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Who are the Gideons?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 23, 2024
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The Gideons are members of the Gideon Society, a worldwide evangelical Christian organization. While the Gideons are probably most famous for distributing copies of the Bible to hotels, as they have done since 1930, the organization also engages in other evangelical works all over the world. Membership in the Gideon Society is restricted to Christian men over 21 years of age who are of good spiritual character.

This organization was founded in 1899 in Wisconsin with the express goal of spreading the word of God to people who are not of the Christian faith. The Gideons refer to their work as “saving the lost,” reflecting the idea that many Christians believe that people who are not Christian are lost in the eyes of God, but that they can be saved through conversion and an acceptance of Jesus Christ as Savior. A key aspect of the organization's work from the beginning has been the distribution of Bibles, allowing people who are not Christian to access the Bible so that they can read it and think about the Christian faith.

Gideons also place a heavy emphasis on personal witnessing. Individual members of the organization participate in outreach programs, talking directly to the people they are attempting to influence and educate. In addition to distributing Bibles, Gideons are always happy to talk about the Bible with people who are curious, and to lead prayer meetings and workshops which explore the nature of faith.

Members of the Gideons work in their local communities, and the organization encourages a highly decentralized organizational system. By using local Gideons instead of importing missionaries, the society saves money, but it also increases access. Individual Gideons are familiar with local customs, mores, and laws, and they can navigate complex cultural situations much more easily than foreign missionaries. They may also be able to reach areas in which Christian evangelism is frowned upon, dangerous, or even forbidden.

In the Bible, Gideon is a man who serves God even when His orders seem contradictory or strange. In much the same way, Gideons dedicate themselves to serving God and bearing witness as Christians wherever they may go. Anything from a casual conversation on a plane to a mass distribution of Bibles to members of the military is an act of witness, and Gideons prize every opportunity to discuss Christianity with people who are interested. By providing copies of the Bible, the Gideons also leave people with lasting food for thought.

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Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a PublicPeople researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By anon348285 — On Sep 15, 2013

Can a woman become a Gideon? Not just a helper but an actual Gideon member.

By anon330796 — On Apr 18, 2013

I find the Bibles in the hotels are such interesting but I also know that most people are not aware that the Bibles are free for the taking if the lack one. Somehow this needs to be made known to all. I think it is a great way to reach the lost. Sounds like your spreading the word as God would have you do. Many blessings to you all!

By wavy58 — On Jun 29, 2011

My father is a Gideon, and he told me that the organization gives about 1.5 million Bibles and hand-held New Testaments away each week to motels, hotels, hospitals, and prisons. These Bibles are the only thing in a hotel room that guests are encouraged to take with them.

Many hotels have a stack of Gideon Bibles that they keep on hand to replace the ones taken by guests. My father visited the Greenbrier Resort in West Virginia, and they keep such a stack, because they say anywhere between 25 and 50 Bibles will be taken each year.

By Oceana — On Jun 28, 2011

When I was in elementary school in the 80s here in the South, certain aspects of Christianity that have now been banned from the school system were still allowed. We had a visit from the Gideons, and only one kid's family disapproved of it.

The Gideons gave every kid in class a small Bible they could hold in one hand. They did not pressure anyone into becoming a Christian, but they gave them access to the source of information about their beliefs.

The Gideons even came to our church, though I'm not sure why, as everyone there had already converted to Christianity. I think if I remember correctly that they were looking for more people to become Gideons.

By nextcorrea — On Jun 28, 2011

The Gideons International is a wonderful organization that has been an important part of my life for over a decade now. After I retired I really didn't know what to do with all my time. I puttered around the house, took on some small projects and watched a lot of TV. Eventually my wife got so sick of having me around that she forced me out of the house and told me to go find something to do.

I had a few friends who were in the Gideons and I always admired the kind of work that they did. I joined up and it has been an amazing experience. We have done a lot of good work in the community, organizing food drives, tornado relief efforts and back to school programs for the kids. But even more than that I have met a lot of great people who I now consider my friends. If it wasn't for the Gideons I would still be sitting at home on my couch driving my wife to her wits end

By Ivan83 — On Jun 28, 2011

I am very intrigued by this idea of local missionary work. On the one hand it seems perfectly obvious and I can't believe that more religious groups don't try it. Why send your missionaries half way around the world when they can do lots of good work just a few blocks from where they live.

But on the other hand I wonder if these leaves big populations unserved. Think of all the brave work that has been done by Christian missionaries, especially the Jesuits in spreading the word of Christ throughout the world. They traveled to some of the most remote places on earth and built schools, clinics and churches. If our missionaries did not have a spirit of adventure, these people would have been overlooked entirely.

By whiteplane — On Jun 27, 2011

Most people have at least some familiarity with the Gideon's because they have placed a bible in almost every hotel room in America. Even if you didn't know it was there, it was in the drawer next to you while you slept.

My Grandfather was a member of Gideons International for almost 40 years. As near as I could tell it was mostly a social club for the older men in his town. They had meeting and projects and they did a lot of good work, but by and large they just sat around and ate big meals together and told playful jokes and maybe had a beer or two. It all seemed to be good fun and it meant a lot to my grandfather. Without Gideons Intl, I'm not sure what he would have done with all his time.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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