About the Mission
For over three decades, the Appalachian Preaching Mission brought notable Christian speakers from across the world to Northeast Tennessee. Though mostly mainline, the preachers represented a range of Protestant denominations.
The Appalachian Preaching Mission was preceded by the Bristol Preaching Mission in 1949. The mission was a huge success, attracting thousands of attendees. In 1955, Johnson City and Kingsport was added to the mission. Speakers would rotate between the three cities. Such an arrangement would not only get more people to participate in the mission, but would attract more well-known speakers. With the addition of Elizabethton in 1956, the mission officially became known as the "Appalachian Preaching Mission."
The purpose of the mission was to give people of the area a change to hear new preachers. The mission was intended to revive attendees' spiritual energy and strengthen their faith. A number of notable speakers spoke at the mission over the years, including civil rights leader Dr. Howard Thurman, The Power of Positive Thinking author Norman Vincent Peale, and minister George M. Docherty, who was influential in adding the words "under God" to the Pledge of Allegiance. The fact that the mission attracted such notable speakers and had a great amount of influence in the community serves as evidence that mainline Protestantism is a major part of religion in Appalachia. You can find listings of all speakers in the brochures.
The mission was funded through offerings, which paid for supplies, travel, and honorariums for speakers. Speakers usually stayed at the John Sevier Hotel in downtown Johnson City, and the mission provided transportation to and from services.
Music at the services was mostly traditional in nature, but a few contemporary artists performed in later years. Click here to hear some music and announcements from the mission.
Some sermon topics were relevant to the political and social climate of the time (such as how Earl Paulk Jr discusses how communism is not in line with the will of God) while others are strictly biblically based (such as Robert T. Young's sermon on the tax collector Zaccheus). A continuing message through all of the mission, however, was Christian unity. All people from all denominations, races, backgrounds, and social classes were invited to the mission. An article about the Appalachian Preaching Mission from the February 6, 1955 Johnson City Press-Chronicle reads "Everybody is welcome. Everybody is wanted. Everybody is needed."
By the 1970s, attendance at the mission was waning. By 1983, only the mission was only holding services in Johnson City. The Appalachian Preaching Mission held its last services in 1986.
Below is a 1968 History of the Appalachian Preaching Mission in Johnson City, written by Mac L. Lee. This document is part of the Appalachian Preaching Mission Records.