What is Amish church like?

The church service reflects values key to Amish Christianity

amish churchHome worship is one aspect of Amish faith that sets them apart from other Christian denominations.  If you ask an Amishman where their church is, he may give you a puzzled look, point to his shop, or explain that the Amish church is not found in a building, but in a body of people.

Basic facts about Amish church:

  • Amish church takes place at Amish homes-Amish use basements, shops, and barns to hold service, reflecting both practicality and an emphasis on the body of believers as the true church
  • Amish services last a long time-three hours is the typical length of Amish church
  • Singing is an important part of Amish church-Singing from the Ausbund hymnbook opens and closes the Amish service
  • Amish services are simple-Amish church relies on few rituals, and consists of song, prayer and preaching
  • Preaching is a key part of Amish church-Amish ministers preach two sermons, one shorter (approx. 20 min) and one longer (approx. 1 hr)
  • Males lead the Amish church-Amish do not ordain women, though women may nominate and vote for candidates to the Amish ministry

Why do Amish hold church at home?

Early Anabaptists, fearing persecution from the State authorities, were forced to meet in secret, in forests and in caves.  Churches of the State Catholic church were seen as symbols of excess and worldliness.  Anabaptists at the time—as well as Amish today—did not see much practical value in constructing a church building to be used only occasionally.  The informal nature of church meetings continued as persecution died down and the Anabaptists were able to worship more openly.

amish church sunday
Amish buggies outside a church gathering in Wayne County, Ohio

Amish also take a literal Biblical view of church not as a physical building, but as the people that comprise it.  Holding church service in a variety of changing venues emphasises the importance of the body of believers as the church and diminishes the importance of the structure itself.

Preparing for church

Amish church occurs every two weeks, rotating among members of a given church district.  An Amish family will prepare well ahead of time for church, cleaning the home and getting together food for the after-church meal.  Visiting and viewing a member’s home for church is also an informal means of helping to uphold church standards.  Amish housewives in particular will take pains to present a tidy home.  A large enclosed wagon, known as a church wagon, will bring the benches and song books the Amish use to its latest destination.

amish church wagon
The church wagon is used to transport benches between Amish homes. Big Valley, Pennsylvania

On the day of church, the man of the house or his sons serve as hostlers, helping guests stable and water their horses.  Men will meet typically in the barn, and go around the line shaking hands.  Men will chat while waiting for others to arrive.  In some districts all male church members will walk down the line of men in order to exchange the holy kiss.  In others only the ministers will exchange this Biblical greeting (mentioned in Scriptural passages such as I Peter 5:14 and I Corinthians 16:20).  Women meet separately in the home.

A little before 9 am, men will begin filing into the structure where church will be held, commonly a basement, shop, room of the home, or sometimes barn (particularly in more conservative affiliations).  Women are already seated when men begin to enter.  Ministers and older men enter first, followed by younger married men, and finally, unbaptized youth and boys.  Men sit on one side of the room and women on the other, facing each other.

Amish church singing

Singing is done from the Ausbund, and ancient Amish hymnal.  The Ausbund book lacks musical notes, and Amish pass down the tunes from one generation to the next.  To start service, an Amish man will lead off, carrying the first few notes before all others join in.  Singing is especially drawn out, and a single line of a few words may last 30-45 seconds or longer, with a few seconds spent on each note.  Groups vary in the speed that they sing, with more conservative Amish singing slower.

The second song sung at all church services is always the Loblied, or literally “praise song”.  Shortly after the start of singing, ministers file out to a room of the house to discuss who is to preach that day.  They will also use this time to deliver instructional classes to any candidates for baptism.  After around a half an hour, they return, and as the last verse finishes up, the first preacher rises to begin his sermon.

Preaching in Amish worship

Amish services consist of two sermons, one long and one short.  The first sermon takes around 20 minutes, with the second lasting about an hour.  Preachers preach without notes or any assistance.  They typically base sermons on readings from the New Testament.

amish church lancaster
Amish ministers preach long sermons. Outside a Lancaster Amish home

Amish follow a set schedule of readings for the year known as a lectionary.  Amish preachers have different styles of delievering a sermon.  Even if a person does not understand Pennsylvania German, it is clear that some Amish preachers become quite emotional about the messages they are trying to convey.

Amish service also includes readings from the Bible and prayers, recited by the deacon.  The service is long, typically lasting three hours.  Services of more conservative affiliations, such as the Swartzentruber churches, may even last four hours.  Occasionally members may nod off.  Children sit silently, and may play with a toy, eat a snack, or doze off on a parent’s lap.  There is little interaction by the members and often individuals sit with face buried in hands.  Most do not make eye contact with the preacher or with one another.

Amish church service wraps up with more singing, and then if there are any church issues to attend to, a Members’ Meeting, during which any visitors and unbaptized individuals present are dismissed.  During the Members’ Meeting, Amish discuss any outstanding issues, such as matters of discipline.

The after-church meal

The after church meal follows a set menu which may vary slightly from community to community and district to district.  Typical foods include bread, pickles, beets, cheese, pretzels, sometimes a hot noodle soup, cookies, pie, and a standard favorite, a peanut butter spread sweetened with marshmallow creme and corn syrup or molasses.

swartzentruber amish church
A Swartzentruber Amish church service in Ashland County, Ohio

Amish eat in shifts, segregated by sex, and sitting at the same benches used for church which have been rearranged to form seats and table.  Older adults eat first, on down to the younger ones and youth in later shifts.  Amish women make the rounds pouring out black coffee and ice water.  The after-church meal and visiting which follows is a much-anticipated social time and opportunity to share and catch up on news.

Amish church values and Communion

Amish emphasize Scriptural values of unity, humility, and submission.  The church is seen as one body, and maintaining the purity of that body is paramount.  Amish will hold Communion services twice a year, a very important ritual which is an opportunity to work out any contentious church issues, reaffirm commitment to the Ordnung, and which generally serves as a “symbolic cleansing” of the church body.

Communion service lasts all day, and includes the consumption of bread and wine, as well as the rite of footwashing.  Amish values of humility and unity are fully evident in this bi-annual event.  Coming together for Communion is meant to be a joyous occasion of renewal.

Amish church worship demonstrates Amish Christian values

The Amish church service reflects key values of the Amish approach to Christianity.  Amish see the church as existing in the body of believers and not in a physical institution.  Amish services are simple and emphasize Scripture.  Amish song gives praise to God and acknowledges the suffering of their Anabaptist martyr predecessors.  Amish values of brotherhood, unity, and humility are all exhibited in preaching, prayer, and kneeling during the church service.

For more information, see:

The Amish Way: Patient Faith in a Perilous World, Donald B. Kraybill, Steven M. Nolt, David L. Weaver-Zercher (to be published Sep 2010)

Amish Society, John A. Hostetler

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  1. sonofagun

    Do any Amish congregations hold their services on Saturdays (7th day)?

  2. George C. Spencer

    Where in the Scriptures does the requirement to work on the seventh day of the week and not on the first? According to my calendar:1Su 2Mo 3Tu 4We 5Th 6Fr 7Sa.
    In German, isn’t Wednesday = “Mitvek”(which I was told, means “Middle of the week”? Do the Amish believe that the Ten Commandments were abolished at the death of Jesus? I realize, that the “Laws of Moses” (his Ceremonial laws and ordinances), were “Nailed to the Cross” but I don’t believe that God’s “Moral Laws” (the Ten Commandments) were ever dispelled of. God wrote His Laws into Rock (Jesus) and did it with His own Finger.

    1. costi

      Amen brother… but concerning amish nation, i really like they way of living, it is such a good example for me! sepparate from the world…

    2. Lance

      It is very simple: using Young’s Literal Translation, read Matthew 28:1, Mark 16:1-2, Luke 24:1, and John 20:1. Biblegateway.com has this Bible version. All other version except the original Greek have a different translation that does not mean what the original did. Why, how do I know? Someone started the mistranslation and everyone else followed. God sent us a trial?

      Summary of what these verses mean: The eve or end of the sabbaths is the end of the era of the Jewish, Saturday or seventh day sabbath. The first of the sabbaths is first of the era of Christian sabbaths, the dawn of the first, first day, Sunday sabbath. Other verses teach us that the nature of the Sunday sabbath is different then the Saturday seventh day sabbath.

    3. Jessie Cochran

      George Spencer

      Hallo und wie geht’s? (Hello and how are you?)

      Just a quick grammatical error I found in your post: Wednesday is spelt Mittwoch (Mitt-voch) (like an oven mitt) auf Deutsch. Mitverk may be the way Wednesday is spelled in Pennsylvania Deitsch, but not in German.

      Schönen Tag noch und schönes Wochenende! (Have a nice day and nice weekend!) 🙂

      – Jess C

      I took German for 2 years in high school.

  3. Kate

    No Amish church is always held on Sunday as is most churches. It is your opinion on what day is the 7th day, I don’t think it’s importnat what exact day but that we take a day to observe the Lord during the week. I choose to observe a day of rest on Sunday. “To each his own”, it is between you and God.

  4. James Britton II

    Attending Church

    Can persons from another faith/religious group attend an Amish church service? In my church, everyone is welcome and does not matter as to the religion of the visitor. I notice from the reading of the article, that there seems to be much tradition as to the order of things.

    Thank you.

  5. An awesome experience!

    A little over a year and a half ago, my husband and I took what was (for me, at least) a years-long dream of a visit to Amish country in Lancaster County. Through a neat set of circumstances, we got to stay at a dawdi house that a wonderful Amish couple rents out to tourists. When I was calling to make reservations, my husband — a Baptist minister — wanted me to find out whether we might be able to attend a church service. I — being the Amish fiction fan — warned him about the long services, German language, etc., but he still wanted to go.

    Long story a little shorter, we did get to visit the church service at the home of our hosts’ daughter and son-in-law. It was 3 hours long, almost every word in German (although one of the ministers did give a brief sentence or so of welcome in English and another quoted John 3:16 in English — all for our benefit). Afterwards, we joined in the fellowship meal — my husband in the barn with the men and me in the house with the ladies.

    Our impression was that is pretty unusual for non-Amish to visit their services, but we certainly felt welcomed by those in attendance — although before service, when we drove down the long lane in our car, while others were looking at us as they walking or arriving in buggies, we could have easily talked ourselves out of being the “outsiders,” turned around the other way, and left! This turned out to be one of the highlights of our trip, getting to participate in worship of the same God we worship but in such a different setting.

    1. Debbie Wang


      Would it be possible to give me the contact info of the Amish couple. I am always looking for a place for my friends to stay when they come and visit.

      1. Debbie,

        I am sorry that I just now saw your question about the contact info for the Amish couple. Actually, we had the privilege of visiting with them again just this past week.

        Their son is getting married soon and will be moving into the dawdi house, so they will no longer be renting it out after the first part of October. If you are needing a place before that time, you can send me a message at pamburke74@gmail.com and I’ll give you the info.

  6. George Spencer

    The Sabbath

    My question is: Whenever I look into the Sabbath question, I refer to the fact that Jesus “… as His custom was, would stand up to read the scriptures on the Sabbath.” Also, Jesus said that He is the Lord of the Sabbath. I really think that the Amish religion is very true… except the Sabbath on the first day of the week, instead of the seventh day, as God first sanctified and made Holy.
    The Sabbath is a memorial that His creation can go to once a week without taveling any distance. God provided His Memorial of His Creation ability, and He brings it TO His creatures. Sunday worship was changed by the Catholic, and accepted in the Council of Trent.
    Well, I think it was the Council of Trent, but it was at least one of their “Councils”. I’m not the best in dates. George

    1. Carlos

      Responding to George Spencer’s question, I believe the Sabbath was on the 7th day (as you mentioned) because of the Creation. However, since Jesus is the Lord of the New Creation, the new Sabbath is on the 1st day because the New Creation started when he rose on the 1st day, which is the new Sabbath.

      1. George Spencer

        The New Sabbath

        Being as the New Testament wasn’t written until 30 or more years after the death and resurrection of Jesus, and in the New Testament all of the disciples, along with those Gentiles that they taught on the Sabbath. It was never mentioned to start worshipping on the 1st day of the week, until the Catholic Church began teaching it around 325 AD. Check it out. I’m just trying to talk truth with you, because I think that the Amish are doing the correct thing in reference to worship, except you’re not following the Bible explicitly. I used to worship on Sunday, until I began really reading the Bible in depth and discovered that God set the Sabbath as a memorial to Himself that one didn’t have to travel to see as it the memorial came to each of God’s children every week, on its own. God’s Love is insurmountable. God established it and Satan wants to destroy it. God even made it as one of His 10 Commandments (4th). Being as Jesus is also, God in the Flesh, and he’s also Lord of the Sabbath, why would Jesus, who was with God from the very beginning, as He is God, change His Sabbath day without letting His prophets know? He never changed His Sabbath, He just rested on the Sabbath day as He requires us to do. God the Father is even in the Heart of the Sabbath. Abba means Father God in Hebrew. Thanks for reading.

        1. Carlos

          They already started worshiping on Sundays during the Apostle era. Acts 20:7 mentioned that they broke bread (Holy Communion) on the first day of the week.

  7. Daniel Endy

    I went to an Amish church service where my friend is a minister. I didn’t understand a word that was said but that was probably my favorite church experience in my life. In my opinion, there’s such a sweet spirit sitting in the barn, men facing the women, listening to these songs in High German, I felt transported back to the days of the early Anabaptists somehow. All the people i met were great people who were interested to know me and what my interest was in coming to church. When I approached my friend about coming he told me that they normally don’t have visitors, but because of our relationship He allowed me to come. That also is the smoothest run operation with all the benches then becoming the seats and tables for lunch. Love the amish people. I’m thankful for my Plain community friends.

    1. Thanks for sharing this Dan, as I read it, I found myself remembering feeling the same at Amish services. It’s not just the ceremony of the service, the community experience is in a way just as important.

      1. Dragan

        Comunion and fasting?

        I am interested in what exactly look like Amish communion(bread and wine) , and whether there are fasting days, for them? Dragan from Serbia (Europe)

        1. Amish Communion and Fast Days

          Hi Dragan, you’ll find a good description of Amish Communion and the Council Meeting that precedes it in the book The Amish Way, chapter 5, starting page 69.

          You should be able to read at least several pages of that at Google Books, but if you’re interested in the question of Amish spirituality you’ll probably find the full book worth reading.


          You might also find this post, by Rebecca Miller (member of an Amish community in Ohio), worth reading:


          As far as fast days, this varies across communities, but may include Good Friday, St. Michael’s Day (Oct 11), and Jan 6. There may also be fasting on the Sunday between Council Meeting and Communion.


          1. Dragan

            Amish Communion and Fast Days

            Thanks Eriк for a quick answer, I am an Orthodox Christian, but I am interested in Anabaptist spirituality, and since I work at night as a firefighter and security officer, I will definitely find time to read everything, I really am interested. Our greeting is Christ among us.

          2. Michael

            St Michael’s Day

            I believe St Michael’s Day is September 29th

  8. Don Curtis

    Amish church on Saturday

    I asked my son Mark about church being on any other day of the week besides Sunday. He told me that as far as he knew church was always on Sunday. He said it comes from the Diciples coming together on the first day of the week. But, he said that when it is communion time in the spring or fall that Amish churches often like to have bishops from other districts or communities that they are in fellowship with to officiate for communion. Sometimes the only way they can work out the logistics for this is to have the services on a Saturday or even on a Friday. Mark said this does happen occasionally.

    1. Lance

      We had two church services on days other than Sunday while I was Amish. The first was when New Years day was on Sunday, so we had church on Saturday. The second time was after the other district chose a minister, we had church on Tuesday so that the visiting ministers could preach to our district too. One of the visiting ministers was a older bishop that all had great respect for. I understood him better than most ministers.

  9. Don Curtis

    Communion Sunday

    Mark was telling me that this past Sunday was his district’s communion Sunday. He said that it lasts from 9:00 AM until around 11:30 AM when they break for lunch. The morning half of the day is spent focusing on the Patriarchs of the Old Testament. Then from 11:30 until 12:30 they break for lunch. Every family brings their own pack lunch. From 12:30 PM until about 3:00 PM the Bishop preaches on the “Sufferings of Christ.” About 3:00 they have communion with bread and wine. The service closes with foot washing. I have never been to Amish church except for a couple of times the last part of a wedding when one of Mark’s particular friends’ children was getting married. I can’t understand a word of the German. Mark said that for communion Sunday he takes a couple of Ibuprofen so that his back can last out all of those hours on a backless bench. I know that I couldn’t do it. Goodness, I can barely handle sitting in my comfortable recliner I have so many aches and pains. But I guess that’s how it is when you’re a few weeks shy of ninety.

  10. George Spencer

    The New Sabbath

    Yes, Carlos, they did continue worshipping on the first day of the week, because they were already worshipping on the Sabbath, and when sunset arrived (the end of the Sabbath – Friday sunset to Saturday sunset) they just continued to preach and worship, and as they were getting together for dinner (breaking bread) on Saturday night, Paul continued to preach to them until morning, as he was then going to continue on to Troas by foot. Check it out. He wants you to not break His Commandments. God knows that most churches of today, came out of the Catholic Church. Even the Amish and Mennonite, along with the Methodist, Baptist, and other came out of the Catholic Church, due to their demands for their parishioners to worship the Pope as a Vicar of God.
    It’s not me or any man who wishes for you and anyone to worship Him on His Sabbath, it’s Him. Please think on this very hard and Pray to God on this. What did He say? “In vain they worship Me, teaching for doctrine, the commandments fo men”. If the teaching of the change of the Sabbath was from God’s Sabbath to Man’s sabbath (the 1st day of the week), then Jesus foretold it in Mark 7:7. Please read it, The Lord is asking you to. Thanks, and May God continue to Bless and Keep you. – George

    1. Carlos

      I would disagree that their Sunday worship was a continuation from the Sabbath worship. The accounts in the book of Acts recorded their visit to the synagogues on the Sabbath, the main purpose is to share the Gospel. Acts 20:7 is specific that they “came together” (“7 On the first day of the week we came together to break bread.”), not like what you said “continued” the worship (besides, if they did worship in the synagogue, why then meet in the house to “continue” worship?).

    2. Lance

      Sunday is the correct day to worship

      I do not know why, but all english translations of the Bible that I have seen mistranslate the verses that refer to Resurrection Sunday, except Young’s Literal Translation.

      From Young’s Literal Translation:
      Mt 28:1 And on the eve of the sabbaths, at the dawn, toward the first of the sabbaths, came Mary the Magdalene, and the other Mary, to see the sepulchre,
      Lu 24:1 And on the first of the sabbaths, at early dawn, they came to the tomb, bearing the spices they made ready, and certain [others] with them,
      John 20:1 And on the first of the sabbaths, Mary the Magdalene doth come early (there being yet darkness) to the tomb, and she seeth the stone having been taken away out of the tomb,

      What is important here is that sabbaths is plural in these verses. It is not referring to just that day but of several sabbaths or an era of sabbaths. So, Mt 28:1 says at the eve or end of sabbaths(the Jewish Saturday sabbath), as it began to dawn on the first of the sabbaths(the Christian Sunday sabbath)….. These 3 verses change the day of rest and worship for God’s people from the Jewish Saturday to the Christian Sunday. The apostles and disciples understood this correctly and the early Christian church worshiped on Sunday.

      Something else we get from this study is that Jesus Christ absolutely arose on early Sunday morning, not Monday as some claim. That means that there was no Easter Monday nor, by extension, Pentecost Monday. While one can still take them as holidays, they should not be seen as holy days.

      Why these verses are mistranslated, I do not know. I have examined the Textus Receptus Greek with study helps and sabbaths are plural. In High German, most versions are like the King James, so they are singular, but the version the Amish call the Lancaster Bible does read like Young’s Literal at Mt 28:1 with sabbaths being plural.

      The point here is that the Word of God does change the sabbath from Saturday to Sunday and keeps it as God Holy day for His people. It is modified later to be different from the Jewish Sabbath in that we are to not do our work in our businesses, but the work of God: worship, rest, fellowship with other believers, passing our tracts and other evangelizing, etc. There are 6 days for us to make our living, and one day wholly for God.

      I was not taught this by the Amish, but by a ministry that is not at all plain. They did teach from the Bible and went back to the original texts to be accurate, willing to drop the ways of man for the Truth and Will of God.

      1. George Spencer

        I’ve brought this to your attention… and I can do no more.
        May God continue to bless and keep you and your family, Lance.

      2. George Spencer

        Dear Lance,

        Don’t you think, that since God (Jesus) is the creator of the Sabbath, and said that He gave His people His Sabbaths (Ezek 20:12), that if he was to change it to the first day of the week, that He himself would’ve said to His people, “I now change my Sabbath to the 1st day, because I am now resurrected by My own power.”?

        Satan wants this supposed change to be followed, pulling our Heavenly Father’s children further away from Him, and instead look to the ways and efforts of Satan. Satan spews out deception at every turn. The ways of the mainstream churches that came out of the Catholic Church (Amish included) may protest the teachings of the Catholic Church, but they still keep their teaching of the 1st day change from God’s 7th day.

        You have the right to believe in which ever way you want… it’s your decision. I just wanted to bring it out to you and to all of those people who may have never thought about the change that man has made, due to their interpretation. If God had made such an important change as His “Memorial Day as being the Creator of the Universe”, and His love for His creation to worship Him without the bother of the way of the world getting in the way, and a Memorial to where His children won’t have to travel to see (it comes to them every week), don’t you think that He would’ve made it explicit in His writing to us? Since God never changes, and is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow, why would He have changed His especially created Sabbath Day, His blessed and sanctified created Memorial Day, to a day that wasn’t anymore than the 1st day of the week? Being as God established the days from the creation of the world, and that He knows everything from the beginning, including the fact that His creation would cause His own death, which He needed to happen for Him to be the slain Lamb and receive our sins unto Himself, and He knew that He’d be resurrected on the 3rd day (died on the sixth day(1st) – rested on the seventh Sabbath day(2nd) – and resurrected on the 1st day(3rd)), don’t you think that He knew that Satan would grab onto this chance to change our Heavenly Father’s created, Blessed and Sanctified Day to a normal 1st day? Sure He did! In my opinion, and it is my opinion… those who need to “interpret” His Sabbath as a day other than the one that He explicitly and clearly wrote in His Word, should rethink what they’re doing. The choice is theirs. It’s easy to do, to rest your soul into the interpretation of a church that one’s born and raised in. My Dad was raised that way so I’m that way. That settles it. Well, that’s true… that settles it.

        May God continue to Bless and Keep you and yours,

        1. Lance

          Mt 13:13 Therefore speak I to them in parables: because they seeing see not; and hearing they hear not, neither do they understand.

          Mt 13:34 All these things spake Jesus unto the multitude in parables; and without a parable spake he not unto them:

          I have made my witness with scripture here and above. It is pointless to continue this arguing here since it is being ignored.

        2. Cathy Carnahan

          Sabbath vs. Sun-day worship

          I am a descendant of famous Amish/Mennonite Reverends and many wonderful famous pioneers of this church in America. I am so looking forward to Yahushua returning soon and going into the Kingdom/Millenium on earth with Him reigning and ruling. Before that event, we as His scattered Israel amongst the nations are going to experience The Time of Trouble. He will be setting us all straight, ONCE AGAIN, about when His Sabbaths and Holy Feasts are because we will NOT be gathering manna on those days. Just wait and see… Love and Shalom

    3. Michael

      Vicar of Christ


      Just to correct you, Catholics do not “worship” the pope. Worship is due only to God. Also the pope is the vicar of Christ. He is also servus servorum Dei. Servant of the servants of God

      All the best!

  11. Valerie

    Women wear black dresses on Sunday

    Does anyone know if the Amish women wear black dresses to church every sunday?
    And if so, why?

    1. Lance

      The color choice of Amish women’s dress is a mystery that only they know, but I will try to explain what I see there. Other fellowships may have different practices.

      If you are mourning someone, you wear black. How closely related to you determines how long and on what days you wear black.
      On holy days or high church days like communion, you wear black.
      If someone is being disciplined, you wear black.

      On most other church days, you wear other colors as the fellowship allows.

      I hope one of the ex-Amish women that read the blog will chime in here as I am just relaying my observations.

  12. Don Curtis

    Mark's church

    I asked Mark about what the women wear in his church for church. He said that all of the women wear a cape dress in muted colors with a full apron for church. For outer wear they are to wear a black bonnet and shawl. For baptisms, communions, and funerals the women wear black. For daily wear the women may wear a shorter apron.

  13. Jessie Cochran

    Good post, Erik! Very informative.