InFaith traces its roots back to William White, a Philadelphia bishop, who was influenced by the Sunday School Movement in Great Britain. Seeing the benefits of educating poor children by holding Bible and literacy classes on Sundays, when the children had a day off from work, he organized a nonsectarian Christian group called the First Day Society of Philadelphia in 1790.The First Day Society eventually became part of the Sunday and Adult School Union, formed in 1817. That organization soon published its first Sunday school primer, Little Henry and His Bearer, a wholesome book used to teach children reading skills and good morals. For more than 150 years, the publishing arm of the Union produced books, hymnals, tracts, and tickets to reward Scripture memorization. It became known for its “Ten-Dollar Libraries,” an affordable set of 100 books, which served as teaching material for Sunday schools and often as a community’s only public lending library.
Union Sunday schools were staffed entirely by volunteers until 1821, when the organization hired its first paid missionary, William C. Blair. He rode on horseback from Pennsylvania to North Carolina in one year’s time, founding sixty-one Sunday schools, reviving twenty more, and establishing six tract societies and four adult schools along the way.
Following a name change to American Sunday School Union (ASSU) in 1824, the mission soon embarked on the ambitious Mississippi Valley Enterprise, during which leaders resolved to “. . . within two years, establish a Sunday school in every destitute place where it is practicable, throughout the Valley of the Mississippi.” With the support of prominent Americans, including Francis Scott Key and Daniel Webster, the ASSU raised enough money and attracted enough missionaries to start Sunday schools in 5,000 communities, nearly half the number of communities in the U.S. at the time. More than 50,000 people professed faith in Jesus Christ as a direct result of these Sunday schools.
ASSU missionaries continued to establish Sunday schools throughout the 19th century and into the 20th century. In the 1920s, Union missionaries developed Daily Vacation Bible Schools and Bible conferences (later called camps) as a way to teach the Bible to even more children and young adults. Vacation Bible Schools and Christian camping are still a vital part of InFaith’s ministry, with hundreds of overnight camps and Vacation Bible Schools/day camps operating each summer.
Recognizing that the mission was no longer focused entirely on Sunday schools, the Board of Managers (now the Board of Trustees) changed the organization’s name to American Missionary Fellowship (AMF) in 1974. An additional name change, with the purpose of attracting more people to join our work, took place in 2011.
Contemporary InFaith field staff members work in a variety of ministries in rural and urban areas, focusing particularly on places overlooked or underserved by other evangelistic ministries. While InFaith has grown well beyond its original goal of starting Sunday schools for poor children, the mission faithfully continues to convey the unchanging truth of God’s Word to a changing culture.