Why do Amish people choose to be Amish?

Just back from Lancaster County.  We had a good discussion the other evening at a cookout with some English and Amish friends.

Youth issues, clothing, and church standards were among the Amish-related topics on the table.  All accompanied by fire-grilled hot dogs, heirloom tomatoes, and S’mores and fresh berries for dessert.  Hard to beat that.

Talk at one point turned to the question of why Amish people decide to be Amish.  It seems to me there are really two parts to it–two decisions.  There is a choice to join the church.  Then there is the choice to remain in it, or leave.

Some things suggested that may play a part (in no particular order):

  • Fear of the Bann
  • A sense that one’s heritage is valuable
  • Not wanting to disappoint parents
  • Religious conviction
  • A fear of going to hell

An English friend who has done much research with the Amish observed how strong, for some, the parental motivation seems to be.

Some parents would simply be devastated if children turned away from the church. This can have a big influence on their sons and daughters.

He also said that fear of hell is something one might see in plainer groups. The Amish present seemed surprised to hear this offered as a reason.

No grand conclusions were reached.  Though I’ve never worn the shoes, I’d suppose any of these factors, or some combination of them, could play a role.

Thinking about it later I came up with a few more you could probably add to this list. It also seems any and all could work in both parts of the decision–the joining, and the staying or going.

One of the young Amish ladies wondered, concern clear in her voice, if being Amish isn’t just something that we’re used to.  Do we really know why we live the way we do?

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    1. Forest

      “One of the young Amish ladies wondered, concern clear in her voice, if being Amish isn’t just something that we’re used to. Do we really know why we live the way we do?”

      This, I think, can apply to members of any church denomination, anywhere. We have discussed this several times in Sunday School and church. All the traditions in the world, all the modest dress, all the hymns, fellowship dinners, and church attendance will not get us to Heaven if our hearts are not right with our Lord. The traditions and guidelines I feel, personally, are usually helpful in understanding how to live a Godly life, but if we lack a real relationship with Jesus, then we are like the white washed tombs Jesus compared the Pharisees to; clean and shiny on the outside but inside all full of dead men’s bones.

      Just a short thought before feeding the chickens….


      1. Sherry

        Comment on Why do Amish choose to be Amish

        Very well stated, Forest. “By grace are we saved, through faith: and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God; Not of works, lest any man should boast.” Eph.2:8-9.

      2. Debbie H

        Amen to that

        A big AMEN Forest.

      3. Wm Justice

        Well said Forest, I could not agree more. I dearly love my Swartzentruber Amish friends but have, as a Believer, a real problem with their theological legalistic beliefs. But as we all know, it is not our place to judge and I dare not. We already have someone above with that duty.

    2. Al in Ky

      Thanks for posting about this topic. I have wondered about this
      question each time there has been a post about authors who have
      written about why they left Amish life. I think you’ve given a good list of the reasons. I think Kraybill, Johson-Weiner and
      Nolt address this in their new book The Amish in their chapter
      on “From Rumspringa to Marriage”. From their book,some additional reasons for choosing to be Amish may include peer pressure, economic opportunities, and joining the church after experiencing the “bankrupt, empty life of ‘doing your own thing'”.

      1. Other reasons for joining the Amish

        Thanks for sharing these Al.

        Others that came to mind include marriage to someone who is or is going to be Amish (one Amishman told me he probably wouldn’t be Amish today were it not for a special someone), and security (that could be unpacked to mean different things, financial, emotional, etc).

        Some might say in an ideal world we do everything from “pure” motives…in this case I suppose that would mean joining out of a deep religious conviction.

        Reality is different and I can’t say I’d fault someone if other influences came into play beyond religious conviction.

        Ironically Amish converts may be among the strongest on the religious conviction motivation.

    3. Jack P. Brooks

      Unequally yoked

      The problem with the world today is that it is very corrupt, more-so than what meets the eye, and our humanity as we know it are in our last days.

      The writing is on the wall everywhere.

      The world is a very dangerous place at present, and the future look grim for morally conscious people, so to make it in society as a believer on your own is insanity, and a total destruction of oneself.

      Praise God and be thankful that you have your brothers and sisters for support, you have no idea how blessed you really are.

      2 Corinthians 6:14
      Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers: for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? and what communion hath light with darkness?

      2 Corinthians 6:17
      Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you.

      1. Dave

        Very well said Jack. Man leaves salvation by the side of the ladder as they reach higher for the next shiny thing. Always hungry, never satisfied. Chasing after the wind. Connecting with our brothers and sisters in Christ strengthens & comforts us as three cords. IMHO

    4. Lattice

      I agree. Amish being “something we’re used to” would be the greatest reason I would remain Amish, along with the fear of severing ties, as well as attempting to make it in the outside world with such little support.

      If a nest is never “stirred up,” as the Bible puts it, and is never made uncomfortable, one would desire to live there in the comfort of a the safe nest indefinitely. Those who easily decide to leave the Amish are often a part of very uncomfortable nest: Church problems, family problems, people problems, typically (I believe).

      1. Great insight Lattice. Regarding those who leave, I never thought of it in this way. We tend to stay within our comfort zones unless prodded.

    5. Erin

      Ex-Amish, Mose Gingerich, posted 10 reasons why Amish choose to be Amish: http://www.amishinthecitymose.com/amish-for-life-part-ii/#more-7212

      1. I was surprised to see “singing” listed at number 2. A testament to the moving power of singing for Mose and probably quite a few others.

        We had 14 Amish voices singing in 4 parts (or was it just 3 present… 😉 ) for us a couple nights ago…hard not to be moved.

        “Food” is another obvious one but maybe one that shouldn’t be overlooked.

        I have heard the power of Amish peanut butter described as making Amish leavers have pangs over their decision.

    6. Matt from CT

      I think the young lady nailed it.

      It’s what they’re used to, and Amish society deliberately narrows down the choices people can make.

      That’s not necessarily a bad thing, too many choices often make people unhappy. It’s called the “Paradox of Choice.”

    7. Veronica

      Just a thought

      I have been reading this blog alot lately but have never commented. I was thinking about the reason of parental pressure and thought to myself how this is very much the same in the English world. I know many people who are pressured to get an education and have a great career because of parental and peer pressure. If there parents are materialistic and caught up in things they may have a hard time choosing a more frugal life and maybe a heart that wants to serve others more than a big paying career job. Although I think it is wonderful to when they choose to follow their hearts. Many children stay in churches they were brought up in even if they feel they could better be used in other spiritual ways. I believe we just want the love and support of our families and friends and many times people will sacrifice to keep those important support networks. So my thought is that we have many of the same pressures. My prayer is that we quiet ourselves enough to listen to our heart and also what God has planned for us. Have a great weekend!!

      1. Veronica thank you for reading and I appreciate you dipping into the comments. Some good thoughts in your comment and this in particular struck me:

        “I believe we just want the love and support of our families and friends and many times people will sacrifice to keep those important support networks.”

    8. Jack P. Brooks

      Pandora's box

      Believe me, all who are on this site are either Amish, or Amish wannabes.

      We believers envy you Amish people, please do NOT allow the evil one to entice you, because if given a chance he will destroy you.

      You have NO idea how blessed you are to be part of your Amish family.

      The world is NOT what the movies or mainstream media is trying to tell you it is.

      The world would chew you up and spit you out when they’re done with you if you were to leave your nest.

      1. Veronica

        I just wanted to add that I agree with your comment. I having been watching the Amish series on TLC and I do not observe any happiness in any of the five people. Deep down in there hearts they may be doing what they think they want but I would say they are not truely happy with their new lives!!!

      2. Site demographic narrower than I thought

        “Believe me, all who are on this site are either Amish, or Amish wannabes.”

        No 3rd option Jack? 🙂

        On the contrary, I think quite a few Amish could manage well enough “in the world” (I’m assuming that to mean most “not Amish” states of being), could even thrive, and some end up doing just that.

        Would they be satisfied or where would the spiritual paths of their descendants lead are separate questions. Questions some Amish ask but cannot be answered.

        All things considered (and the dysfunctional cases aside) I think most Amish are at least reasonably content where they are and many are happy.

        Another question: are they more content on average than English?

      3. Annette

        No, not at all!

        I’m atheist, but when I was younger, I was an extremely religious Christian. My parents were nonbelievers, and I had lots of Amish and Mennonite friends. I attended a Conservative Mennonite church with plans to become Amish. . . after I attended college. 🙂

        So, the Amish thing never happened. And I’m not Christian of any stripe anymore, but I do frequent this site because I’m still interested in the Amish way of life.

        So, no, I’m not Amish, nor do I want to be Amish. I visit lots of blogs of things I’m interested in without necessarily wanting to “become” that thing.

        I’m sure there are many visitors here who are not deeply religious Christians, though most posters seem to be.

    9. Jack P. Brooks

      I’m sure you are right, there are lots of people from many faiths that could walk away from their fundamental beliefs and join corruption, but is it the corrupt world they’re trying to influence, or are they doing God’s will, that’s the question.

      As far as being happier outside of their hedge of protection from the insanity of the world, I’m positive if you talked to anyone on the outside, they would all say the same thing, that they should have and could have done better, but for who’s benefit, that’s the question?

      Read Ecclesiastes too,it’s all right there in black and white. There is NOTHING that the Bible doesn’t cover.

      Matthew 6:24
      No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon.

      Luke 16:13
      No servant can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon.

      1. Jack P. Brooks

        Something to listen to and to consider


    10. stephanie

      I think many stay because the sense of community is so strong. The Bann is a big one but most churches lift the Bann after 6the months if the person goes to another Anabaptist (headcovering) church. My daughter has a speciaal friend who is old order (we are Beachy) and they have talked and talked about what they would do in the future. If he should get baptized (knowing if he did he would be in the Bann for a time if he goes to our church). It is a hard choice. Fortunately he has supportive parents and they are “ok” with him going to a Beachy church. We dress plain, have kept dutch (which seems to be a big thing) and wear a covering his parents approve of. I still think they would be a bit disappointed. The loss of horse and buggy is a big deal.

    11. Jack P. Brooks

      I live in New Brunswick Canada, I wish there was an old order here, sadly there is not.

      I attended a Mennonite church last Sunday not knowing, but they are not the old order. I know they would enjoy me returning, but I have no interest in a group slowly conforming to this corrupt world.

      I live in the country, I have a full beard, and I am slowly converting to that lifestyle a little at a time on my own.

      Of course I would love to be part of like minded group of people, but they do not exist anywhere around where I live on this side of the border.

      I understand there are some in Maine, but I prefer to remain here in Canada.

      I`m not too impressed as to where the United States is heading right now.

      America is incrementally destroying everything Christian right under their noses.

      Canada is a safe heaven as compared to, and getting better each and every day. We still have a long ways to go mind you, but we have only had a right-wing majority government for a very short time too. But in that period of time, I have witnessed miracles, we are slowly regaining what America is rapidly losing.

    12. Daryl

      Dear friends you are so busy looking at why the Amish want to stay in their world that you are not considering why the Amish do not want to live in your world.

      If not sure, look at your teenagers for one example.
      The Amish youth know that in a few short years they will be married with kids, they know kids grow up and if they going to grow up to look like some of those ‘things’ slithering around in your world, then raising ones kids Amish is a no brainer.
      By default, that means joining the church.

      The ban, not a big issue for the unbaptised youth.
      The parents, yeah a big issue, no matter what age.
      Valuable heritage, diffinitely.
      Religious conviction, for most possibly.
      Fear of going to hell, only if you join another church denomination, especially not a plain one.
      As for salvation by works, read the Dortrecht Confession of Faith point VI.

      VI. Of Repentance and Reformation of Life

      We believe and confess, that, since the imagination of man’s heart is evil from his youth, and, therefore, prone to all unrighteousness, sin, and wickedness, the first lesson of the precious New Testament of the Son of God is repentance and reformation of life, and that, therefore, those who have ears to hear, and hearts to understand, must bring forth genuine fruits of repentance, reform their lives, believe the Gospel, eschew evil and do good, desist from unrighteousness, forsake sin, put off the old man with his deeds, and put on the new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness: for, neither baptism, supper, church, nor any other outward ceremony, can without faith, regeneration, change or renewing of life, avail anything to please God or to obtain of Him any consolation or promise of salvation; but we must go to God with an upright heart, and in perfect faith, and believe in Jesus Christ, as the Scripture says, and testifies of Him; through which faith we obtain forgiveness of sins, are sanctified, justified, and made children of God, yea, partake of His mind, nature, and image, as being born again of God from above, through incorruptible seed. Genesis 8:21; Mark 1:15; Ezekiel 12:2; Colossians 3:9, 10; Ephesians 4:22, 24; Hebrews 10:22, 23; John 7:38.

      1. Jack P. Brooks

        My daily miracle

        Thank you Father, Lord Jesus Christ, and especially to you Holy Spirit for making it materialize.

      2. It may not have been clear but the reference to hell and plain churches was not about leaving then joining a plain church.

        It was that you may find the belief that forgoing the Amish church will lead to hell in some of the more traditional/plainer Amish churches (but not so much in higher Amish churches, which is probably why these Lancaster Amish seemed surprised to hear of it).

      3. Mary Yoder

        Why do Amish people choose to be Amish

        I am Amish and have been reading all through these comments, even if I should be getting my job done. Most of you have great ideas. I would say Daryl hit the nail on the head. Me being a more liberal Amish, I do agree that the Swartzentruber Amish being more steeped in tradition. If that keeps them humble and open to God’s leading, then most likely it is where they are meant to be.
        Erik, I like your comments, and always have a sixth sense what you will say.
        All in all, there is TOO MUCH media about us! Misleading TV shows, and maybe, hopefully the cast is already back to listening to Mom and Dad, OH I hope.

        1. Erin

          I really enjoy your contributions, Mary. I agree that the Amish are in the media spotlight with much false information, but find this blog to be very educational and informative (and fun!). I think that the best opportunity to learn more is visiting with the Amish. Thanks again!

    13. Julie Turner

      Staying Amish

      If I were Amish, and I looked out and saw what was going on in the world, I would want to stay where I am as well.

    14. Tana

      Why Amish stay Amish

      I think a lot of the reason for staying Amish is tradition. We all strive to keep some part of our family history alive, even in the fast paced English would. I still do things the “old fashion way” because I was raised that way. My family and I are farmers because that’s what our families have always been. Our parents and grandparents have a huge impact on who we are as adults, and being comfortable with who you are comes from family values and traditions. Staying Amish is a way of life, both at home and in the church. They are held to a high standard of conduct too. That’s why so many people are trying to become Amish these days. A slower, more peaceful life style is what they are hungry for, but it can be done without becoming Amish (although I too, have dreamed of what it would be like to be Amish). Live a simple, Godly life. Be more in tune with your neighbors and community and church, and live as self reliable as possible, and your almost Amish. I admire the Amish for standing their ground and sticking with tradition.

      1. Erin

        Tana, I couldn’t agree with you more!

    15. Andrea green

      I think most amish may choose to join the church because they have had rumspringer , and i guess in most cases family friends community and their faith out numbers what the world can offer them. I think the reason why i like finding out more about the Amish and Menonites is we as English have lost something of are vaulues and the way we live as communitys, i guess its looking to the old and seeing how we should be again, i try and live a modest life with my faith clearly visible, i have and will continue to cut things from my life that distract me from my saviour Jesus, and hopefully make a diffrence in my community by shinning Jesus there, yes this may sound twee, but by living and been modestly dress and keeping are behaviour in check, does and will have a influance on people around us, as are the Amish in this world today. We and i now i do long to serve the holy living God with the desire of my heart to live a more holy life. Jesus gave us free will, so we and the young Amish choose, choose for yourselfs this day whom you will serve… But as for me and my household We will SERVE the LORD. Joshua 24:15. 🙂 have a blessed day dear people.

    16. Jack P. Brooks

      Matthew 6:6
      But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret; and thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly.

    17. Rachel

      The PRIMARY reason most people stay Amish is because it would be horrifically difficult to do otherwise, especially among plainer groups.
      Imagine you are a child and from day one you are told that one day you will go to XYZ college. Oh, there are other colleges too, but you won’t go there.
      Your parents went to XYZ as did all your other relatives, except maybe a few crazy ones. Everyone at church went to XYZ, as did all your friends parents. When you go to school you are specifically trained for XYZ, and when you go to church you are admonished that the wide way, in other words the other colleges, will lead you to a life of unhappiness. When you are a teenager you go to huge gatherings of others raised by XYZ alumni. They are all expected to go to XYZ. You are expected to find a partner from this group. Everyone of these people is constantly wearing clothing with the name XYZ emblazoned on it.
      Occasionally there are stories told of someone who went to an alternate college with good intentions but it never turns out that way. The story it told in a sad yet knowing voice. Oh and if you do decide to go to XYZ and then change your mind about the suitability of it, you will be shunned. The XYZers will not eat at the table with you, they will not ride in your car with you. If you are married to an XYZer you will be expected to refrain from ‘marital relations.’ If by chance you do not do so and the female partner becomes pregnant, then the remaining XYZer can also be shunned because of this transgression.
      People, that is not much of a choice.

      1. brainwashing or immersion therapy

        The XYZ analogy is interesting.

      2. wildxangel

        Gods never told us to lay down on our backs and take it…..Be bold and walk with my faith and I will be there….

    18. Jack P, Brooks

      Shock theropy

      I guess the Amish see the movie jet set and think the English way of life is all peaches and cream.

      Here is only a piece of the real world, remember too that this is merely one that has been caught on tape:


    19. Sandra Kathleen

      Huston Smith made a life work of religions of the world. According to him, a person generally chooses to follow the faith in which he or she grew up as much because of his or her cultural practice and identity as his or her religious practice. Inasmuch as the Amish, like ultra-orthodox in other faiths, live with rules that encourage definition and separation from “the world”, it would be difficult to turn one’s back on the faith.

      As to the comment that those who populate this site are Amish or Amish wannabes…well, it would be difficult for me to imagine that very many Amish would be able to view, let alone comment on the content of this site…I haven’t heard of computers and the internet being very readily available to an Amish person, let alone be within the Ordnung (with the exception of business)! 🙂

      I am not a wannabe Amish woman. That said, I believe there is a very definite witness I see in some of the faith practices and beliefs espoused by the Anabaptist faith that inform my faith journey.

      For the most part, I find this site informative of Amish faith and life, as well as that of others through the various blogs on the site. As Christians who want a faith practiced hour-by-hour rather than week-to-week, I think we have much to share and be enlightened by. (Again, thank you, Erik!)

      Also, I find practical resources for living a life that tends to be more self-sufficient than the general American’s prepackaged, over-advertised, media-filled experience. I guess I just feel like I have more in common than not with Amish folk and others who live a plain faith: I admire hard work, thrift, self-sufficiency, and dedication to faith that is more than lip service. I find like-minded people on these pages.

    20. Jack P. Brooks

      Listen to the Holy Spirit

      Revelation 2:17
      He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches; To him that overcometh will I give to eat of the hidden manna, and will give him a white stone, and in the stone a new name written, which no man knoweth saving he that receiveth it.


    21. Katrina

      Being Amish

      I think Daryl pretty much nailed it. During rumspringa, teens look around, see what’s going on in the English world, and after a while, decide they are not missing much of anything. Parts of Amish Ordnung may change slowly but Ordnung does change.

    22. Jack P. Brooks

      Yes, Daryl hit the nail right on the head.

      When they Ordnung changes, so does the entire group, and that’s the part that I dislike.

      One bad apple will eventually destroy the whole barrel.

      The Ordnung prohibits certain behaviors and technologies. These include:

      public electricity
      suing in a court of law
      owning certain technologies such as automobiles or televisions
      running for political office

      These are just a few that I found and copied right from this site, which obliviously hasn’t been updated in a long time.

      Because I would say that cell phones and computers should be at the top of that list.

      1. Jack it might be worth reading a book like the recently released ‘The Amish’ by Kraybill/Johnson-Weiner/Nolt.

        The reason computers and cell phones are not included in the list you excerpted has nothing to do with when that page was last updated. If anything cell phones and computers have become more accepted by Amish in recent years (though not without kickback).

        This list of 5 is “safe” when speaking generally about a group as diverse as the Amish, because those 5 apply to nearly all Amish, and don’t require updating barring some sea change across the Amish.

        A fuller excerpt from the article you got the list from:

        What the Ordnung forbids

        The Ordnung prohibits certain behaviors and technologies. These include:

        public electricity
        suing in a court of law
        owning certain technologies such as automobiles or televisions
        running for political office

        Donald Kraybill notes that certain technologies and behaviors are categorically prohibited—not allowed in any situation. These would include technologies such as televisions or activities such as gambling (see The Riddle of Amish Culture, Donald B. Kraybill, pp. 112-116).

        Other types of technology may be permitted in certain circumstances—such as vehicle use (as passengers but not as a driver), or even rental of an automobile (as in a business context, or when traveling long distances) but not ownership of it. The Ordnung often differentiates between ownership and usage, as in the case where an Amish employee may use a computer in a non-Amish work context, but would be prohibited from owning one at home.

    23. Tom Geist

      Al in Kentucky mentioned a reason could be economic opportunities. I agree. Stopping formal education at the 8th grade level can limit what one might be able to do in the English world. English kids also learn to socialize more then the Amish which helps them when applying for work.

      Jack P. Brooks said that “Believe me, all who are on this site are either Amish, or Amish wannabes.” I have an interest in knowing what different denominations of Christians believe. And although so far I am impressed with many of the Amish people I have met, I have no interest in joining the Amish.

      I have not found among the Amish those whos every other sentence is a bible quote no a condemnation. They do not seem full of themselves, or claim that they have all of the answers. They seem respectful and reflective. I appreciate that.
      Tom Geist… LincNebr@hotmail.com

    24. Rachael


      AMEN Forest! I totally agree with you!! Very well stated.

    25. ADalton

      I’m a Skeptic whose basically an Atheist, and I read this blog because I am interested in learning about the Amish.