While there has been a general decline in religiosity in the US especially among young people, it has not been uniformly so across the board. The Pentecostal denomination known as the Assemblies of God are reporting quite brisk growth.
The Assemblies of God, a denomination rooted in rural and small town America, appears to have leaped into the 21st century with dramatic results.
The denomination reported a 1.8 percent increase in U.S. membership to 3 million adherents. Globally, the gain was 1.5 percent, to 66 million, making it the largest Pentecostal group in the world.
Pentecostals are those who claim to ‘speak in tongues’ and their religious services are something to see as people writhe on the floor and yell out and sway and dance as if in a trance. (The documentary Marjoe is available online and well worth seeing.)
It is a somewhat paradoxical group. Even though it began around 1914, the group has always been integrated and welcoming of people of color, as well as ordaining women from its inception. This made it well ahead of its time in those areas. But its religious doctrines in most other areas, such as homosexuality, are firmly reactionary. They also believe in that abomination known as ‘faith healing’ that has resulted in so many unnecessary deaths, especially of children.
Oddly enough, while modernity has been identified as a key element in religion’s decline, this denomination seems to be using at least the trappings of modernity to spark its growth, especially among the young. The Assemblies of God leadership claims that the reason for its growth is also that it has stuck firmly to its doctrines regarding the Bible and social morality while being flexible on matters of music and dress. The use of high-tech glitz and popular music coupled with conservative doctrine is the same formula adopted by the other evangelical mega-churches.
At its General Council meeting this week (Aug. 5-9), the denomination touted its formula for defying the seemingly irreversible decline of other religious groups: contemporary music, arts and high-tech quality communication, outreach to young people, immigrants and ethnic minorities.
Among the 26,000 delegates and visitors thronging the cavernous halls of the Orange County Convention Center for the biennial meeting, which ended Friday, there is still a smattering of older white people and women in modest, ankle-length skirts and sensible black shoes.
But they are almost lost among the young, especially people of color. Fully 40 percent here are under 25, according to the gathering’s organizers, many of them immigrants or children of immigrants, and minorities.
What the article did not say was where the growth was coming from, whether it was at the expense of other religious denominations or from the ranks of the non-religious. I suspect it is the former but it would be good to see studies of this.