CHURCH PLANTING THROUGH THE ROYERSFORD PERSPECTIVE
Robert W. Smock
As a member of the Board of Church Extension for over 20 years, I have spent a lot of time
seeking to analyze the best methods to use for establishing new Bible Fellowship churches.
Logically, the methods do change from time to time and locale to locale. However, certain basics
are worthy of our consideration as we, the members and friends of the Historical Society concern
ourselves not only about our past but our future. We cannot be satisfied simply with a look at the
past. We who so much enjoy the past are probably the same people who are most concerned
about our future. In that perspective, we look back through a century of time and seek to
ascertain some principles of church extension that may well have been applied back then and ask if
they are applicable for today. Frankly, unless the Bible Fellowship Church continues to grow, we
will die by attrition. And, even more troubling is the fact that failure of the Bible Fellowship
Church to grow will curtail our program of outreach overseas.
Consider then, from the perspective of one man, some areas for the potential growth of the Bible
Fellowship Church as see to some degree in the founding of the Royersford Church
.I. THE NEED FOR ESTABLISHING A CHURCH IN A COMMUNITY
Was there, in 1898, need for a church such as the Mennonite Brethren in Christ Church in
Royersford? At the present time, Royersford is a community of which over 50% is composed of
Roman Catholics. It is one of the bedrooms of Philadelphia. Several large Roman Catholic
Churches exist in the community. However, one hundred years ago, there was no Catholic
Church in the area. At that time, 5 Protestant Churches existed to meet the needs of about 300
families that made up the community. They were the Methodist, Lutheran, Reformed, Baptist and
Brethren churches. So, if these estimates are factual, there was a church, even a fundamental
church, for every 60 families, assuming that all members of the community were members of local
churches. If we were to use these statistics as the basis for starting a new Bible Fellowship Church
in a community today, we would have to give some serious consideration to a to beginning a work
in that community.
If we use the need of a community as our criterion, we would have been hard put to justify
putting our efforts into such a project. In most cases, we do not go into a community if there is so
much as a single fundamental church present- particularly if the community is as small as
Royersford was then. But, in retrospect, in a day when transportation was limited, the founding of
a church in the Royersford area was more desirable than it would be at the present. When we
reflect on the ministry of the church over the past century, however, the number of souls brought
into the Kingdom fully justifies the founding of the church. It was a wise decision to begin a
church back in 1890.
Let me digress for a moment. In some circles, questions are raised about the decision of the
Board of Church Extension to establish churches in the more distant areas such as New York,
Delaware and Massachusetts. Others question the wisdom of ministering in more metropolitan
areas such as Newark and Edison. But, if the yardstick of "need" is used to measure decisions,
these are truly needy areas.
The souls brought into the kingdom at Royersford have made an impact. Recall that Pastor Bert
Baker of Newark traces his roots back to Royersford via his mother and grandparents, all
Greenawalts. This family was a pillar of the Royersford Church and can proudly put on display
this young man who has done such a marvelous work in inner city ministry. And- stretching the
point quite a bit- appreciate that Pastor and Mrs. Cahill came to the Bible Fellowship Church from
the Phoenixville area. Thanks to the seed sowing of Pastor Carl Martin, we are the recipients of a
vital spiritual ministry in Edison. Just this past year, the Edison mission was received into the
conference as a full-fledged church!
The one hundred years of time has proven the wisdom of founding a church at Royersford.
II. THE NEED FOR SPIRITUAL ENTHUSIASM
Without question a great spiritual enthusiasm existed back then. Under normal circumstances, no
new church will ever be founded unless there is outstanding spiritual enthusiasm. There may be a
few exceptions in cases where a community is so anxious to have a fundamental church that it
supports even a leadership which is less than excited about outreach, but that number is certainly
very small. When one considers that the Baptists, Methodists and Brethren of that day were not
that much different from the Mennonites, very likely there was not a situation in which the
community so desperately wanted a fundamental church that it supported the first church of that
kind which came along. There had to be a charisma about the newly founded church and its
leaders that attracted sinners to the Lord. I personally feel that an enthusiasm was instilled in the
hearts of these leaders by those who were already part of the Mennonite Brethren in Christ Church.
Using the terminology of our day, the Royersford Church was a "daughter church" It was
founded as a mission appointment from the Skippack / Norristown Circuit with Joshua Fidler
assigned to be founding pastor. To the best of my knowledge, Pastor Fidler was the leader of a
series of protracted meetings in the Moyer home on Main Street in Royersford. Out of these
meetings began what are often called today, "people webs", that is, webs of people reaching out to
friends and relatives to win them to Christ. This kind of spiritual enthusiasm is one of the most
effective tools in the hands of the Spirit to bring men and women to Christ.
We cannot document people webs for that day, but we do have communication that a friendship
developed between Emeline Kinsel and the Smoyers. It appears that this friendship led to the
beginning of prayer meetings in the Moyer home. Who the Smoyers were is only a matter of
conjecture, but there appears to be good reason to believe that they were very special people and
truly on fire for the Lord.
The hint that the Smoyers were unusual comes to us via a granddaughter who still lives in
Pottstown. In a visit over a cup of tea, she shared with my wife and myself brief recollections of
her childhood days in the shadow of the Mennonite Church. Then, with a grin on her face, she
produced a snapshot of Grandma. From her perspective, Grandma was a rather daring woman
and this was reflected in a picture of her seated in the sidecar of a motorcycle. She was "dressed
to kill" in her prayer shawl Someone had dared her to take this "wild pose' and she accepted the
dare. One wonders what Daddy Gehman would have said had he known about it.
If Mrs. Moyer could be that daring in the spirit of fun, could it be that she was just as daring in
winning souls to the Lord? Thank the Lord for daring people who were willing to go out of their
way for the gospel.
But, it was not Royersford only. I think, for instance, of the stories I have heard of the various
members of the Bethlehem Church who literally risked their homes when they mortgaged them to
provide money to build the Bethlehem Church. Thank the Lord for the Cressmans, the
Musselmans and the Sticklers in Bethlehem. And, thanks to the Bethlehem Church, Royersford
was the recipient of a transfer of membership- Ralph Stickler and family, outstanding in their
support of the Royersford Church.
And, in this moment of appreciation, my hat is off to the Russell Ruch family of the present.
When our Newark, Delaware, mission seemed doomed to closure, this family literally relocated to
this area for the express purpose of providing the needed support. As a result of this sacrifice, we
have a thriving church in Newark!
Upon completion of their ministry in Newark, the Ruchs accepted the challenge to support our
Somers Point mission and, more recently, are commuting from their new home in Hatfield to our
Upper Perkiomen Church.
Other examples could be cited but suffice it to say that the involvement of lay persons in church
extension ministry is vital.
Speaking of special people, it is noteworthy that Royersford's fifth pastor, W. G. Gehman, saw in
Emeline Kinsel something VERY special. He proposed - she accepted - and became the first
Mrs. W. G. Gehman. On her death, her sister, Elizabeth became the second Mrs. Gehman. These
dear people were the backbone of much of our church extension ministry for many years. Many
of our Gospel Heralds looked back with fond affection to their Director and his wife. The
Gehmans were motivators.
With such outstanding people at Royersford, one can well understand much of the growth that
III. THE VALUE OF A PERMANENT LOCATION AS PART OF CHURCH GROWTH
My own evaluation as a member of the Board of Church extension is that several of the church
starts came to an end primarily because of the ultimate lack of a permanent location. People get
weary of temporary situations, especially the carrying of the "church furniture" into a hall or a
school building such as has been the case for years in Edison. These people are to be admired for
their willingness to put up with such a situation for so long.
In Royersford, protracted meetings were followed by regular meetings in the Moyer home. From
all we can ascertain, the whole program began in February and by November of that same year a
frame church was built on a lot at 618 Walnut Street. The lot had been donated.
The newly constructed church was named, "Zion Meeting House." This is a bit strange to have
the name "Mennonite Brethren in Christ" missing. I have no idea why the church was not
identified by the denominational label. I suppose in a town as small as Royersford that it was clear
that this was a Mennonite Church. Why the selection of the name? I have no explanation.
However, the Zion Temple identification must have stuck in part. Later, when a larger building
was constructed a stone was placed in the center of the front of the building. It read (and the
stone is still there), "M. B. in C. Temple of Royersford." The stone building is presently being
used as a private dwelling, but the identifying stone remains.
Again, let me make some personal observations for the present. The need for permanent
buildings is really pressing at our Edison, Dudley and Somers Point missions. Unless Newark,
New Jersey, is able to secure a larger structure, the work will not grow.
I attribute much of the growth that took place at Ephrata to the fact that we were able to begin
the ministry in a lovely building and when needed, to secure the additional buildings at reasonable prices.
I find it specially gratifying to realize that the Royersford Church was permitted to be one of the
identifying churches in the founding of the Upper Perkiomen ministry. We were honored to have a
surrogate elder taking part in that ministry. And now, on November 15, they will be dedicating
their newly acquired building.
Permanent buildings are not everything but they certainly play a big part in church growth.
IV. THE SPECIAL NEED FOR SPIRITUAL PERSEVERANCE
Christ illustrated this spiritual point in the parable of the seed sowing. If there is no true rooting,
there will be no continuation. Churches will not "make it" unless there is a willingness to stick to
The burden of the Royersford congregation continued with full spiritual enthusiasm. Within a
year, Royersford's progress was reflected as we first see the assignment of Royersford to a circuit
with Reading and Blandon. In only three year's time, this "mission" had graduated to the level of
"station", meaning that it was capable of supporting its own pastor. H. B. Musselman was
assigned as pastor. He served the assigned three year term allotted to men in that day.
Under the leadership of H. B. Musselman, a work was begun in Spring City in 1892. Only a river divided the two communities but that river was very wide. It was not one community with a river running through it, it was two separate entities. And, in some respects, that division still exists. For example, at Halloween, Royersford conducts a parade one night and Spring City has it the next night. Both parades are very similar. It is traditional to enter both parades, but almost unthinkable to have only one parade for the two communities. One year, we entered afloat in Royersford and got "first prize" but in Spring City it was "honorable mention". That was appropriate.
So, two churches were formed- one in Spring City- one in Royersford. For quite a few years, the
churches were only about a mile apart, but separate churches seemed to be important.
With the passing of time, a number of changes have taken place. The church buildings are
located more distantly from each other. But, more significant is the fact that each of the churches
has a goodly number of attenders from the other community. They cross the river.
When they move from one community to the other, neither church expects a change of
membership or attendance. Such would likely have not been the case years ago. The directive of
Annual Conference was that when a member relocates to a different community, his membership
was immediately forwarded to the new church whether it was requested or not. Some of that
spirit may have rubbed off on Ralph Stickler. When he relocated from Royersford to Spring City
he transferred his membership. This is the only transfer I know of because of relocation from one
community to the other.
More important, however, is the fact that our history reflects that when folks joined the M. B. in C., they were loyal to it. They stuck to it through thick or thin. Members of 50years duration were not uncommon. Today, that kind of spirit of loyalty seems to be diminishing.
God blessed the effort of Pastor Musselman back in 1892. He was able to instill within the
congregation the desire to begin a work at Spring City. My understanding is that the Royersford
/Spring City Circuit was established in 1892 and, in 1894, the Graterford Church was added to the
circuit. C. H. Brunner was assigned to the circuit.
The congregation continued to work. By 1897, the frame building at Royersford was being filled
to capacity. It was time to enlarge. The spirit of perseverance was manifested in the construction
of a new building. Once again, it would call for sacrifice- a sacrifice that might well have been
excused. Had they not started "two daughter churches?" Had they not already built a church just
a few years previous? But no, the work must go on.
It's interesting to observe that pattern that is used in present when we consider a new building.
We seek for a building that will match the program of the church. Will we need room for a day
school? What about a gym for the young people? And even more important, will there be enough
land to provide for future expansion? Most land plots need to be 6 or more acres to meet the
minimal needs of the future. Many churches look to buy 10 or more acres. And, the big question
of all questions is the ability to make the monthly payments. Most building projects run $350,000
and up. This entails monthly payments of $1,000 and more.
In contrast, Royersford paid in cash for the church and had $10 left over when it was competed (I
am not suggesting that this be duplicated in the present.)
In Royersford, instead, the big question was, "What size church will house the pews that we have
purchased?" Apparently the leadership had secured used pews from the Haws Avenue Methodist
Church in Norristown. Accordingly, the church was designed around the pews. We chuckle at
this kind of decision, but it was a very practical one for that time. With building restrictions being
much simpler than they are today, it was more reasonable that the majority of the work in
construction of the building be done by the members. The Kinsel Quarry was only a mile or so
removed from the building site. The Kinsel family most graciously donated the stone for what
turned out to be a beautiful building. Unfortunately, the walls of the first foundation caved in and
had to be replaced.
In due time, a new circuit was formed ....the Spring City / Royersford Circuit. This arrangement
lasted until 1959.
V. THE VALUE IN EACH CHURCH'S HAVING ITS OWN PASTOR
This particular subject is open to much debate. Does the establishing of circuits help or hinder
church growth? When a pastor must divide his time with two churches, does it hinder both
churches? Logically, circuits were helpful in cutting costs, but being penny wise COULD also be
In the Spring City / Royersford Circuit, the parsonage was located at Spring City. One must ask, "Did the Royersford people feel like their pastor was not REALLY with them?
Various patterns of pastoral ministry existed over the years, but the most common appears to have
been one in which the pastor attended both churches in one capacity or another every Sunday.
But, when I consider the value of the time before and after services that I have in "rubbing
elbows" with the congregation, I must ask, "How could the circuit riding pastor do that?" A look
at the statistics reveal that relatively little growth took place during the circuit days. This is not a
reflection on the ability of any of the pastors but rather on the limitations of a circuit.
Under the able leadership and vision of Pastor Earl M. Hosler, groundwork was laid for the
establishing of separate ministries. He kiddingly suggested that one solution other than breaking
up the circuit existed. It was to build a church in the middle of the river. One thing is sure: it
would have been an easy baptismal situation.
The groundwork brought the assignment of Richard H. Kline to Royersford and Harvey J. Fritz,
Jr., to Spring City. Both ministries saw growth. A personal interview with Pastor Fritz recalled
some of the inconveniences he put up with to cope with the growth until a new parsonage and
church would be built in Spring City. Pastor and Mrs. Kline lived in a cramped apartment until a
spacious parsonage could be built in Royersford.
The move was a good one. A sense of good competition and paralleled cooperation exists
between the two churches. We rejoice in each other's victories.
At this point I request the liberty to digress quite a bit. I am burdened for this particular area. It
is a great concern for me as well as for the Board of Church Extension that we have several
pastors who are not able to put their full time into the ministry of the church. Historically, we had
pastors who served both as pastor and farmers. That was in a day when far less was expected of a
pastor than is expected for the present. In all due respect to these sacrificing forefathers, I would
venture to say that if they were living today and serving in a church extension ministry, they too
would find it impossible to fulfill the ministry of the church as it is expect for the day. Today, a
Church Extension pastor is expected not only to preach all the sermons for the week, but to be an
administrator and coordinator of programs that didn't even exist 100 years ago, to do a lot of
visitation, to counsel and in some cases to be the Sunday School superintendent, Adult Class
teacher, financial officer, to do all the work of public relations and then coordinate a phone
campaign. In some cases, he can use his spare time to serve as janitor or taxi driver. For several
of our present bi-vocational pastors, all this begins AFTER he has completed a 40 hour secular
My prayer is that the day will come when we will be able to raise sufficient funds for Church
Extension to eliminate the need for secular employment. I cannot help but believe that forcing a
pastor to work in the secular field only slows down the process of establishing new churches. I
yearn for the day when support levels for Church Extension will return to the 6% level where it
Denominationally, we have moved from a strong financial emphasis on supporting the start of
new BIBLE FELLOWSHIP Churches to supporting NON-Bible Fellowship ministries both at
home and abroad. All of those who are committed to planting non-Bible Fellowship Church are
not required to serve in secular employment. In contrast, close to 50% of our Church Extension
pastors earn their living via secular employment. Do we REALLY want this to be the case?
Particularly if we consider that our track record shows that it takes about double the time to
establish a church via the tentmaking pattern, are we really investing our money wisely? If the
present trend continues, will we reach a point of saturation where we do not have enough Bible
Fellowship Churches to support those Bible Fellowship missionaries desiring to go to the field?
And, is it really fair to ask a man to accept the honored position of pastor of a Bible Fellowship
Church and then tell him that we don't plan to pay his bills? Is not the workman worthy of his hire?
Enough of my soap box speech for the moment. Let's return to some other church planting
principles that we can learn from the Royersford experience.
VI. FOLLOWING THROUGH
With great enthusiasm, the Royersford Church accepted the challenge to be a separate
congregation. It was an act of faith to fully support a man after so many years of only half
support. And, there was the need for a parsonage. But the congregation saw the whole picture as
a great opportunity to get a great work done for the Lord. It was not long until the parsonage
was constructed and the Klines were able to move in. Then, under the ministry of Pastor Robert
Johnson, a new church building was constructed at 431 N. Lewis Road. It was quite a step of
faith but the congregation had put its hand to the plow and was not willing to look back.
The Royersford Church may not have been as dynamic as some of her sister churches, but the
fact that Spring City, Royersford and Graterford have all endured the century mark is well worthy
of note. There is a touch of irony here. The churches that brought about the existence of
Royersford, namely Norristown and Skippack, have long since fallen by the wayside, but
Royersford continues. To God be all the glory.
All churches go through times of testing and trial. For some, it strengthens the church. For
others, it is more than the church can handle.
I pause to solicit prayer on behalf of the faltering churches in the Bible Fellowship denomination,
and in particular, the Church Extension missions which are still seeking to become fully established.
This year's Annual Conference was a time of spiritual refreshment, but the joy of the Conference
was diminished by the sad word that our Bangor Church had disbanded in spite of the fact that
Pastor Jansen E. Hartman stepped in when the crisis was extreme and "gave it his best."
We may well hold ourselves accountable for our failures to pray for sister churches, especially
such struggling churches as Brodheadsville, Scranton, and Englishtown, New Jersey.
As we return in our thinking to Royersford, we give praise for the beautiful building which
presently exists. One might well ask the question, "What were the size of the pews for the
construction of this church?" The fact is that, considering the nature of the building, much
thought was put into the long range needs of the anticipated program. The church is located on
almost 12 acres of land. Originally, the auditorium seated 250. With the enlargement, it now
At the time of this writing, no indebtedness remains on the church. The church is free to reach
out in missions. The ultimate goal of the Missions Committee is to be able some day to give
$100,000 each year to outreach. It will take time, but it will come.
VII. GENERAL OBSERVATIONS
Like most all churches, Royersford has seen the "ups and downs" that exist in a century of time.
The flip side of a rather glamorous report speaking of attendances reaching into the area of 300
during the time of the expansion program is seen in the more recent years when several
discouraging things happened.
1. Most of those who became part of the church as a result of a split in a sister church moved on
to the church that was developed by a nucleus of those who were part of that split. Not too much
time elapsed from the conclusion of the expansion program until the general exodus took place,
putting the statistics back to lower levels.
2. More recently, divisions over doctrine caused additional departures.
3. In the case of a pastor following the long pastorate of his co-worker, the transfer of love and
loyalty is very difficult. Pastor Johnson was dearly loved by his congregation. It was hard to make
transfers and some found themselves unable to do so.
However, in spite of the problems, the work continues on in fine strength. There is a loyalty and
love that exists and concern for reaching unsaved people is prevalent.
A second observation on the church is its concern for denominational ministries and cooperation
with Bible Fellowship decisions even though on several occasions it was quite difficult. The
Royersford Church has been known in the Bible Fellowship Church to be among the more
conservative churches. A goodly number swallowed hard when soloists were accompanied by
audio tapes instead of the piano or organ. It would still be a difficult pill for the church to
swallow to have its choir wearing robes. Several families left the church over areas of criticism,
one because the wife came to church in her nurse's uniform after working all night Saturday
evening. A family that did the janitorial work left when they discovered their work was being
checked regularly by people reaching under the heating units for signs of dust or rubbing hands
along the baseboard for proof of "poor cleaning." All halls are wet mopped weekly whether they
need them or not. Divorced people were clearly not welcome. Only in the past few years was it
acceptable to have an American and a Christian flag displayed in the sanctuary.
Yet, in a setting of this kind of conservatism, the Church did its best to cooperate with and
support the ministries and rulings of Annual Conference. Royersford may have been the last
church to adopt the pattern of rule by elder. It had been happy with the original pattern of rule by
trustees and then later, rule by official board. The Church was not rebelling in being the "last
holdout." It was just part of its conservatism. Things were not done hastily. The Church was well
satisfied with unofficial board, but, if Annual Conference ruled for an all male Board of Elders,
then so be it.
On the other hand, Royersford has been clearly identified as a church that gave strong support to
both foreign and home missions. For many years, money for missions has held at a level between
30% and 45% of total offerings. An unwritten rule declares that here shall a missions emphasis
once each month.
The Church was closely identified with Ron Erb, a son of the church. The majority of his support
while seeking to establish a church at Irvington, New Jersey, came from Royersford. When Ron
was assigned to Mt. Pocono, that support was transferred to Edison, New Jersey, to support
Royersford has enjoyed the opportunity of participating in phone campaigns for Edison, Ocean
County and Dudley. More recently, Royersford was one of the cooperating churches in founding
the Upper Perkiomen Valley Church with elder Dennis Souder serving as a surrogate elder.
Interest in overseas missions has centered primarily in the ministry of Phil and Nancy Yerrington
in Spain. Recently, Newell Wismer spent two weeks with this couple in an attempt to
communicate our support for them.
The church has also been blessed in having 29 different young people serving as summer
missionaries or as counselors at our church camps.
All of these observations are a good picture of the Royersford Church, but the one thing for
which the church will likely be best known for years past and years to come is the fact that
Royersford was the home of the Hartman family. Never before, and possibly never again will such
an honor be placed on a given church to have given four sons in ministry to Bible Fellowship
pastorates. Mr. and Mrs. E. R. Hartman laid good groundwork. They taught their sons the
blessings of sacrifice. God honored that stance and, as a result, Ernest, Herbert, Wilbur, and
Jansen Hartman entered one by one into the Gospel Herald Society. Each of the men served most
successfully in Bible Fellowship Churches and in addition, Jansen served for several years as head
of the Home Missionary Society (the organization which replaced the Gospel Herald Society) and
as president of Berean Bible School, later to be known as Pinebrook Junior College. Without any
hesitation, I can easily affirm that no other family has had a greater influence on the Bible
Fellowship Church as a whole than the Hartman family. Even in retirement, Jansen continues an
outstanding ministry of support and indirect leadership.
Finally, let me express thanks to the Lord for the secondary blessing which were permitted to the
Royersford Church. Miss Mildred Weidner served for many years with the Gospel Workers'
Society in Ohio. Carl Hartzell, Robert McIntyre and R. Bergstresser all sons of the church, served
for periods of time in home missions. Willard Cassel is an adopted son of the church since his
father served a total of 16 years as pastor. During some of those years, Willard sat in the pews
and from this church he left to prepare himself for ministry with our denomination. Merle E. Baer,
son of pastor Paul Baer, served for several years in Africa.
And last, but most certainly not the least, a sweet young lady and daughter of Pastor and Mrs. Norman Wolf named Thelma was born at 311 Yost Avenue in Spring City and regularly attended in her childhood days both the Spring City and Royersford Churches.
For this gift from Royersford, I, the present pastor of Royersford Bible Fellowship Church will be eternally grateful. Next Wednesday (November 11, 1992) We will be celebrating our 43rd wedding anniversary.