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Abbreviation CMS
Formation 12 April 1799
Founder Clapham Sect
Headquarters Watlington Road
United Kingdom

The Church Mission Society (CMS), formerly in Britain and currently in Australia and New Zealand known as the Church Missionary Society, is a mission society working with the Anglican Communion and Protestant Christians around the world. Founded in 1799, CMS has attracted over nine thousand men and women to serve as mission partners during its 200 year history. The society has also given its name “CMS” to a number of daughter organizations around the world.

The original proposal for the mission came from Charles Grant, George Uday of the East India Company and the Revd David Brown, of Calcutta [who sent a proposal in 1787 to William Wilberforce, then a young member of parliament, and Charles Simeon, a young clergyman at Cambridge University. The Baptist Missionary Society was formed in 1792 and the London Missionary Society was formed in 1795 to represent various demonimations that were part of the Evangelical Revival in the English Protestant churches.

The Society for Missions to Africa and the East (as the society was first called) was founded on 12 April 1799 at a meeting of the Eclectic Society, supported by members of the Clapham Sect, a group of activist evangelical Christians. Their number included Charles Simeon, John Venn, Basil Woodd; and also Henry Thornton, Thomas Babington and William Wilberforce. Wilberforce was asked to be the first president of the society, but he declined to take on this role and became a vice-president. The treasurer was Henry Thornton and the founding secretary was Thomas Scott, a biblical commentator. Many of the founders were also involved in creating the Sierra Leone Company and the Society for the Education of Africans.


In 1803 Josiah Pratt was appointed secretary, a position he held for 21 years, becoming an early driving force in the CMS. The first missionaries went out in 1804. They came from the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Württemberg and had trained at the Berlin Seminary. The name Church Missionary Society began to be used and in 1812 the society was renamed The Church Missionary Society.[1] The principal missions, the founding missionaries, and the dates of the establishment of the missions are:[6]

West Africa (1804): Melchior Renner and Peter Hartwig were sent to the country of the Susu people in Guinea.[7] The West Africa mission was extended to Sierra Leone (1816). Samuel Ajayi Crowther, a Yoruba by birth, was selected to accompany the missionary James Frederick Schön on the Niger expedition of 1841. Crowther (later appointed first African Anglican bishop in Nigeria) was the principal missionary to Yorubaland in 1844 and the Niger in 1857.[6][7]

From the beginning of the organisation until 1894 the total number of CMS missionaries amounted to 1,335 (men) and 317 (women). During this period the indigenous clergy ordained by the branch missions totalled 496 and about 5,000 lay teachers had been trained by the branch missions.[6] In 1894 the active members of the CMS totaled: 344 ordained missionaries, 304 indigenous clergy (ordained by the branch missions) and 93 lay members of the CMS. As of 1894, in addition to the missionary work the CMS operated about 2016 schools, with about 84,725 students.[6]

In the first 25 years of the CMS nearly half the missionaries were Germans trained in Berlin and later from the Basel Seminary.[6] The Church Missionary Society College, Islington opened in 1825 and trained about 600 missionaries; about 300 joined the CMS from universities and about 300 came from other sources.[6] 30 CMS missionaries were appointed to the Episcopate, serving as bishops.[6]

The CMS published The Church Missionary Gleaner, from April 1841 to September 1857.[33] From 1813 to 1855 the society published The Missionary Register, “containing an abstract of the principal missionary and bible societies throughout the world”. From 1816, “containing the principal transactions of the various institutions for propagating the gospel with the proceedings at large of the Church Missionary Society”.[34]

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20th century

During the early twentieth century, the society’s theology moved in a more liberal direction under the leadership of Eugene Stock.[35] There was considerable debate over the possible introduction of a doctrinal test for missionaries, which advocates claimed would restore the society’s original evangelical theology. In 1922, the society split, with the liberal evangelicals remaining in control of CMS headquarters, whilst conservative evangelicals established the Bible Churchmen’s Missionary Society (BCMS, now Crosslinks).

Notable general secretaries of the society later in the 20th century were Max Warren and John Vernon Taylor. The first woman president of the CMS, Diana Reader Harris, was instrumental in persuading the society to back the 1980 Brandt Report on bridging the North-South divide. In the 1990s CMS appointed its first non-British general secretary, Michael Nazir-Ali, who later became Bishop of Rochester in the Church of England, and its first women general secretary, Diana Witts.

At the end of the 20th century there was a significant swing back to the Evangelical position, probably in part due to a review in 1999 at the anniversary and also due to the re-integration of Mid Africa Ministry (formerly the Ruanda Mission). The position of CMS is now that of an ecumenical Evangelical society.


On 31 January 2010 CMS had 151 mission partners and co-mission partners (workers jointly sent by CMS and another agency) serving in Africa, Asia, Europe and the Middle East. The 2009–10 Annual Review also lists “Other people in mission: 78”; “Cross-cultural programme participants: 126” and “Projects financially supported: 114”. This does not take into account work in Latin America, which came with the integration of CMS and the South American Mission Society on 1 February 2010. In 2009–10, CMS had a budget of £8 million, drawn primarily from donations by individuals and parishes, supplemented by historic investments.[36]

In 2004 CMS was instrumental in bringing together a number of Anglican and, later, some Protestant mission agencies to form Faith2Share, an international network of mission agencies.

In June 2007, CMS in Britain moved the administrative office out of London for the first time. It is now based with the new Crowther Centre for Mission Education[37] in east Oxford.

In 2008, CMS was acknowledged as a mission community by the Advisory Council on the Relations of Bishops and Religious Communities of the Church of England. It currently has approximately 2,500 members who commit to seven promises, aspiring to live a lifestyle shaped by mission.

In 2010 CMS integrated with the South American Mission Society (SAMS).

The Church Mission Society Archive is housed at the University of Birmingham Special Collections.