Remembering our history

Six Formative Meetings

The Founding of the Swedish Evangelical Free Church.

In 2024, we celebrate the 140th year of the EFCA. To remember our history, we’re exploring the groundbreaking moments that shaped who we are today. 

As Swedish immigrants arrived in America, they formed small local churches, mostly in rural farming areas of the Midwest. They had a strong desire to remain as independent, congregationally led churches but realized they needed to work together, especially to send missionaries and train pastors. 

In the 1880s, pastors met in a series of significant meetings, usually traveling long distances by train to spend most of a week dealing with important issues. Here are six formative meetings that shaped the early Free Church: 

  1. April 1881. Swedes of various denominations, many known as “Mission Friends,” gathered at a conference in Chicago on biblical prophecy, building relationships and considering the Second Coming of Christ in 14 messages. There was a strong interest in D.L. Moody’s premillennial teachings on eschatology. 
  2. October 1883. A gathering in Chicago at Bush Hall discussed the biblical teachings on the Church, its role and design. As with the first conference, no formal resolutions emerged other than a desire to keep meeting and learning.  
  3. July 1884. Mission Friends met in Moline, Illinois, to discuss how churches could cooperate in joint work sending missionaries while avoiding denominational machinery. 
  4. October 1884. Twenty-two pastors met in Boone, Iowa, and formulated eight non-binding resolutions on topics such as the definition of the Church, the role of the local church, the priority of reaching the lost, the importance of independent local churches working together while avoiding denominationalism and some steps toward sending their first missionary. This is generally viewed as the informal founding event of the Swedish Evangelical Free Church. They also discussed ways to credential itinerant pastors since there were few trained full-time pastors for their churches. 
  5. 1885. In Minneapolis, the Free Mission Friends began to call themselves the “United Work of Christians,” a name they used until 1896 when it changed to the Swedish Evangelical Free Mission. Later that year in Rockford, Illinois, the body decided to support two missionaries working among Swedish Mormons in Utah. 
  6. 1900. The photo above shows a group of pastors with a few laymen meeting in Minneapolis, the earliest photo we have dating from those formative years. 

God used these early pastors and laymen to prayerfully discuss ways for their scattered immigrant churches to work together for His Kingdom. During the next several months, we’ll see more of the ways God’s hand led to the EFCA. 

Tom Cairns

Tom Cairns is the archivist for the EFCA. A physician who worked for 19 years in Congo, Tom later served as director of international ministries for the EFCA mission, now known as ReachGlobal. Since retirement, Tom enjoys sharing stories about the history of the EFCA, answering questions from our churches and helping the churches with their own stories. He also uploads our historical books, photos and documents to our archive website. Tom’s great desire is to bring glory to God as we celebrate the history we have in the EFCA.

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