- The Washington Times - Friday, April 20, 2001

PHILADELPHIA — Amish communities and other isolated religious colonies are thriving by persuading their children to continue their largely preindustrial ways and remain with their churches, according to a new study.
The Amish, the largest of four "Old Order" groups examined, keep more than 75 percent of their children in the fold, according to the study.
Hutterites, the nations oldest rigidly communal Protestant order, persuade more than 95 percent of their young to remain in the large agricultural communes located mostly in the northwestern United States and western Canada.
"Simply making babies will not ensure growth," said Don Kraybill, co-author of the study. "Children must be persuaded to stay with the church as adults. And the surprise is that they are."
Results from the 10-year study have been compiled in a book published this month by Johns Hopkins University Press, "On the Backroad to Heaven." It is billed as one of the most extensive studies ever conducted of the Old Order religious groups.
Mr. Kraybill, a sociologist at Messiah College in Grantham, Pa., and co-author Carl F. Bowman, a professor at Bridgewater College in Virginias Shenandoah Valley, spent time living among the groups, attending worship services and working beside them in barns.
The believers they studied were the Amish, Hutterites, Old Order Mennonites and strict Brethren. The first such groups settled in Pennsylvania in the early 1700s. These are traditionalist branches of a broader movement that traces its roots directly back to the Anabaptists of 16th century Europe.
One reason for the Old Order groups success in retaining young members is that these religious communities have created an out-of-the-mainstream culture — with distinctive dress, customs and sometimes even language — which is difficult for children to escape.
"Its a real culture shock," Mr. Kraybill said. "Leaving is not only hard because they would be so isolated from their parents, friends and family, its also like a foreign country."

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