“Most Presbyterian churches that are over a hundred years old were once rural churches….Their earliest roots may have been in the newly-turned earth of a well-nigh trackless wilderness or between the corn-rows of some fertile field….The pastorate of a single minister has been long enough for one certain village church of a hundred members to become a church of over three thousand members in a city of over 150,000 population.”
-Herman N. Morse, The Rural Mission of the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A.
The work of mobile ministers emerged from the Presbyterian Board of Publication, established in 1839 with an aim toward growing Sunday school ministries. In 1887, as the work of Sunday school ministers increased, the board was renamed the Presbyterian Board of Publication and Sabbath School Work. Within 25 years, Sunday school missionaries had established at least 1,500 new churches in remote, rural areas across the country. After it became apparent that their work fell more in line with the national mission work of the Board of Home Missions, the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. General Assembly transferred the agency to the newly reorganized Board of National Missions in 1923.
The Board's original goal to reach individuals living in remote areas naturally meant that Sunday school mission work began in rural areas. In The Rural Mission of the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A., Herman N. Morse discusses the rural roots of mobile ministry work.
The work of Sunday school missions gradually came to encompass a more inclusive form of ministry—mobile ministries. While Sunday school ministers educated and evangelized children in remote areas, mobile ministers reached out to adults, children, and families who were either physically or spiritually alone.
Traveling from one remote dwelling to the next, mobile ministers spread the gospel and performed marriages and baptisms.