How Do Religions Grow? Assemblies of God, Evangelism With Feeling (Part 2/8)

The origins of the Assemblies of God are rooted in the Pentecostal movement, which began its history in the early years of the 20th century, with some saying that the birthplace was in Los Angles at the Azusa Street Mission and its revival in 1906. Whenever it started, it is certain that the Pentecostal movement has made great gains and now close to one third of all Christians in the world claim to be Pentecostals. The Assemblies of God are one of the largest denominations of this movement. In 2014 they reported to have 3,192,112 members in the United States but relate to 67,992,330 worldwide adherents. 

Several years ago I was having a conversation with a leader of the Assemblies of God and he asked me a question. It was not his intent to be controversial but to try to understand the reasons for growth for his church and that of the Southern Baptists.

Dr. William Wagner is director of Olivet University's Institute for Global Strategic Studies.

His question was, "Why is it that the Southern Baptists have approximately 16 million members in the U.S. and only about 4 million overseas while the Assemblies of God have approximately 4 million in the U.S. and 16 million overseas?"

I questioned his statistics but the proportions were somewhat accurate. In the latest statistics it has been determined that his numbers for the U.S. were accurate while the numbers of adherents to the worldwide Assemblies of God is reported to be over 67 million, and the number of members of the Baptist World Alliance is 35 million.

To answer the question is rather complex but the charismatic/Pentecostal branch of Christianity has been seeing phenomenal growth in the Southern hemisphere. It is a rarity for a young denomination like the AGs to have their growth and population tilted so greatly towards the international scene. This growth has been concentrated south of the equator, specifically in Africa, Latin America and parts of Asia. They have experienced limited success in the Middle East, parts of Asia, Europe and the United States. Their highest concentrations of growth are occurring mostly in places that have not felt the direct effect of modernity and the Enlightenment.

Some have accused the AGs of only reaching out to the lower classes while neglecting the higher social and economic classes. Though some may see this in a negative light it must be remembered that the poor make up the masses in the Southern parts of this world, thus their success.

Another criticism of them lies in what some describe as their chaotic worship services. Many see their services as being emotionally driven but their success with the poor speaks for itself. It is doubtful that some strategists sat down and targeted the poor in many of these countries but rather their missionaries simply went to the masses and proclaimed a simple, evangelistic message that resonated with the needy that heard it.

The strategy for AG missionary expansion is both internal and external. If asked the reason for their growth, the answer will be their "reliance on the work of the Holy Spirit." It is true that they emphasize the Holy Spirit more than most but there still are other reasons for their growth.

A central document of importance is the Assemblies of God Vision 2000 proclamation. This document laid out the vision for future growth and expansion as a fellowship for their association of churches as a whole. One key phase in a section outlining the perspective of the AGs on evangelism is "Every member and every ministry of their Fellowship must be compelled by the lostness of humanity." This phase, and others that echo similar sentiment later on in the document communicate that the impetus for world evangelism is the "lostness" of people.

The current expansion strategy of AGs includes four unique parts: teaching, planting, training, and touching. Their work on domestic and foreign soil includes each of these four pieces, with each serving as a broad description for a wide array of activities. They have developed a very good education by distance course called the International Correspondence Course (ICI) that has been very successful in giving grassroots Christians the necessary biblical training they need to work in the church. They define the term reaching as being finding ways to being creative and expressive with relation to telling the story of Christ Jesus. This term is somewhat limited to speaking about the process of conversion and evangelism.

Planning makes reference to the process of starting, building, and establishing churches all around he world and can be equated to the term of "Church Starting". The Assemblies of God have been able to start numerous new churches all over the World, thus this has been a plus in their work.

Training is used as a term to describe discipleship of the new converts to become a part of the churches planted in their area and to move them to tell others about the new life in Jesus Christ.

The last of the four parts is touching and this communicates the value of "compassion ministries," which is mentioned in the early parts of the Vision 2000 plan.

In studying their literature it is apparent that they put great value on the Micro and Meta levels of strategy while not addressing the Mega level in any realistic practical manner. Again returning to where they are having success, the AG's are very successful in what has been described as the developing countries of the world, where the peoples place a high value on personal relationship and also have a reputation of being more emotional. The Pentecostals with their heartfelt approach have been successful while others, such as the Baptists, who take a more cerebral approach, have lagged behind in the area of growth.

In the Northern Hemisphere there is little difference between the strategy of the Baptists and the Assemblies of God. Their success in the Southern Hemisphere is undeniable even if they only use Micro and Meta methods while their growth in the Western world remains low. It is here that the leaders of their churches must begin to look at the possibility of developing a Mega strategy which uses new forms of thinking as well as new technologies in the area of proclamation.

Also see: 

How Do Religions Grow? What Evangelicals Can Learn From Comparing Groups (Part 1/8)

How Do Religions Grow? Jehovah's Witness, a Strict Taskmaster (Part 3/8)

How Do Religions Grow? The Gay Rights Movement's Mega Strategy (Part 4/8)

How Do Religions Grow? Islam's 4 Steps to Change the World (Part 5/8)

How Do Religions Grow? Mormons 'Hidden in Plain Sight' (Part 6/8)

How Do Religions Grow? Southern Baptists, Reversing the Decline (Part 7/8)

How Do Religions Grow? Without a Vision, the People Perish (Part 8/8)

Dr. William Wagner is director of Olivet University's Institute for Global Strategic Studies.

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