (her daddy was one such); but other preachers did perform their ceremonies.

We were approaching Louisville. It had been a pleasant trip, robbed of its usual boredom by the lively chatter of an intelligent teen-ager (she said she was seventeen; but didn't look it). At Louisville our paths separated, she was going on to Cincinnati, I was stopping over in Louisville until the next afternoon.

As the girl talked about her church, eager, enthusiastic, and wholly "denominational," I almost felt like I was in conversation with a member of the Church of Christ. How often I've heard some member of Christ's body identify the church to a stranger by, "We're just like the Christian Church, only more conservative!" And that bit of nonsense about "the fastest growing religious organization in America!"

Now just where have I heard that expression before?

And the enthusiastic pride in "our colleges," "our missionaries," "our national radio broadcast," "our orphan homes" (they have four, she said, also one home for delinquent boys and one old folks home and one old preachers' home), "our big churches," etc. One in Oklahoma City and one in Chattanooga have a sort of "friendly rivalry" to see which can have the biggest Sunday School attendance in the whole denomination. The one in Oklahoma City is in the lead right now, but Chattanooga is pressing them hard for that lead!

Yes, I really felt like I was talking to a member of the church.

— F. Y. T.