A Brief History of the Camp Meeting Movement
The Origins of Camp Meeting in America
The first camp meeting began in Logan County, Kentucky, in 1799. These meetings developed to supply spiritual needs that were not being widely met by local churches. Large open tabernacles, or arbors, covered the preachers and worshipers during the services, while tents or wooden cabins housed the attendees during the encampment.
Trees often served as the architecture of early camp meetings, with candles and pine-knot torches lighting the evening services and campfires illuminating the worship area. Typical encampments were laid out in a square with tents forming the perimeters. The interior was filled with parallel log benches with a preacher’s platform in the center. Camp patrons brought their own tents, servants, and cows for the duration of the 10—14 day meeting. Camp meetings would often attract crowds of 10,000 people at a time. By 1820, there were almost one thousand camps in America.
Peter Cartwright was converted in one of these very early camp meetings, and he went on to become one of the most famous of the camp meeting preachers of his day. The movement spread so rapidly that by 1805 Francis Asbury called the summertime meetings “Methodism’s harvest time,” and encouraged the Methodists to have six hundred camp meetings by 1810.
Camp Meetings & The Holiness Movement
In the mid 1860’s, some camp meetings began to be held purely for the promotion of Scriptural holiness. Under the leadership of Rev. John S. Inskip and others, “The National Camp Meeting Association for the Promotion of Christian Holiness” was organized in 1867.
These highly successful camp meetings served as the springboard that brought many of the present-day holiness denominations into existence. This same movement inspired some of the important holiness educational institutions, such as Asbury College and Asbury Theological Seminary.
Many of the great holiness camp meetings of today, including Indian Springs, were organized in the latter part of the nineteenth century through the inspiration provided by the National Camp Meeting Association. Various holiness associations still exist today as support to many camp meetings across the country.
See New Georgia Encyclopedia: Camp Meeting Grounds for an excellent history of camp meetings in Georgia.
(These notes are adapted from material originally prepared by Dr. Martin Hotle, Executive Director of the Christian Holiness Partners, and from The New Georgia Encyclopedia.