A Significant 1st, David Nasmith's City Mission

Dan Graves, MSL
A Significant 1st, David Nasmith's City Mission

David Nasmith's heart was broken. 19th-century Scotland was rich in Industry. But when the 27-year-old man looked around his native Glasgow, it was not industrial wealth he saw, but spiritual poverty:

"Although this city is highly favored with religious privileges yet there are thousands who know as little of the Gospel as if it never had been preached in their land... they are living as careless as if they were never to be called to account. There are thousands of families where the name of God is never mentioned except when it is taken in vain ... a vast number of the poor have never been taught to read."

The churches of Glasgow sat right there in the middle of poorest neighborhoods, but might as well have been located on Mars for all the impact they had.

David was no idle talker. Since the age of fourteen, he'd been trying to do something about the problem--that's when he began distributing Bibles to people too poor to buy their own. In 1824, he made another stab at the problem, founding a "Young Men's Society for Religious Improvement." That only led him to picture an even bigger assault on ignorance and sin.

What if all Glasgow's churches, all its helping agencies, and any other Christians who cared to were to band together to challenge Satan's stranglehold on the city?

On this day, January 1, 1826 David Nasmith opened the Protestant world's first city mission in Glasgow, Scotland. This was also the first parachurch agency in the world that aimed at taking the gospel to all of the citizens in its area of operation. Nasmith's organization didn't just preach at people. Sure, it handed out gospel literature and held services. But it also got medical care to the poor and provided public health services that governments did not yet offer. The mission workers opened schools, visited prisoners and stood in court with those who ran afoul of the law.

Nasmith's idea appealed to Christians around the world. City missions sprang up in diverse places. Nasmith himself founded several in Britain, France, Ireland, and the USA.

Thirteen years after he made his great innovation, David Nasmith died. It was Christmas day. He was just forty and as poor as a church mouse. But he left a rich legacy that now amounts to hundreds of city missions worldwide.


  1. British Association of City Missions. "History." http://www.birminghamcitymission.co.uk/bacm/history.htm
  2. Burger, Delores T. Women Who Changed the Heart of the City : the untold story of the city rescue mission movement. Grand Rapids, MI : Kregel Publications, c1997.
  3. Burger, Stephen E. "The Opportunity of Welfare Reform." http://www.agrm.org/welfare/welfopp.html
  4. Campbell, John. Memoirs of David Nasmith: his labours and travels in Great Britain, France, the United States, and Canada. London: John Snow, 1844.
  5. "History of YMCA Glasgow." http://www.ymcaglasgow.org/history.html
  6. Magnunson, Norris. Salvation in the Slums; evangelical social work 1865-1920. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House, 1977.

Last updated May, 2007.

Originally published April 28, 2010.