The Amish are Mennonites. The Mennonites aren't Amish. It's complicated.
One recurring question that came up in comments when I posted on Amish and Mennonites is that people want to join Amish churches or, at least adopt Amish philosophies (an extreme) because the Mennonites aren't "extreme" enough. In other words, people believe that Mennonites are too much like everyone else. We're too modern, too mainstream. We don't offer the experience of "getting away from it all" that people imagine the Amish can offer them. Several of you asked me to write about Mennonite beliefs, which is like asking someone to write a brief summary on the history of mankind. In short, that's a topic you can go long and deep with, and still never touch bottom. Also, I'm in no position to be a spokesperson for anyone's beliefs other than my own. So probably what would make a lot more sense to my readers is to compare the similarities and differences between the Amish and Mennonites, which will hopefully give you a clearer picture.
While I can see where this idea that Mennonites are not "different enough" come from, it is also an arbitrary argument. You see, having been educated in (and now working in) a secular environment, I can easily identify a huge disconnect between my own values, the values of my church, and the values that appear dominant in the mainstream American culture. There even seems to be a difference between Mennonite values and the ones of many other Christian churches. The hallmark of an Anabaptist faith is that Jesus is the center, and making Jesus the center of your belief system does not strike me as a very popular lifestyle choice. And that's just the beginning.
The first thing that people use as an example of how similar Mennonites are to everyone else is that we drive cars. It's true, except for Team Mennonites, the majority of us drive sedans, mini-vans, pick-ups, and SUV's. This differentiates us from the Amish who are forbidden to own cars, but certainly use vehicles and hire drivers to take them places. The fact that people point out the car issue first tells me one thing: People care an awful lot about appearances and external factors. But another real and highly visible difference between Amish and Mennonites is that the Mennonites are all over the globe doing missionary work (Matthew 28:16-20). It's unlikely you will find any Old Order Amish handing out Bibles in Uganda, or or taking up outreach efforts. Also, we do welcome people from different backgrounds to our churches to worship with us and explore membership. Our church doors are wide open on Sunday morning, and there is usually a sign out front that tells you what time to show up. Our churches are not hidden away in an ever-revolving rotation of member's private homes, we are open to everyone. (And this is not a slight to people who have cell churches or worship in homes, it's just the observation that a real building with a sign out front makes it easier to find us.)
People are also quick to point out that Mennonites use technology, while the Amish have limits. This statement also has its weaknesses. It's based on the belief that the Amish don't have access to technology, or reject it outright. While many Menno churches allow a computer with internet in the home (some Mennonite churches do not, or only allow computer with e-mail access), the Amish church has drawn the line so that their church members cannot have a computer in their home. However, there are many Amish who access the internet at public libraries and through their mobile phones (which are allowed). Although I have a degree in Information Science, I never felt as unsophisticated as I did while standing in line behind an young Amish woman on her blackberry at a grocery market in Walnut Creek. Like the Amish, many Mennonite churches are walking the fine line on technology. I like to think we analyze what technology serves us best, versus which types might we end up serving.
Mennonites do use electricity. While the Amish do not use electricity, they do use other forms of energy (air, gas, propane, etc.) and do not lack for power. We use different ways that accomplish the same goal.
Another visible difference is how we dress, and I say this tongue-in-cheek because many people have told me that they cannot tell the difference between the more conservative Mennonites and Amish people. The issue of how we look confuses people because there is more than one way to identify as Mennonite, and even within groups that convey a conservative appearance, there can still be differences that aren't easily noticed by people who are not familiar with our churches. These differences can make us seem ambiguous, and people aren't attracted to ambiguity. Dress is decided the same way in Mennonite churches as it is in Amish churches. It is a community decision that focuses on modesty, and sometimes but not always, a uniform or non-conforming appearance. It can be decided on a church-by-church basis, or a decision made amongst a group of like-minded churches. Anyone interested in this topic can further explore it in 1 Corinthians 11:2-16, 1 Timothy 2:9-10, and 1 Peter 3:3.
Finally, most (but not all) Mennonites are far more tolerant of educational advancement than the Amish. Despite the differences in various Mennonite churches, I think if you were to walk into one on a Sunday morning, you would find a similar sense of certainty and purpose. You would find people who know what they believe and why they believe it, have deep cultural traditions, practices that are Bible-based, and a church body that stresses accountability for our choices. We have distinct practices on baptism and communion, and a wonderful tradition of acapella singing. You would also find a devotion to world-wide relief work, missions and church-planting, and church activities that feed on fellowship and mutual aid. It's likely you would even be invited over someone's house for dinner after church.
Yes, we are just like everyone else, breathing the same air in and out, having the same problems and struggles, just like the Amish. But I cannot deny that we also have some unique characteristics and practices that set us apart. That people come to our churches, visit, sometimes join, and quite often leave saying that they just don't feel like they ever "fit in" tells me that while we are just like anyone else, we also are not like everyone else. A radical and vibrant discipleship of Christ is something that will never be in danger of being too mainstream.
As always, you can always e-mail me if you would have specific questions, and you may want to visit this site for plenty of good information.