Diversity, the Global South, and the Assemblies of God

Diversity, the Global South, and the Assemblies of God

This is a long one. Apologies in advance.

Ag-hq-thumbThe General Council of the Assemblies of God—the US A/G fellowship I belong to—met last week (August 2–5) in it’s biennial (every other year) business meeting at Denver, Colorado.

As I mentioned previously, I believe the US version of the Assemblies of God will soon be facing a challenge to its sense of global centricity due to the growth of the Evangelical church in the global South. (It’s not the international headquarters in Springfield, MO, by the way, just the US headquarters—there is no international authority for the A/G.)

I saw a news item on Google today that brought that home. It led to further exploration at the AG.org website detailing news and reports from last week’s meeting, and it was a very interesting tour. Allow me to take you through it.

First off, The Christian Post website reported on the keynote speaker at one of the last rallies last week, Malawi A/G President Lazarus Chakwera. He reportedly “thanked the American audience for sending full-gospel missionaries to Africa.” What the report didn’t say, and which I’m sure is going to happen, is that it won’t be long before Malawi is sending missionaries here. The article went on with these sobering statistics:

Rev. Lazarus ChakweraMalawi is just one of dozens of African countries where missions is sprouting and spreading like wildfire. Though the Assemblies of God began in Hot Springs, Arkansas, most of its adherents reside outside of the U.S.; of the 53 million AG members, only 3 million are American.

Malawi is a case in point. There are now 639,088 Assemblies of God members and adherents in Malawi meeting in 3,114 churches and preaching points. Only six years ago, the church had 63,500 members and 1,018 churches and preaching points.

Wow. Did you get that? First, the American A/G church measures less than 6% of the total A/G adherents worldwide. Out of 20 A/G churchgoers, only one lives in America.

Second, the A/G church in Malawi has experienced a 1000% growth curve in only six years. It didn’t double in six years. It didn’t triple. It exploded to ten times its size. If your local church grew that fast it would go from 200 members to 2,000 members. Can you imagine that kind of explosive growth? No geopolitical border can contain that kind of enthusiastic evangelism. It has to spill over. And don’t think they won’t be coming to America to spread the good news.

And may it happen quickly!

Margaret Poloma, Ph.D.Some more interesting items came out of Chakwera’s message that night. Strongly echoing Margaret Poloma’s conclusions in her book, The Assemblies of God at the Crossroads, Chakwera said, “Institutional structures are necessary, but they should never become impediments that choke the life of a movement.” Already this Malawan evangelist is giving us a prophetic word. He warns us to “guard against following the path of other denominations that have allowed bureaucratic processes to replace the Holy Spirit’s leading. Any religious movement can die if it strays from biblical moorings…. When we cease to be a Spirit-led movement, we end up being like any other organization.” Good words, and true

As a harbinger of how the global South will further change the complexion of the predominantly white A/G, we find in other news that “65.6 percent of overall growth in the AG was Hispanic.” Another article revealed, “In the past dozen years in the Assemblies of God there has been a 91 percent increase in the number of black churches, 50 percent hike in Asian/Pacific islander congregations and 31 percent rise in Hispanic churches.”

This is great news! In my mind, the only truly Pentecostal church is a very diverse church. I should probably just say the only truly Christian church is a diverse church. Even a cursory read of the early chapters of the book of Acts will reveal that diverse languages, diverse ethnicities, and diverse religious backgrounds all came together in Christ to worship and serve God. This kind of diversity was an earmark of what God truly intended for his Church.

The A/G fellowship is a primitivist movement. That means, we hearken back to the early first century church and look to it as a model for our church today. I consider it good news that this council’s Spiritual Life Report strongly reaffirmed this stance for our fellowship. I’m just not sure that the committee that drew it up thought strongly enough about the implications of the early church’s diversity and ethnicity in the challenges they brought before the A/G. Like the early church, the early 1900’s Pentecostal outbreakings were deeply diverse with William J. Seymour leading the way.

I believe Heaven will be a true tapestry of diversity, and if we want to experience a little of Heaven on Earth, our churches need to reflect this.

Thank God it’s happening, even without our white leaders making much sense of it.

Rev. Tom TraskIn fact, I’m sure this wasn’t intentional (perhaps I’m charitable), but Thomas Trask, the newly re-elected General Superintendent (head honcho) of the American A/G fellowship sounded a bit condescending when he allowed that,

“ethnic minorities bring a unique contribution to the Fellowship that will enable the Assemblies of God to reach the entire nation with the gospel.”

Granted, those weren’t Trask’s actual words. That was the news writer summing up his message. The news article concludes,

“The Fellowship realizes that as the country grows more ethnically diverse so must the church. And the changing demographics have provided the unparalleled opportunity to reach foreign nations – within the United States.”

William J. SeymourWhy does our country’s growing diversity drive our own changing face? America has always been diverse. Why shouldn’t our churches’ demographics reflect heavenly diversity rather than mere American diversity? Sure, we can argue that there have always been more whites in America, but newspaper reports at the time of the Azusa Street revival led by Seymour indicated diversity within that revival setting was the norm, at a time when that was revolutionary! (Consider: the revival was labeled a “disgraceful intermingling of the races.”)  (Also, see “God’s Antidote for Racism,” a message given at AGTS.)

Why didn’t it stay this way? Why isn’t it normal for the A/G to be racially intermingled?

Because the A/G, over the years, has become white, paternalistic, middle-class, and deeply Americocentric. Unfortunately, I’m not sure our leadership recognizes we have fallen far from this gracious diversity. In another article, Trask is quoted,

“I love these brethren…. God has raised up these men to bring to the Assemblies of God a diversity that is long, long overdue.”

Overdue? Yes. It is. But we had it, I think. And we quickly lost it.

What our current leaders don’t realize is that what is happening is more than renewed diversity, it is the beginnings of a sea change in the complexion and ultimate global focus of Evangelical and Pentecostal leadership. Like it or not the white, middle-income, Americans are vastly outnumbered. It won’t be long before we have to let go of our colonial mindset and stop merely “welcoming” our ethnic brethren like we’re the lords of the manor and start turning to them as equal partners and even seeking their guidance as elder mentors who have had their faith challenged by hardship, predation, and abuse such as we in a America never dreamed of.

You think I’m kidding that we still have a colonial mind-set? Look, the A/G is probably among the least colonial-minded of most of the missions-sending agencies out there. Our missionaries live and die by the rule of the “Indigenous Principle”: send missionaries, evangelize, train local leaders, help them get financially independent, then move on. But while that’s true of our missionaries, why does this quote smack of colonialism?

“Guidelines were created for national or global ministries that wish to be affiliated with the AG.”

Why aren’t we considering guidelines for us to seek affiliation? Because we’re still very Americocentric in our mindset. Anyone else but me see a paradigm overthrow coming?

Not only are ethnic minorities on the rise in the A/G American church, the whites are on the decline. Currently, there is a greater percentage of minorities in the A/G church in America than there is in the US population at large. Seventy-five percent of Americans are white. But in the A/G only 60 percent are white. And, surprisingly, since 2001,

“the number of those classified as ‘white’ has slightly decreased, by about .3 percent.” 

I hope you don’t think I’m merely bashing my fellowship. I love the Assemblies of God. As my college prof LeRoy Bartel was fond of saying, “It’s the only sane way to be Pentecostal.” But if there’s another Great Awakening fomenting (and I think there is), if we want to be relevant to the world as it is and not how we wish it to be, if we want to truly be people of the Spirit, and if we want to enjoy fellowship and worship like it’ll be in Heaven, then we must let go of parochial, colonial, white-bread American ways of thinking and see the church as a true global whole. It’s not just America at the top with a bunch of second-rate Christians who must be taught by their superiors anymore. We still have a seat at the table, but we need to graciously realize that there is no head at this table but Christ. There is no head of the class but Christ. We are not the teachers anymore. We are brothers and sisters learning from each other, sitting together at the feet of Christ. And our churches should reflect that—yesterday.

I welcome your comments and feedback.


[tags]BlogRodent, Assemblies-of-God, Assembly-of-God, A/G, AOG, Pentecostal, Christianity, Religion, Charismatic, diversity, racism, church-growth, revival[/tags]

10 thoughts on “Diversity, the Global South, and the Assemblies of God

  1. Brian Larson Post author


    Thanks for the article. Great ideals. Many good ideas.

    My major critique would be that some of your thoughts seem to run on the presupposition that church leaders can choose who comes to their church. While we can control some elements of the culture of a church and be as welcoming and empowering as possible, different ethnic groups go to church wherever they want to go.

    In other words, I cannot be responsible for what I cannot control.


  2. R. Duane Gryder

    Rich, I enjoyed reading your remarks. I do believe that future of the church in general must reflect the communities that they are in. This applies not only to races, but also social and economic status also. I am not a fan of specialization. I think each group can benefit from the other.

    You commented favorably about the “Spiritual Life Report.” You should have been there when this was read! Afterwards, the Spirit of the Lord swept through that business meeting. Business was suspended at about 11:30 am as people began to worship and pray. There was ministry spoken by people in the gathering (just so happened that the speakers in the crown were from various ethnic backgrounds) Many stayed through out the lunch hour on their face before the Lord. Those who left the business meeting early before the reading of the report really missed a blessing.


  3. Rich Post author

    Hi, Brian. Thanks for your comment!

    You wrote, in part:

    …some of your thoughts seem to run on the presupposition that church leaders can choose who comes to their church. … I cannot be responsible for what I cannot control.

    I agree with you. Really, I do. And I understand. Rural pastor’s can’t expect an urban mix. And likewise.

    Similarly, Chakwera, the gentleman from Malawi, obviously can’t expect a lot of whites to become members of the Malawi A/G churches simply because of some ideal of diversity that I rant on about.

    So, you’re right. I wasn’t clear on that.

    My post was already quite long, but my focus isn’t on the specific local church as much as the movement as a whole, and the Church, with a capital “C”, the Body of Christ. I’m looking at the big picture.

    However, I believe my view of the big picture does have implications for the local church pastor. While you have no control over who decides to visit and, later, attend your church, you do have influence. To believe otherwise would denigrate your role as a shaper and influencer in your own church culture.

    You, the pastor, have a great deal of influence over the leadership you mentor and delegate to. You have influence by your very posture towards the local culture and any ethnic groups in your area. How you preach, the language you use, your style, your attitude, your eye contact during the message, and the handshake after the service, all impact the individuals who choose to come to your service.

    So, yes. You are not be responsible for who chooses to come. But you do have some responsibility over how you treat those who do come. And that influences the repeat visits.

    But, what am I saying? I’m not the teacher here, you should be! I’ve seen your church, and though it’s small, it’s diverse. You already know what I’m talking about.

    I’m really not trying to make anybody feel guilty … pastors with predominantly black, white, hispanic, asian or whatever kind of church should not feel guilty about their church’s cultural makeup. It may be due to nothing more than the accident of their surrounding cultural homogeneity.

    I think, what I’m driving at, is we should be excited at how diversity in christian America is slouching toward maturity. Hallelujah! May it continue! And I think we should be excited that the Global South is now sending missionaries across their own national borders. A double hallelujah!

    What probably has me ranting is what I perceive as continued patronizing attitudes about ethnicity from Springfield and the continued colonial mentality toward the rest of the A/G world outside of the white western world.

    Does that make any sense? I hope so.



  4. Steve Badger

    Interesting…. Time allows me to reply to only one portion.

    You wrote:

    I should probably just say the only truly Christian church is a diverse church. Even a cursory read of the early chapters of the book of Acts will reveal that diverse languages, diverse ethnicities, and diverse religious backgrounds all came together in Christ to worship and serve God. This kind of diversity was an earmark of what God truly intended for his Church.

    What should a church do if 1) virtually all of the people in their area are one race/ethnicity? And what if 2) none of the people of another race/ethnicity want to attend their “white” church?

    Perhaps you might revisit your comments.

    I think any genuinely NT church will be 1) open to, and 2) would vigourously evangelize people of every race/ethicity. But I cannot fault a local church just because it is ethnically monolithic.

    What do you think?


    Steve Badger

  5. Rich Post author

    Thanks for the comment, Steve, I appreciate it. And, you’re right.

    Since your post and Brian Larson’s post came in at about the same time, and deal with roughly the same issue, I hope my comment, above, helps answer it. See: .



  6. Kevin

    Good description of a huge trend, which Philip Jenkins tried to also describe in The Next Christendom: The Coming of Global Christianity. The trend is moving so fast–and the global south is becoming so dominant in Christianity–that it’s not enough to welcome the south to the table as peers. We must seat them at the head of the table and learn from them.

  7. Shirley Jacobsen

    I think that it is about time to evangelize America. It appears to me that a lot of the love and kindness for humanity has left our country. I am a speaker/chairperson for international congresses which deal in many issues and fields, and humanities is one of them. Trust this comment will help. We must care for our fellow man!

  8. Clydene Chinetti

    It always happens doesn’t it? Those who tarry are met by The Holy Spirit. It is not “your” church. It is God’s Church. The Pastor is entrusted with His Flock. The Pastor is given to the Church. The Holy Spirit is the one who shapes and molds the lives of the sheep, by the Word, he has given the Pastor and Sunday School Teachers and All the Workers placed in that place at that time, as they are faithful to speak what He has given them each service for individuals who He draws to the service. We must be faithful to walk in the Spirit and be led by the Holy Spirit of God and have the mind of the Spirit, as He reaches out through you and each Christian in the Church to those hurting and in need of God. We must see with His eyes of compassion as He sees them. We must love with His love. He will draw those to Christ and Salvation. One sows and another waters but God gives the increase.

    Our Missionaries have heard the call and gone and taken the story and told it to the nations. The nations have heard and responded to the love of God who sent his Son. The nations have listened and learned and prayed and grown to maturity and are now taking their place along side those already in the field.

    It was never colonialism. It was always the Indigenous Church. The Indigenous Church is alive and well and standing ready to go tell and let the whole world know.

    God at work in us. WE are laborers together with God.

  9. Pingback: Examining Assemblies of God statistics on growth » BlogRodent

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