Why so much growth and decline?

Why so much growth and decline?

An excerpt from from a Lincoln Journal Star article, “ Conservative churches grow while mainline churches struggle,” b y Bob Reeves, regarding recent explosive A/G growth:

Successful evangelism is also a major reason for the phenomenal growth of the Assemblies of God, especially outside the United States, said Bob Friesen, director of research for that denomination’s headquarters in Springfield, Mo. Missionaries work with indigenous leaders in countries worldwide to build local churches that will grow and multiply, he said. The biggest growth is in Africa. “Revival is happening there and people are turning toward the Lord” in record numbers, he said.

As of 2004 there were approximately 30 million adherents of Assemblies of God worldwide, nearly double the number in 1990.

In the United States, the growth has leveled off in recent years, said Dave Argue, pastor of Lincoln’s Christ Place Church, an Assembly of God congregation. The worldwide growth is “part of a movement of the spirit of God,” he said. “People are becoming empowered to fulfill the purpose God has for them.”

Church-growth watchers, though, are more pessimistic (and less spiritually-minded) than Dave Argue. The article cites sociologist Dean Kelly, author of the 1972 book Why Conservative Churches are Growing:

He attributed the growth largely to the greater strictness of the conservative churches, which he defined as “complete loyalty, unwavering belief and rigid adherence to a distinctive lifestyle.”

Maybe that explains why there are not more Pentecostal bloggers, but it really doesn’t explain the explosive growth overseas — not in my mind.

On the other hand, Human Events Online cites Dave Shiflett, author of Exodus: Why Americans are Fleeing Liberal Churches for Conservative Christianity, and Christianity on Trial: Arguments Against Anti-Religious Bigotry, who says:

[I]t is precisely this liberal attitude that has turned off so many Americans from mainline Protestant churches. Instead, these churchgoers prefer to hold fast to tradition and orthodoxy. They want their church to adhere to central dogma such as the virgin birth, the resurrection and the trinity. They also aspire to a higher level of spirituality that demands sexual restraint and a commitment to the Ten Commandments.


Shiflett believes the rise in conservative Christianity is linked to the desire by Americans to preserve their faith and religious heritage. Unlike the liberal denominations that favor heresy, conservative churches bring the authentic message of Christ to their flock. Americans are attracted to the spiritual challenge of the Gospel and want to be held to this higher standard of faith.

If fences make good neighbors, then rules make good Christians? I’m not sure about that, but maybe there’s something about Shiflett’s perspective when he talks about authenticity. After all, if there is a God, and I believe there is, then wouldn’t he desire authentic worship? And if God’s Spirit is drawing more people to him in a latter-day spiritual awakening, wouldn’t this be happening among the churches that are not accommodating the politically correct immorality of a liberal age? What could be more inauthentic than a church which denies the relevance of the Scripture and it’s moral codes for life?

I don’t think it’s about a desire to have more religious rules in our lives that is drawing people to conservative Evangelical churches. It’s the Spirit of God drawing us back—and this kind of spiritual awakening brings with it a natural, authentic, change in people’s behaviors.

After all, if you love God you will keep his commandments. It’s not the other way around: if you love commandments you’ll find God.

[tags]BlogRodent, church-growth, assemblies-of-god, assembly-of-god, pentecostal, evangelism, missions, indigenous-church-principle, divison-of-foreign-missions[/tags]

4 thoughts on “Why so much growth and decline?

  1. Jody

    Hey, this is Jody from Quo Vadis. I’ve been thinking a lot about the topic of this post over the past few years and I have to say that people seem to be over analyzing the trend. The simple fact of the matter is that people who are conviced of their faith and people who are truly searching for the truth are irked and turned off by people who continually throw out the “I believe but….” or seem to reject the core tenets of Christianity, never mention Jesus when they talk about thier “ministry” and generally make everyone wonder why they aren’t just in social work…in the Episcopal Church, it must be a desire to dress up ;-p

  2. Rich Post author

    Thanks for the comment, Jody. I agree: the moral and cognitive dissonance created by theological and practical liberals in faith is off-putting. And with the diminishing corps of conservative mainline churches, people likely switch to the other side despite misgivings.

    Yet theological liberalism has existed within mainline churches for most of this century. It’s not just recent history that has led to the ordination of homosexuals and the priesthood of confirmed atheists. That kind of crassness takes decades to ferment, and explode. When put in the context of the global growth trends the recent move toward a deeper and more athentic faith seem to reveal something more supernatural than mere human dissatisfaction.

    Anglicans in Rwanda aren’t flocking to the church because of a reaction against liberalism. Instead, they’re being drawn by the Spirit and by effective evangelism. Truly, only the hand of God could do that.


    (And thanks again for the comments, and the link!)


  3. Rich Post author

    Thanks for the comment, Bethany. I really like your blog, as well. I’ll be adding it to my blogroll, and a list of Pentecostal blogger links as soon as I find a few more. Woohoo!

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