American Church History:  The 1900s and Beyond

What happened in this century?

  • The most prominent feature of this century was the dizzying variety of different ways to practice, teach, and communicate Christianity.  These result from inventions such as the automobile, the airplane, radio, television, movies, the telephone, and the internet.  Therefore, the following only represents a tiny minority of the vast number of directions which American Christianity took in the 1900s.

Contact Mark Nickens, Ph.D. in Church History, at  Questions, comments, and observations are welcome.


2011 Mark Nickens


Go to Study Church History here.

1901, January 1        A group of students from the Bethel Bible College in Topeka, KS, gathered on December 31 to pray in the new year and to try to understand Acts 2 and speaking in tongues.  After midnight, Agnes Ozmen began speaking in tongues.  Others in the group began to speak in tongues afterwards.  This is the beginning of the Pentecostal Movement.

1906-9        William Seymour held a Pentecostal Revival at the Azusa Street Mission, Los Angeles.  This revival popularized the Pentecostal movement.  To learn more, go here.

early 1900s        In response to the perceived attacks on Christianity (see the list at the end of the 1800s), many denominations began drawing up lists of beliefs which were they believed were unassailable.  For example, in 1910 the General Assembly of the Northern Presbyterian Church published a "Doctrinal Deliverance" which listed five required beliefs: the inerrancy (no mistakes) of the Bible, the virgin birth of Christ, his sacrifice for sins on the cross, his bodily resurrection, and his miracles.

1910        Mother Teresa born.

1910 also        The 1910 World/Edinburgh Missionary Conference held.  Some consider this the beginning of the ecumenical movement.  Representatives from many different denominations gathered to discuss commonalities and purposes.

1910-1915        Publication of The Fundamentals.  This twelve-volume series included articles which defended many of the basic Christian ideas and doctrines which had come under attack.  Three million free copies were sent out.  To learn more, go here.

1914-18        World War II.

1916        Charles Taze Russell died.  He founded the Jehovah's Witnesses.

1918        Billy Graham born.

1920        The word "fundamentalist" is coined.  To learn more, go here.

1922        The Soviet Union formed. It will be the first state whose goals include the elimination of religion.

1925        Scopes "Monkey" Trial.  John Scopes was arrested for teaching evolution in Tennessee, which had a law against teaching evolution in public schools.  At the trial he was found guilty but the verdict was overturned because of a technicality.  The main result from the trial was that those who were fundamentalists were painted as ignorant and against education in the press.  Therefore the fundamentalists, who knew they were rejected and even mocked in the public opinion, turned to building Bible colleges, focused on the churches, and producing their own literature.  They would again gain the nation's attention with the Moral Majority of the 1980s. 

1939        Several smaller Methodist denominations (including this one) merged and formed the Methodist Church.

1939-45        World War II.

1942        Wycliffe Bible Translators is founded.

1945        The Christian Airmen's Aviation Fellowship was formed.  This would eventually be renamed as Mission Aviation Fellowship.  To learn more, go here.

1945        Dietrich Bonhoeffer murdered on order of Hitler.  He died 23 days before the Nazis surrendered to the Allied powers.  Bonhoeffer wrote The Cost of Discipleship.

1948        The World Council of Churches was founded.  The various denominations represent over 500 million people. 

1948        Israel became a nation.

1949        Thomas Merton published The Seven Storey Mountain.  It is a Catholic spiritual classic.

1949 also        Billy Graham's breakthrough revival in Los Angeles; this propelled him to national attention.  For more on this revival, how it propelled Graham to national attention, and to see a poster advertising it, go here.

1950        The Missionaries of Charity, Mother Teresa's Order, approved.

1951        Bill Bright founded Campus Crusade for Christ.  This is one of the largest Evangelical organizations in the USA.

1956 also        Billy Graham began Christianity Today

1959        John Osteen founded Lakewood Church in Houston, TX.

c. 1960        The Charismatic Movement began.

1962-5        Europe:  Vatican II.  This Council of the Catholic Church focused on modernizing many of the Catholic Church's practices.  For example, the Mass (worship service) prior to Vatican II was in Latin, after Vatican II it was held in the local language. 

1963        Pope John XXIII died.  Pope Paul VI became pope.

1964        Pope Paul VI met with Ecumenical (Greek Orthodox) Patriarch Athenagoras in Jerusalem.  The two agreed to set aside the excommunication of 1054 between the Eastern and Western Churches.  The schism did not end, but this meeting did signify an increased fellowship between the two Churches.

1966        Ralph Carmichael is known as the Father of Contemporary Christian Music; he founded Light Records, a music publishing company, in this year to promote a new style of music.  This music would become known as Contemporary Christian Music.  To learn more, go here.

1967       Bill Gaither quit his job teaching English to focus on producing Christian music full-time.

1968        The United Methodist Church is formed when the Evangelical United Brethren Church and the Methodist Church merge.  To learn more, click here.  To learn more about the process, click here.

1969        The first year for the Dove Awards.

1971        Liberty University founded as Lynchburg Baptist College by Jerry Falwell.

1973        The New International Version of the New Testament is published.

1975        Bill Hybels founded Willow Creek Community Church.  This is considered one of the first churches to use the megachurch model (using a business model to run the church, using cell groups or in-home Bible studies, have 2000+ members, etc.)

More info:  To see a listing of the 10 largest megachurches, go here.

1976        Jimmy Carter, the first president who claimed to have been born again, elected president.

1978        The New International Version of the Old Testament is published.

1978 also        Pope Paul VI died (6 Aug).  Pope John Paul became pope (26 Aug).  Pope John Paul I died (28 Sep).  Pope John Paul II became pope (16 Oct).

1980        Rick Warren founded Saddleback Church.

1982        The New King James Version Bible is published.

1990        The Soviet Union fell.

1997        Mother Teresa died.  To read quotes from Mother Teresa, go here.

1999        Joel Osteen became the senior pastor of Lakewood Church in Houston, TX.  Today it is the largest church in America with over 47,000 members and millions who watch on television.

2004        Rockbridge Seminary, one of the first totally online seminaries, founded.

2005        Pope John Paul II died.  Pope Benedict XVI became pope.