Global, Diverse, and Growing: The Assemblies of God at 100

Several of the 40+ Papua New Guinea guests at the Assemblies of God Centennial meet Hispanics from the East Coast. Assemblies of God National Offices, Springfield, MO, August 4, 2014.

Several of the 40+ Papua New Guinea guests at the Assemblies of God Centennial meet Hispanics from the East Coast. Assemblies of God National Offices, Springfield, MO, August 4, 2014.

The Assemblies of God is global, diverse, and growing!

This diversity will be on full display this week when 2,000 registered foreign guests join thousands of American church members for the triennial World Assemblies of God Congress and to celebrate the centennial of the Assemblies of God USA.

Worldwide, 95% of Assemblies of God adherents lived outside the United States in 2013. In the U.S., over 41% of Assemblies of God adherents were non-white. In the U.S., the white constituency has decreased by 34,922 over the past ten years, while the number of non-white constituents has increased by 433,217.

The editorial in the 2014 edition of Assemblies of God Heritage magazine, reproduced below, addresses this significant demographic shift in the Assemblies of God. This seachange carries enormous implications.

The Assemblies of God has a significant future because of the Fellowship’s historic vision to be a global church. In November 1914, delegates to the second general council committed themselves to “the greatest evangelism that the world has ever seen.” In 1921 the Assemblies of God adopted the indigenous church principle as its official missions strategy, in order to better carry out world evangelism. The implementation of this strategy — which recognizes that each national church is autonomous and not controlled by Western interests — resulted in the development of strong national churches and leaders. And now, in a fitting turn of events, those churches may be bringing renewal to America.

Immigrants are sparking growth and renewal in the American church. Carl Brumback, in his 1961 history of the Assemblies of God, anticipated this moment. He lamented the decline in spirituality that he witnessed among American Pentecostals over fifty years ago. He wrote that “it would be easy to become defeatists.” However, he foresaw a coming revival, which he believed would fulfill prophecy in Joel 2:28 and Acts 2:17: “In the last days … I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh.”

Brumback’s prediction is coming true before our eyes. He identified two trends, then in their infancy, which gave him great optimism about the future of the Assemblies of God. First, he saw a Pentecostal outpouring on “representatives of practically every branch of Christendom in these United States.” Second, he believed that “The Revival That Is” in foreign lands will bring “The Revival That Is to Come” in America. “The simplicity, zeal, and spiritual power of our brethren around the world,” he forecast, will ultimately lead to “a new visitation upon the homeland.”

The coming revival is unfolding. Are you ready for it? What are you doing to build bridges with the next generation of Pentecostals who do not look or sound like you?

The centennial celebration of the Assemblies of God promises to be an important mile marker, not only because of its chronological distance from its founding, but because it will make visible to the world that the Assemblies of God is a global church. And this realization should change the way we view ourselves, and the way others view us.

Enjoy my editorial below!

Darrin Rodgers
drodgers@ag.org
______________________________________________

Global, Diverse, and Growing

The Assemblies of God is 100 years young!

When approximately 300 ministers came together in Hot Springs, Arkansas, in April 1914 and organized the Assemblies of God, they could not have envisioned what the next 100 years would bring.

The Assemblies of God (AG) was formed by a broad coalition of ministers who desired to work together to fulfill common objectives, such as sending missionaries, establishing schools, and providing fellowship and accountability. Formed in the midst of the emerging worldwide Pentecostal revival, the AG quickly took root in other countries and formed indigenous national organizations.

A Global Body

The Assemblies of God USA is a constituent member of the World Assemblies of God Fellowship (WAGF) — one of the largest families of Christian churches in the world. However, an international headquarters for the AG does not exist. The WAGF is not a legislative body. The 140-plus member bodies from across the world are all equal and relate to each other fraternally.[1] This year also marks the twenty-fifth anniversary of the WAGF, which was formed just days after the 1989 General Council in Indianapolis.

In 1989, the AG counted 2,137,890 adherents in 11,192 U.S. churches and 18,552,282 adherents in 128,307 churches around the world. These numbers have increased significantly. In 2013, the AG counted 3,127,857 adherents in 12,792 U.S. churches and 67,512,302 adherents in over 366,000 churches worldwide. Since 1989, that is a 46% increase in the number of U.S. adherents and a 264% increase in the number of adherents worldwide.

The AG is a global body of believers because, from its beginning, deep spirituality and missions have been central to its DNA. In 1964, on the fiftieth anniversary of the AG, then-general superintendent Thomas F. Zimmerman wrote that two common concerns united participants at the first general council: “matters of spiritual interest and a desire to reach the world with the gospel.”[2]

People and programs come and go. But attention to these dual transcendent concerns — a deep spirituality anchored in the Word of God and a consecration to carry out the mission of God — will keep the AG from straying from its founding ideals.

Assembling the Numbers

The AG has shown growth in the number of U.S. adherents each year since 1990. That’s twenty-four straight years of growth, at a time when most major denominations in the United States are declining.

In 2013, the AG grew by 1.0%, while the U.S. population only increased by 0.7%. The number of U.S. adherents has been increasing at a relatively steady pace — at an average of 1.525% per year from 1989 to 2000, and 1.515% per year since 2001.

Heritage_2014p3image

Assemblies of God growth is in marked contrast to the decline of many other denominations. In recent decades, most mainline Protestant denominations in the U.S. have witnessed significant numerical declines. From 1960 to 2011, the United Church of Christ lost 48% of adherents; The Episcopal Church lost 43%; the Presbyterian Church (USA) lost 35%; the United Methodist Church lost 29%; and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America lost 19%. Others showed increases, including the Southern Baptist Convention (66%) and the Roman Catholic Church (62%). During the same period, the AG grew by 498%, from 508,602 members in 1960.

While mainline denominations have been declining for decades, in the past few years some evangelical groups, such as the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC), have also begun to decline. SBC leaders recently have shown alarm over deceasing numbers of baptisms and conversions. The number of SBC baptisms has declined for seven straight years. This demographic decline has caused some pundits to predict the slow death of evangelicalism.[3]

Robust growth of Pentecostal churches, including the AG, shows a different story. AG statistics increased last year for water baptisms, Spirit baptisms, membership, attendance, conversions, and numbers of adherents, churches, and ministers. Other categories, including attendance at Sunday evening and midweek services, declined. An AG press release attributed much of the growth to increases in ethnic minority churches and young people: “The impact is especially evident among Latino adherents, who now make up 20 percent of the Fellowship (more than 40 percent of total adherents are ethnic minorities), and Millennials (ages 18-34), who contributed 21 percent of the growth from 2001-2013.”[4]

Ethnic Diversity

The 2013 statistics reveal significant ethnic diversity in the AG: Asian/Pacific Islander (4.4%); Black (9.6%); Hispanic (21.7%); Native American (1.5%); White (58.7%); and Other/Mixed (4.0%). These numbers suggest that the AG closely mirrors the ethnic makeup of the U.S. population as a whole. The 2010 U.S. census revealed the following racial breakdown of the U.S. population: Asian/Pacific Islander (5%); Black (12.6%); Hispanic (16.3%); Native American (0.9%); White (63.7%); and Other/Mixed (6.2%).

Much of the numerical growth in the AG in recent decades has been among ethnic minorities. From 2003 to 2013, the number of U.S. adherents increased by 14.6%, from 2,729,562 to 3,127,857. During this period, the number of white adherents decreased by 1.9% (-34,922) and the number of non-white adherents increased by 50.5% (+433,217).

The AG’s growth in America is partly due to immigration. The AG is a global church. About 1% of the world’s population identifies with the AG. Only 4.6% of AG adherents worldwide live in the U.S. Pentecostals who move to America from other regions of the world often bring with them a faith, burnished by persecution and deprivation, that is an important part of their identity. Pentecostals who move to America are often like pollen scattered by a strong wind — they plant churches wherever they happen to land. Strong African, Slavic, Asian, Pacific Islander, and Hispanic AG churches are taking root in American soil, and their congregations sing, preach, and testify in the tongues of their native countries.

Interestingly, this demographic shift is also helping to usher in a global re-alignment of Christianity. Anglican, Presbyterian, and Methodist Christians in Africa, Asia, and Latin America are generally evangelical in belief, if not Pentecostal in worship, and often have much more in common with their brothers and sisters in the AG than they do with liberal members of their own denominations in the West.

The Coming Revival

This demographic shift carries enormous implications for the future of the church. Certain segments of the AG are in spiritual and numerical decline, mirroring the general decline of Western culture and its rejection of biblical values. Non-whites and immigrants, often embracing a strong Pentecostal identity, are on the ascendancy.

Carl Brumback, in his 1961 history of the AG, anticipated this moment. He lamented the decline in spirituality that he witnessed among American Pentecostals over fifty years ago. He wrote that “it would be easy to become defeatists.” However, he foresaw a coming revival, which he believed would fulfill prophecy in Joel 2:28 and Acts 2:17: “In the last days … I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh.”[5]

Brumback’s prediction is coming true before our eyes. He identified two trends, then in their infancy, which gave him great optimism about the future of the AG. First, he saw a Pentecostal outpouring on “representatives of practically every branch of Christendom in these United States.” Second, he believed that “The Revival That Is” in foreign lands will bring “The Revival That Is to Come” in America. “The simplicity, zeal, and spiritual power of our brethren around the world,” he forecast, will ultimately lead to “a new visitation upon the homeland.”[6]

The Assemblies of God is growing in America. But the real story is the ethnic transformation of the AG. It is becoming less white and more reflective of the ethnic, linguistic and social diversity that exists in the global church. The founding fathers and mothers of the AG laid the foundation for this ethnic shift when they committed the Fellowship in November 1914 to “the greatest evangelism that the world has ever seen.” In 1921 the AG adopted the indigenous church principle as its official missions strategy, in order to better carry out world evangelism. The implementation of this strategy — which recognizes that each national church is autonomous and not controlled by Western interests — resulted in the development of strong national churches and leaders. And now, in a fitting turn of events, those churches may be bringing renewal to America.

–Darrin J. Rodgers, M.A., J.D., is director of the Flower Pentecostal Heritage Center and editor of Assemblies of God Heritage magazine.

NOTES

[1] George O. Wood, “The World Assemblies of God Fellowship: Uniting to Finish the Task,” in Together in One Mission: Pentecostal Cooperation in World Evangelization, ed. by Arto Hämäläinen and Grant McClung (Cleveland, TN: Pathway Press, 2012), 123-130. See also: William Molenaar, “The World Assemblies of God Fellowship: United in the Missionary Spirit,” Assemblies of God Heritage 31 (2011): 40-47.

[2] Thomas F. Zimmerman, “Anniversary Reflections,” Pentecostal Evangel, April 5, 1964, 2.

[3] Kate Tracy, “Five Reasons Why Most Southern Baptist Churches Baptize Almost No Millennials,” Christianity Today, May 29, 2014, http://www.christianitytoday.com/gleanings/2014/may/five-reasons-why-southern-baptist-baptize-millennials-sbc.html (accessed 21 June 2014).

[4] “The Assemblies of God (U.S.A.) Celebrates 24 Years of Growth; World Growth Tops 67.5 Million,” AG News, June 16, 2014.

[5] Carl Brumback, Suddenly from Heaven: A History of the Assemblies of God (Springfield, MO: Gospel Publishing House, 1961), 350-351.

[6] Ibid., 352-354.

2 Comments

Filed under Church, History, Missions

2 responses to “Global, Diverse, and Growing: The Assemblies of God at 100

  1. Pingback: Assemblies of God 2014 Statistics Released, Reveals Ethnic Transformation | Flower Pentecostal Heritage Center

  2. What encouraging and helpful information. To be honest I did not know the AG/USA was so diverse. Truth that needs to be further promoted among the AG constituency and other Church traditions. Thank you…

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