At the same time American Methodists were laboring to spread their faith abroad, new challenges were arising in their homeland.
Entertainment was threatening the church's centrality in national life. The theater, motion pictures, amusement parks, automobile rides, professional sports, popular music, records, newspapers and magazines were laying claim to a larger and larger share of Americans' leisure hours. Especially among the young, Sunday School, sermons, and songfests weren't the draw they once were. The Centenary tried to pioneer new ways of holding onto the flock and evangelizing here at home. The churches had long decried and even banned entertainment. The Centenary tried to show how entertainment could be put in service of the church at home.
Immigration from Southern and Eastern Europe was changing the character of American cities and shaking Methodism's hold. How was mainline American Protestantism to reach out to these new populations?
Immigration of native-born Americans from The South to The North and from the country to the city posed additional problems. What would happen to the immigrant's faith once he had left the community that nutured it? The industrialism that drew these internal immigrants from their homes and industrial workers' struggles for social justice created still more difficulties for a religion with its roots in a homogeneous and comparatively egalitarian small-town America.
The centenary was drawn to Columbus for the same reason so many other activities are drawn to the city: proximity. Columbus is centrally located. Most of the population of the United States in 1919 lived within 500 miles of Columbus. Eight of the ten largest cities in America in 1919 were within 500 miles of Columbus. Columbus was also a rail hub with good connectivity. Visitors could get here easily without too much travel time.
From Columbus Board of Trade, Columbus, Ohio, 1905.
Another draw was that Ohio--and especially Columbus--was overwhelmingly Methodist. Methodists were by far the largest religious group in Ohio in 1920 and had been for a century. Prominent Methodist institutions--churches, seminaries, and colleges--were located in the state. Ohio was home to over 2,000 Methodist churches. Methodist churches in Ohio outnumbered those of Catholics and Presbyterians combined. Furthermore, Ohio had been a leader in the largely Methodist fight for Prohibition. The powerful Anti-Saloon League was based in Westerville, Ohio and led by Ohio men.
A hundred thousand Methodists lived 2 hrs or less (by rail) from Columbus, 1 million Methodists lived less than 5 hours from Columbus, 3 million Methodists lived within a day's travel of Columbus--advantages no other considered city could boast of.
The availability of the expansive Ohio State Fairgrounds and its many buildings secured the decision. That the fairgounds were in the city and close to streetcars, hotels, and restaurants sweetened the deal.