Subgroups of Amish

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Over the years, the Amish churches have divided many times over doctrinal disputes. The 'Old Order' Amish, a conservative faction that withdrew from fellowship with the wider body of Amish in the 1860s, are those that have most emphasized traditional practices and beliefs. There are many different subgroups of Amish with most belonging, in ascending order of conservatism, to the Beachy Amish, New Order, Old Order, or Swartzentruber Amish groups.

Amish affiliations[edit]

Donald B. Kraybill, Karen M. Johnson-Weiner and Steven M. Nolt speak in their book "The Amish" of different Amish affiliations. They define an affiliation as "a cluster of two ore more districts with at least twenty years of shared history". They continue "affiliated congregations share similar Ordnungs, which specify distinctive lifestyles and visible symbols that set them apart from other affiliations". When referring to affiliations Amish themselves speak of "our people" (unser Leit) and "our way" to do things. By 2012 there were more than 40 affiliations, with smaller subgroups within some affiliations counted, there were more than 65. In addition to that there were more than 130 fairly independent congregations.[1]

The majority of affiliations reflects the different local Ordnungen (Orders) in different Amish settlement, e.g. Lancaster, Elkhart-LaGrange or Holmes Old Order. Other affiliations are the result of splits over major questions, such as shunning and reflect Ordnungen, that are either more conservative or more progressive than the Old Order mainstream. Examples for that are the Swartzentruber, Andy Weaver, Troyer and New Order Amish.

Kraybill et al. give the following table of "Amish affiliations Ranked by Number and Church Districts, 2011":[2]

Affiliation Date established Origin States Settlements Church districts
Lancaster 1760 PA 8 37 291
Elkhart-LaGrange 1841 IN 3 9 177
Holmes Old Order 1808 OH 1 2 147
Buchanan/Medford 1914 IA 19 67 140
Geauga I 1886 OH 6 11 113
Swartzentruber 1913 OH 15 43 119
Geauga II 1962 OH 4 27 99
Swiss (Adams) 1850 IN 5 15 86
Troyer 1931 OH 6 17 53
Swiss (Allen) 1852 IN 7 17 46
Dover 1915 DE 10 16 42
Andy Weaver/Dan 1955 OH 1 4 40
Nappanee, Indiana 1841 IN 1 1 37
New Order-Non-electric 1967 OH 7 13 35
Arthur, Illinois 1864 IL 2 4 31
New Wilmington, Pennsylvania 1847 PA 2 6 28
Daviess 1868 IN 1 1 26
Kenton 1953 IN 6 13 25
Ashland 1954 OH 6 9 23
Jemesport/Bloomfield 1953 MO 3 5 20
Michigan-related 1970 MI 3 15 20
Nebraska 1881 PA 2 5 19
Renno 1863 PA 2 4 19
New Order-electric 1972 PA 6 16 17
Fredericktown 1972 OH 2 4 15
Kalona, Iowa 1846 IA 1 3 13
Kansas/Oklahoma 1883 KS 3 6 12
Perth East, Ontario 1824 ON 1 4 12
Missouri/Illinois 1960 MO 2 9 11
Somerset 1772 PA 3 6 10
Tobe Hostetler 1940 OH 1 4 10
Milroy/West Union 1969 IN 3 3 9
Guys Mills/Fredonia 1972 PA 2 4 7
Aylmer 1953 ON 1 3 5
Byler 1849 PA 2 1 5
New Order-Tobe 1967 OH 1 1 5
Abe Miller 1970 TN 2 3 4
New Order Fellowship 1983 OH 3 4 4
Turbotville 1970 PA 1 1 3
Kokomo 1848 IN 1 1 2
Subtotal n/a n/a 410 1,780
Unclassified n/a n/a 133
Total n/a n/a 1,913

Old Order Amish[edit]

"Old Order Amish" are the main group of Amish who resisted innovations both in society and in church work. A series of conferences held in Ohio from 1862 to 1878 resulted in a clear distinction between the conservative and progressive Amish. Traditionally they referred to themselves as Amish Mennonites, but after the schism (especially over issues like the use of meeting houses and innovations like Sunday School) this more traditional group became labeled by others as "Old Order Amish Mennonites".

The Old Order Amish are distinguished from less conservative groups of Amish derivation by their strict adherence to the practice of forbidding automobile ownership, and their traditional manner of dress. The Old Order Amish is the concept many outsiders have when they think of "Amish".

In 1990, Old Order Amish settlements existed in 20 states in the United States and in one province in Canada. Membership was estimated at over 80,000 in almost 900 church districts. By 2002, there were over 1,200 districts. According to sociologist Julia Erickson, of Temple University in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the Amish are among the fastest-growing populations in the world. Old Order Amish groups include the Byler group, Nebraska Amish in Mifflin County, Pennsylvania, the Reno group, and the Swartzentruber Amish in Holmes County, Ohio.

Old Order Amish subscribe to the Dordrecht Confession of Faith, a Dutch Mennonite Confession of Faith adopted in 1632. Doctrinally they are similar to other Swiss Mennonites, but show the influence of the Dutch Mennonites. They practice shunning of excommunicated members, and emphasize that a person can only hope to be saved, and that it is a form of pride to claim the assurance of salvation. Feet washing is observed twice annually, in connection with the Communion. Non-resistance, including refusal of military service in any form, is a standard practice.

Most Old Order Amish do not build church houses, but meet for service in private homes every other Sunday. Because of this, they are sometimes called "House Amish".

Nebraska Amish[edit]

Main article: Nebraska Amish

The Nebraska Amish are perhaps the most conservative group of Old Order Amish. They live mostly in Pennsylvania but they also have one small settlement in Ohio. Around 1880, Bishop Yost H. Yoder led nine families from Juniata County, Pennsylvania, to Gosper County in south-central Nebraska, founding an Old Order settlement that would last until 1904. Yoder went back to the Kishacoquillas Valley in Pennsylvania in 1881 to assist a conservative Amish group. Because bishop Yoder was living in Nebraska for some time, and the group was nicknamed the Nebraska Amish by others.

Like other Old Order Amish, the Nebraska Amish do not use motorized equipment or indoor plumbing, and wear very conservative clothing. Differences include the fact that the men do not wear suspenders and the women do not wear bonnets (wearing black kerchiefs and flat straw hats instead). Other differences include the fact that they do not place screens on their doors or windows, men only wear white shirts, curtains are not used in homes, buggy tops must be white, men's hair must be shoulder length, no lawn mowers are allowed and houses must not have projecting roofs.

As of 2000, the Nebraska Amish had 14 districts, 775 members, an a total population of 1,744 mostly in northeastern Mifflin County, Pennsylvania.[3]

Swartzentruber Amish[edit]

Main article: Swartzentruber Amish

The Swartzentruber Amish are an Old Order Amish sect that formed as the result of a division that occurred among the Amish of Holmes County, Ohio in 1917. The bishop who broke away was Sam E. Yoder. The Swartzentruber name was applied later, named after bishop Samuel Swartzentruber who succeeded him. There are nineteen districts of Swartzentruber in Holmes County and Wayne County, where the subgroup originated. Now there are groups of Swartzentruber Amish settled in 15 other states, with the largest group in the U.S. located in the Holmes/Wayne County settlement.

Swartzentruber Amish speak Pennsylvania German, and are considered a subgroup of the Old Order Amish, although they do not fellowship or intermarry with more liberal Old Order Amish. Like some other Old Order groups, they avoid the use of electricity and indoor plumbing. Many other common devices and technologies are also disallowed for being too worldly, including buttons, Velcro and bicycles. Swartzentruber farms and yards are often unkempt. The Swartzentrubers discourage interest in outward appearance, as such an interest could promote vanity and pride. Their farms can be identified by dirt drives and surrounding roads, while most roads of the Old Order contain either gravel or paving to keep out the mud. The roofs of the houses and outbuildings are often made of tin. The clothing differs from that of the other Old Order Amish in subtle ways: all colors are dark and somber rather than the bright blues and mauves; more common is navy, dark burgundy, and even gray. Men frequently wear a single suspender to avoid any pride associated with two matching suspenders. The dresses of the women, rather than reaching mid-calf, usually reach to the top of the shoes. The tack on the horses and buggies is often all black, rather than brown leather.

Swartzentruber Amish use reflective tape on the back of their buggies, in place of bright triangular slow moving signs for road travel, which they regard as too worldly. These buggies will also use lanterns, rather than battery-operated lights, or reflectors.[4] The lanterns are also often staggered, one side slightly higher than the other, so as not to appear like the tail lights of a vehicle. There have been several court cases across the country where the state and county challenged the local Swartzentruber group to use the regulation orange triangle. So far, even as far as the federal Supreme Court, the Amish have prevailed, although statistics suggest that in areas where these groups exist, accidents involving buggies are more prevalent.

As of 2000, the Swartzentruber Amish had 64 church districts, 3,165 members, and a total population of 7,101 in 12 states with 33 districts in Ohio alone.[5] As of 2011 the Swartzentruber Amish had 119 church districts in 15 states.[6]

Andy Weaver Amish[edit]

Main article: Andy Weaver Amish

In Holmes County, Ohio the Andy Weaver Amish were formed in 1952 over the issue of shunning. They are less conservative than the Swartzentruber Amish but more conservative than the Old Order main body. Compared to them they have greater restrictions on farm, business and home technologies, a stricter interpretation of shunning, stricter youth regulations and a greater tolerance of alcohol and tobacco.

There are about 30 Andy Weaver districts in the Holmes County settlement and some more outside of Holmes County, including settlements in Ashland County, Ohio, and in upstate New York.

Troyer Amish[edit]

Main article: Troyer Amish

In 1932 bishop Eli A. Troyer withdrew from the Swartzentruber Amish and began the Troyer church in Wayne County, Ohio. He did this over several issues, one of which was hat brims.

Swartzentruber wore hats the same as the rest of the Amish up to this time. Up to 1942 free moving from one sect to another was also allowed without penalty in the Troyer Church.

The Troyer church eventually moved to numerous locations in Pennsylvania, New York, Michigan and Canada as did the Swartzentruber Church.

As of 2011 the Troyer Amish had 53 church districts in 6 states.[7]

Tobe church[edit]

The Tobe Amish, or Tobe church, was a splinter group from the Troyer Amish, formed in the 1940s.

In the spring of 1942, Troyer bishop, Abe Troyer moved to close the door between sects by excommunicating those who joined another sect of Amish outside of the fellowship and when the dust settled, the excommunicated families, led by Tobe Hochstetler, were called the Tobe church. The Tobe church remained mainly in Wayne County, although they split into Tobe Old Order and Tobe New Order.

Byler Amish[edit]

The Byler Amish were formed in 1849 in Mifflin County, Pennsylvania. Byler Amish buggies have yellow tops in contrast to normally black (Ohio, Indiana), gray (Pennsylvania) or brown tops. As of 2000, the Byler had three churches in Mifflin County and are also affiliated with districts near New Wilmington, Pennsylvania.[8]

Renno Amish[edit]

The Renno Amish were formed in 1863 in Mifflin County, Pennsylvania. Their Ordnung allows men to wear only one suspender. As of 2000, the Renno Amish had about a dozen church districts primarily in Pennsylvania.[9]

New Order Amish[edit]

Main article: New Order Amish

The New Order Amish are a subgroup of Amish which is close to the Old Order Amish. New Order Amish split away from the Old Order Amish in the 1960s for a variety of reasons, which included a desire for "clean" youth courting standards, meaning they do not condone tobacco, alcohol, or the practice of bundling, or non-sexually lying in bed together, during courtship.[10] They also wished to incorporate more evangelical elements into the church, including Sunday school and mission work.

In 1966, around one hundred families split with the Old Order Amish in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, and created two new congregations, and have since taken on the name "New Order Amish." A separate movement developed in Ohio at around the same time.

Like Old Order groups, New Order Amish use the horse and buggy, wear plain clothing, speak the Pennsylvania German dialect, and practice home worship. As with other Amish, technological restrictions include prohibitions on the internet, television, and radio. Some New Order Amish allow electricity around the home, and some groups permit telephones in the home as well. New Order Amish may be more lenient in the practice of shunning, and may be more permissive of photography than lower-order groups. New Order Amish prohibit alcohol and tobacco use (seen in some Old Order groups), an important factor in the original division.

There are several different fellowships which are referred to as being "New Order." New Order Amish communities can be found in around a dozen states, with the largest population in the Holmes County, Ohio settlement.

Beachy Amish Mennonite[edit]

Main article: Beachy Amish

The Beachy Amish Mennonite constituency is a loose association of Anabaptist churches without a central governing body. Because of the loose structure, few common characteristics are shared by all Beachy congregations. Some similarities include adhering to the Dordrecht Confession of Faith and practicing varying degrees of Anabaptist practice, such as nonresistance, separation from the state, and adult baptism.


The Beachy church arose from a 1927 division in the (Casselman) River Old Order Amish congregation in Somerset County, Pennsylvania.[11] Bishop Moses M. Beachy led the congregation during that time and his name became associated with the faction. The Beachys favored a milder discipline for members whose only offense was transferring membership to other Anabaptist churches, specifically the conservative Amish Mennonite congregation that broke from Moses Beachy's congregation (then not under Beachy's leadership) in 1895.[12]


In contrast to the Old Order Amish, the Beachys have meetinghouses, Sunday School, and a Bible School for young adults, and most also support missionary work. Excommunication is used less frequently and accompanying bans are even more rare.

Most Beachy churches today more closely resemble the Conservative Mennonites rather than the Old Order Amish. The practices and lifestyle still similar to the Old Order Amish include:

  • Women wear head covering
  • Married men have beards in most congregations
  • Television and radio are forbidden

Practices that distinguish the Beachy church from the Old Order Amish include:

  • Filtered Internet is permitted by most congregations
  • Men wear ready made clothing
  • Ownership of personal automobiles.

Population and distribution[edit]

In 2006, there were 11,487 Beachy members in 207 churches,[13] with the highest representation in Pennsylvania, Indiana and Ohio.[14] International Beachy churches or mission work can be found in El Salvador, Belize, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Paraguay, Ireland, Ukraine, Romania, Kenya, Australia, and Canada. Mission work is sponsored by Amish Mennonite Aid (AMA), Mennonite Interests Committee (MIC), or individual churches.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Kraybill, Donald; Karen M. Johnson-Weiner; Steven M. Nolt (2013). The Amish. Johns Hopkins Univ Pr. p. 139. 
  2. ^ Kraybill, Donald; Karen M. Johnson-Weiner; Steven M. Nolt (2013). The Amish. Johns Hopkins Univ Pr. p. 139. 
  3. ^ Kraybill, Donald; C. Nelson Hostetter (2001). Anabapist World USA. Scottdale, Pennsylvania: Herald Press. p. 68. ISBN 0-8361-9163-3. 
  4. ^ Mackall, Joe (2007), Plain Secrets: An outsider among the Amish, Beacon Press (published June 15, 2007), ISBN 978-0-8070-1064-8 
  5. ^ Kraybill, Donald; C. Nelson Hostetter (2001). Anabapist World USA. Scottdale, Pennsylvania: Herald Press. p. 68. ISBN 0-8361-9163-3. 
  6. ^ Hurst, Charles E.; David L. McConnell (2001). An Amish Paradox: Diversity & Change in the World's Largest Amish Community. Johns Hopkins Univ Pr. p. 139. 
  7. ^ Hurst, Charles E.; David L. McConnell (2001). An Amish Paradox: Diversity & Change in the World's Largest Amish Community. Johns Hopkins Univ Pr. p. 139. 
  8. ^ Kraybill, Donald; C. Nelson Hostetter (2001). Anabapist World USA. Scottdale, Pennsylvania: Herald Press. p. 149. ISBN 0-8361-9163-3. 
  9. ^ Kraybill, Donald; C. Nelson Hostetter (2001). Anabapist World USA. Scottdale, Pennsylvania: Herald Press. p. 150. ISBN 0-8361-9163-3. 
  10. ^
  11. ^ Yoder 1987
  12. ^ For a detailed discussion of the 1927 split and its history, see The author, Alvin J. Beachy (1913-1986), was Moses' eleventh child.
  13. ^ "2008 Yearbook of American & Canadian Churches". The National Council of Churches. Retrieved 2009-12-01. 
  14. ^ "2000 2000 Religious Congregations and Membership Study". Glenmary Research Center. Retrieved 2009-12-01. 


  • Donald B. Kraybill, Karen M. Johnson-Weiner and Steven M. Nolt: The Amish, Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore MD 2013.
  • Karen Johnson-Weiner: New York Amish: Life in the Plain Communities of the Empire State, Cornell University Press, Ithaca, NY 2010.
  • Charles Hurst and David McConnell: An Amish Paradox. Diversity and Change in the World's Largest Amish Community, Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore MD 2010.

External links[edit]