Our History

The Wesleyan Church is a Protestant, evangelical, holiness denomination with a rich heritage.

We have seen it as our special mission to emphasize the message of "full salvation from all sin." We teach that a victorious Christian life is possible for all believers through the experience of both forgiveness of sins and the filling of the Holy Spirit in our lives.

Where We Came From

The name "Wesleyan" is in honor of John Wesley, a priest in the Church of England who was the inspiration and founder of the Methodist movement. It was their disciplined routine (or method) of spiritual devotion that earned Wesley and a few of his friends in ministry the nickname "Methodists" beginning in 1735. The name stuck later to the unique new organizational structure Wesley designed to provide prayer and spiritual care for tens of thousands of converts who found Christ through their work.

Wesley was an outstanding Oxford scholar, yet regarded himself as "a man of one book," the Bible. It was while studying the Bible that he received assurance of his own salvation through faith. It was the Bible which motivated his vision for offering Christ to the common people of England in a way that led to that nation's greatest spiritual revival. It was biblical truth that inspired Wesley to develop a school for orphans, job programs and medical assistance for the poor, efforts to reform inhumane prisons, and arguments for the abolition of slavery, a great evil of his time.

Confidence in the Bible as "the only and sufficient rule for Christian faith and practice" (to use Wesley's own words) is still a hallmark of The Wesleyan Church today.

Although we respect his example, John Wesley is not the person Wesleyans worship. "A Methodist," he said, "is . . . one who loves the Lord his God with all his heart, with all his soul, with all his mind, and with all his strength." In fact, "perfect love" for God and for other people is the priority goal for Christian disciples emphasized in our churches.

The first Methodists came to America in 1766 and organized the Methodist Episcopal Church in 1784. In 1843 a group of pastors and local churches left that denomination because of their strong antislavery convictions and their preference for a more democratic form of church government. They adopted the name of the Wesleyan Methodist Connection, later changed to The Wesleyan Methodist Church in America. A number of smaller groups of churches merged with them over time, especially between 1948 and 1966, including the Alliance of Reformed Baptists of Canada.

During the late 1800s, a widespread emphasis on the teaching of holiness swept across various denominations in America. This resulted in the formation of holiness unions (groups of people interested in encouraging this teaching in their own denominations), rescue missions, camp meeting associations, and new congregations. Mergers among many of these groups from 1882 on eventually resulted in the organization of the Pilgrim Holiness Church in 1922.

In 1968 The Wesleyan Church was created when The Wesleyan Methodist Church in America and the Pilgrim Holiness Church united in order to serve Christ more effectively together. As part of its historic past, The Wesleyan Church celebrates the involvement of its early leaders in the first ordination of women for Christian ministry in 1853. It was also the first denomination ever to adopt a formal statement of faith in "entire sanctification," God's work of making believers pure in heart, holy in character, and empowered with the Spirit of Jesus for witness and service.

The Wesleyan Church Today

Around the world Wesleyan churches and missions are now found in about 90 nations. In 2013, worldwide Sunday morning worship attendance averaged 470,000 persons in 4,577 congregations. Worldwide total membership was 370,000. There were more than 1,700 local churches in the United States and Canada, with 144,000 members and an average of 227,000 in Sunday morning services.

Five colleges and universities belong to the denomination in the United States and Canada: Houghton College (New York), Indiana Wesleyan University (Indiana), Southern Wesleyan University (South Carolina), Oklahoma Wesleyan University (Oklahoma), and Kingswood University (New Brunswick, Canada).

In addition to worship services and Sunday schools, many local churches provide other unique programs to reach children, youth, and adults with dynamic spiritual formation opportunities. They also seek to reach their communities and the world with the hope and holiness of Jesus Christ.

Learn more about us.