Until the renewal of its charter in 1813, Christian missions in India were severely hampered by the policy of the East India Company. Despite this, Thomas Coke had envisaged a mission to Asia as early as 1784, when he corresponded with Charles Grant, a merchant in the East India Company, about the Indian situation. Though other commitments delayed this project for many years, in 1800 he persuaded the Conference to authorize the sending of a missionary to Madras and in 1805-6 was in contact with the East India Company through Col. William Sandys. Nothing, however, materialized until the end of Coke's life. James Lynch, one of the six young missionaries who accompanied him to Asia in 1814, was designated for India, but remained with the others in Ceylon and did not reach Madras until 1817.

From this small beginning the India mission grew very slowly in the face of an ancient and complex culture and of the prevalent Hinduism. Educational work came to be seen as a way forward, but the work did not gather pace or extend far beyond the Madras area until the second half of the century, when interest and concern were stimulated in the Church at home by the Indian Mutiny of 1857. Then there was a period of expansion: south-west to Negapatam and Trichinopoly, inland to Bangalore in Mysore State and north-west into Hyderabad State. In Hyderabad and also in Bombay, military personnel played a part in establishing the first missions. Calcutta and Bengal at first proved barren soil, but a fresh initiative in the 1880s was more successful. Work was developed among the primitive Santal tribesmen of Bengal, and to the north-west the Lucknow and Benares District was the scene of a mass movement among the Gonds and Chamars and the Doms of Benares. Missionaries also moved into Burma (now Myanmar) to the north-east.

The 'Missionary Controversy' of 1889 seriously weakened confidence in the work of the Indian mission, but resulted for a time in greater awareness of the need for the missionary to live and work alongside his flock, rather than apart from it. A recurring issue was the relative value and success of educational work among the higher castes and village evangelism among the lower castes and outcastes. The first medical mission began in Madras in 1884 and in Calcutta in 1887. Medical work, in which the contribution of women missionaries and wives was particularly valuable and effective, expressed the love of God at such centres as the Holdsworth Memorial Hospital at Mysore (1906), the leprosy settlements at Bankura and Dichpali and many village clinics and dispensaries.

The long ministry of Charles W. Posnett at Medak saw a mass movement in the villages of Hyderabad in the early twentieth century. A considerable network of institutions for ministerial and lay training laid foundations for a well qualified and skilled indigenous ministry at a time when schemes for wider union and for autonomy were being considered. While American Methodism held aloof, the South India Province of the British Methodist Church joined with Anglicans and former Presbyterians and Congregationalists in the Church of South India (1947), the most important ecumenical break-through of the twentieth century. An even wider range of denominations came together in the Church of North India (1970).

  • W. Moister, A History of Wesleyan Missions (1871) pp.459-510
  • G.G. Findlay and W.W. Holdsworth, The History of the Wesleyan Methodist Missionary Society (1921-1924), vol. 5 pp.119-418
  • B. Sundkler, The Church of South India (1954)
  • History of the Methodist Church in Great Britain3 (1983) pp.96-102
  • John Pritchard, Methodists and their Missionary Societies 1760-1900 (2013), pp. 89-118

For the Church of South India:

  • A. Marcus Ward, The Pilgrim Church (1947)
  • Israel Selvanayagam, The Greatest Act of Faith (2019)