We sometimes forget that, in pre-Revolutionary America, the religious landscape was dominated by churches that rested on legal establishment: the Congregationalists in New England, and the Episcopalians in New York, Virginia, Maryland, North and South Carolina, and Georgia. What exactly did legal establishment mean? It is so far removed from our own experience that we may not realize what an intensive role the government playing in administering the churches. the state collected tithes (which all citizens were legally required to pay, whether they attended the established church or no). The state also laid out new parish boundaries, subsidized new church construction, maintained parish properties, paid clergymen’s salaries, hired and fired them, and even took measures to suppress dissenters. Baptist preachers, for example, were sometimes jailed and beaten. Yes, here in America! Finally, in many states, government positions were limited to church members – there were religious tests for office.
[. . .]
[a] key to success on the frontier is that you have to be there. You have to be willing to sacrifice the comforts of the settled cities in order to minister among rough people living rough lives. As a rule, the established clergy were not willing to do that. In the state-supported churches (and in wealthier churches generally), the training for pastors was a long, expensive process that led to a chronic shortage of clergy, thus giving them considerable bargaining power over salary and location. Many simply refused to go to the unsettled frontier areas.
By contrast, the Methodist circuit preachers became a legend on the frontier. They traveled constantly, virtually living in the saddle.
– Nancy Pearcey, Total Truth , pp 263-264
She has some fascinating statistics that show that the rate of religious affiliation in the US has increased since the revolution, while at the same time, the “market share” of the older mainline churches has been decreasing since the First & Second Great Awakenings. The 19th century was the Age of Methodism. The 20th century has been the Age of the Baptists (with pentecostal/charismatics coming on strong towards the end of the century). During this entire time, while the number and percentage of Americans who indicate that they are affiliated with a church has increased, the numbers of Congregationalists, Episcopalians, & Presbyterians has been declining.