J. Frank Norris by the Numbers

by MBG

It is often difficult to tell the truth from exaggeration when dealing with a person like J. Frank Norris. While the scope of his ministry is indeed enormous, determining exactly the size is practically impossible. After all, numbers used in propaganda are rarely correct, though they can be based in truth.

So it is with Norris. On this page, I'd like to compile and analyze numbers related to his ministry.

Was Norris Dishonest With Numbers?

We'll leave the final decision to the reader on Norris' character, but we can indeed prove numbers were not exactly 100% accurate. Sometimes numbers are thrown around that were pulled out of thin air. Sometimes they were cleverly combined or multiplied to be marketed as larger. Sometimes a one-time count was portrayed as a regular occurrence.

Bear in mind that Norris was a master marketer. He knew how to effectively market his ministry and himself. No one can deny that, but he did have a tendency to enlarge his prestige by stretching the results.

Notable Cases

Mt. Calm Attendance

One number that is cited from Norris' early career is that of the seemingly fantastic attendance of a college pastorate. While studying at Baylor University, He pastored a church in the nearby farming community of Mt. Calm. Each weekend he would ride the train to Mt. Calm, visit on Saturday, preach on Sunday, and return to Waco for classes.

The fantastic number that is often quoted is this: Mt. Calm had a population of 400, and the church attendance was 800. The only source I can find for this number is E. Ray Tatum's "Conquest or Failure?", which on page 60 says: "The attendance grew, in one season, to exceed eight hundred in a township where the population was less than half that number." No reference is given.

I have a number of doubts about this number, and I do not believe that it is the number of weekly attendance. My reasons are as follows:

So what do I make of this number? I personally believe the number is probably a real number, but not the number for weekly attendance. We do know that Norris led successful revivals in the Hill County area as a young preacher. I think this number is the attendance of one of these revivals, perhaps of the old-time "brush arbor" style. We know that his boyhood pastor, Catlett Smith, was extremely popular in the area and helped in at least one revival at Mt. Calm.

I base much of this opinion on my own reasoning. There are not too many concrete facts available from Norris' early days. He rarely spoke or wrote of them. If he did, it was often made more dramatic than necessary. I think this number was produced by Norris to further prove his ministerial might even at such an early stage.

As for Tatum's source, I can only speculate. He was associated with Norris as a young preacher in the very last days of Norris' ministry. At this time, Norris was revered by his followers in an almost worshipful manner. He also places too much emphasis on Norris' early upbringing in his analysis.

Misc. Numbers

More will be added later...


First Baptist Church, Fort Worth

First Baptist Sunday School

Joint Pastorate - Three Year Totals

Joint Pastorate - Five Year Totals

Joint Pastorate - Misc.

The Fundamentalist