A new Ohio State University study of Amish communities in the United States and Ontario, Canada, shows explosive growth taking place in the insular Christian sect. On average, a new Amish community is founded every three and a half weeks.
The Amish do not proselytize, so the growth comes from having a lot of children and few members leaving their community.
"They're doubling their population about every 21 to 22 years, primarily because they produce large families and the vast majority of daughters and sons remain in the community as adults baptized into the faith, starting their own families and sustaining their religious beliefs and practices," said Joseph Donnermeyer, professor of rural sociology in Ohio State's School of Environment and Natural Resources, who led the census project.
The census estimates that there are 251,000 Amish in the United States and Ontario, Canada. They are dispersed among 456 settlements, up from 179 settlements in a 1990 census.
The Amish are a branch of the Anabaptist movement that began during the Protestant Reformation in the 16th century. They are best known for traveling via horse and buggy, their distinctive traditional clothing and not using modern conveniences, such as electricity.
Amish churches meet in their homes. Since there is no centralized church structure, collecting data on the number of Amish was a challenge for the researchers. They relied upon settlement directories provided by the Heritage Historical Library and produced estimates based upon demographic data. They also used Amish publications in Sugarcreek, Ohio; Bart, Pa., and Millersburg, Pa.
The Amish are currently in 29 states. They are mostly in the Midwest, but Amish communities can also be found in Florida and Texas. Ohio has the most Amish, with 60,233, closely followed by Pennsylvania, with 59,078.
At the current rate of growth, the census researchers believe that the Amish population will exceed 1 million dispersed across over 1,000 settlements by 2050. This growth will bring significant economic, cultural, social and religious changes to the communities where they reside.
The researchers predict that the Amish will buy land vacated by farmers, but there will not be enough farmland for all future Amish to become farmers. So, they expect to see more Amish making a living in businesses such as woodworking and construction, which could help their local economies.
Since the Amish do not seek media attention, their communities are often little known or understood outside of the rural areas where they reside. In October 2006, though, an Amish community in Lancaster, Pa., suffered the loss of 10 at a schoolhouse shooting. In a guest column in The Christian Post, the late Chuck Colson described how the Amish demonstrated the love of Christ in the aftermath of the tragedy.
"The Amish have given us a powerful demonstration of the truth of the Biblical worldview and, indeed, of the Light of the world," Colson wrote.