The Assemblies of God is one of the few major denominations in the United States to show continuing growth. But the real story is the ethnic transformation of the Assemblies of God. It is becoming less white and more reflective of the ethnic, linguistic and social diversity that exists in the global church.
When the Assemblies of God (AG) released its 2014 statistical reports last week, the press release noted that the denomination’s number of U.S. adherents had grown for 25 consecutive years. In 2014, the AG showed modest growth of 0.6% to 3,146,741 U.S. adherents. This was just below the growth rate of the U.S. population, which increased by 0.75%. The number of U.S. adherents has been increasing at a relatively steady pace — at an average of 1.6% per year since 1989, and 1.5% per year since 2008.
The number of U.S. churches also showed growth (from 12,792 to 12,849, up 0.4%), as did the numbers of conversions (up 1.5%), membership (up 0.4%), ministers (up 1.2%), and major worship service attendance (up 0.5%). However, the numbers for Spirit baptisms and water baptisms both decreased (by 3.3% and 2.2%, respectively). In 2014, both categories showed growth from the prior year. Attendance at Sunday evening services continued to decline (by 10.6% in 2014), as congregations experiment with alternative times for services and small groups.
The growth of the Assemblies of God is in marked contrast to most mainline Protestant denominations in the U.S., which have witnessed significant numerical declines in recent decades. From 1960 to 2014, the United Church of Christ lost 53% of adherents; The Episcopal Church lost 46%; the Presbyterian Church (USA) lost 40%; the United Methodist Church lost 32%; and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America lost 27%. Others showed increases, including the Southern Baptist Convention (62%) and the Roman Catholic Church (65%). During the same period, the Assemblies of God grew by 515%, from 508,602 members in 1960.
Much of the numerical growth in the Assemblies of God in recent decades has been among ethnic minorities. From 2004 to 2014, the number of AG adherents increased by 13.2%. During this period, the number of white adherents decreased by 1.9% and the number of non-white adherents increased by 43.2%. From 2013 to 2014, the percentage of white adherents dropped from 58.7% to 57.6%. It should be noted that the number of white adherents in the U.S. includes quickly-growing constituencies of immigrants from places such as the former Soviet Union. Without these new white immigrants, the white constituency in the Assemblies of God would be falling even more quickly.
In 2014, over 42% of U.S. Assemblies of God adherents were non-white. This is comparable to the ethnic diversity in the U.S. Catholic Church. According to a recent Pew study, 41% of U.S. Catholics are now racial and ethnic minorities (up from 35% in 2007). The study also revealed that 24% of evangelical Protestants (up from 19%) and 14% of mainline Protestants (up from 9%) are also racial and ethnic minorities.
The ethnic breakdown of the AG in 2014 showed significant diversity: Asian/Pacific Islander (4.7%); Black (9.9%); Hispanic (22.5%); Native American (1.6%); White (57.6%); and Other/Mixed (3.8%). These stats 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%).
The AG districts with the greatest percentage growth in the number of adherents from 2009 to 2014 are as follows: National Slavic (387%), German (102%), Midwest Latin American (67%), Minnesota (59%), North Dakota (57%), Korean (36%), Brazilian (33%), and Puerto Rico (31%). Due to the changing borders of the Hispanic districts, which doubled from seven to fourteen in the past five years, data for most of these districts was unavailable for purposes of comparison.
The AG’s growth in America is partly due to immigration. The Assemblies of God is a global church. The Assemblies of God reported over 67.5 million adherents worldwide in 2013. Worldwide stats for 2014 have not yet been released. About 1% of the world’s population is AG. Fewer than 5% 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. Pentecostal refugees who move to America are 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 Assemblies of God than they do with liberal members of their own denominations in the West.
The Assemblies of God is growing in America, due largely to a transformative demographic shift that has been underway for decades. The founding fathers and mothers of the Assemblies of God laid the foundation for this ethnic shift when they committed the Assemblies of God in November 1914 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 are sending missionaries to America.
By Darrin J. Rodgers, M.A., J.D.
Director, Flower Pentecostal Heritage Center
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