Assemblies of God doing well

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.


  1. raven says

    A lot of Aof G;s growth is among hispanics, mostly Mexican immigrants.

    In other words, they are leaving the Catholic church for AofG.

    It’s a myth that Latinos are all Catholic. It runs around 70% and the longer they and their decendants are in the USA, the less the percentage of Catholics.

    In the last few years, the RCC has lost 22 million people, 1/3 of the membership.

    PS You have to be careful of church membership numbers. A lot of them cook their numbers outrageously. The RCC only counts baptisms. The AofG counts members. There is a lot of double counting here and membership inflation.

  2. mnb0 says

    They are on the rise in Suriname as well. It gives me some worries as this country has a tradition of religious tolerance, from which atheist me greatly benefits. Pentecostals threaten it. Fortunately Surinamese citizens and government seem to realize the danger as well:

    Trust me, not the Moravians but the Full Gospels (unfortunate translation of Pentecostals) are the fanatics. Some of those seven teachers threatened their pupils with hell and doom. The largely Moravian parents didn’t take it.
    My ex-wife has a brother lost to Pentecostal faith – he preferred healing to seeing doctors.
    If that growth persists you American atheists have some hard times ahead of you.

  3. One Day Soon I Shall Invent A Funny Login says

    A of G was my family’s church while I was growing up in the 1950s. At the time I did not think it remarkable (but I was an utter naif), but indeed they were quite accepting of people of color and of female leadership. As to the first, there were no resident black people in our part of rural Washington state but we did have occasional visiting evangelists and musical groups who were black, and they were addressed as “brother” and “sister” so-and-so (as is the A of G style) and treated with respect and hospitality.

    As to the second, it was one of my mother’s proudest accomplishments that she earned a ministerial certificate from the national church administration, entitling her to preach from any A of G pulpit. In fact she never used it, that I recall, but she had passed whatever qualifying test they had, and there was no gender barrier to it.

  4. Corvus illustris says

    The RCC only counts baptisms.

    I don’t even think they subtract deaths, never mind defections, so even a loss of 1/3 requires interpretation. Oh, and to defect they used to insist that you fill out some forms involving records at your parish of baptism, which might or mightn’t still exist, and at the birshop’s office for that parish, which might also have changed dioceses. They then stopped registering defections (due to the workload, one may hope). As most readers of FtB’s know, ditching your Konfession has tax consequences in central-European countries.

  5. raven says

    None of my Catholic relatives attend mass anymore.

    One is a New Ager.
    One is a mid level official in a Protestant church.

    They are all still counted by the Catholic church as members. The Protestant one is also counted as a Protestant.

    The Catholic church no longer will even take your name off their membership list. Too many people applied for it and they just stopped doing it.

  6. mobius says

    …people writhe on the floor and yell out and sway and dance as if in a trance.

    When I was 5 my overly religious mother took me to a Pentecostal tent revival . What I saw struck me as the most insane thing I had ever seen, even at the age of 5. To my mother’s credit their shenanigans were even too much for her.

  7. Corvus illustris says

    Does anyone still use the derogatory but all-too-accurate designation “Holy Rollers” for the Pentecostals? I haven’t heard it spoken in a while.

  8. Corvus illustris says

    You can probably get a population count larger than the Census gets by adding together the numbers of adherents reported by the various US religious bodies. The Pew numbers are surely inflated by some people’s fear of Mrs Grundy should they say “none.” (And my Very Religious Parents’ 6 offspring: me, one almost-a-Married-Deacon brother, three sisters who don’t really identify with the RCC very much, and one deceased sister who had some kind of Bible-thumper funeral. 1 for 6, I guess, depending on one’s assessment of the sisters.)

  9. Jared A says

    The mormon church is also quite bad. They’ll count you as a member until you send enough letters to get taken off the roles, and then they send people to your house with literature explaining that if you repent they will love you again.

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