Assemblies of God

Assemblies of God reaching multi-ethnic America

Assemblies of God

The Assemblies of God (AG) has released its statistics for 2012.

The Episcopalians and Presbyterians (PCUSA) may be in free fall, but the Assemblies of God continue to show steady growth in attendances, baptisms (of the Spirit and water variety), and new churches.

The Pentecostal denomination has aggressively planted new churches in urban areas and immigrant communities. The denomination’s two Spanish language regions have posted the most significant growth.

The racial breakdown of AG adherents in 2012 shows significant diversity. Today the AG closely mirrors the ethnic makeup of the US population as a whole.

Confidence in the gospel, evangelism, and church planting have resulted in a movement that reflects America's racial diversity. This contrasts dramatically with the theologically progressive yet declining mainline churches.

In recent decades, most mainline Protestant denominations in the US have witnessed significant numerical declines. From 1960 to 2011, the United Church of Christ lost 48% of adherents; The Episcopal Church lost 43%; the Presbyterian Church (USA) lost 35%; the United Methodist Church lost 29%; and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America lost 19%. 

During the same period (1960-2011), the Assemblies of God grew by 498%. By 2012 the AG grew to 3,095,717 members.

Andrew Evans: Part 2

Hillsong The second half of my interview with Andrew Evans on the Rise and Rise of the Assemblies of God in Australia.

Pentecostals are known for their dependence on the Holy Spirit. Did all this goal setting undermine that dependence?

We set goals. But to get the churches going there has to be a work of God.

In South Australia, I began to pray for the larger regional towns. When I began as State Superintendent in 1978, we had just 12 churches.

We started to see where God was doing something and we just had to cooperate with Him. If you cooperated it would work.

So, for instance, Port Augusta, six people came to see me and said, we want to start a church. They were all English immigrants with an AOG background.

I told them, this is the bottom line, you've got no money, you've got no pastor, but if you want to start a church, start a prayer meeting.

Three weeks later I was at a combined function for church boards, pastors in Adelaide. Sitting there, I can feel the Holy Spirit say, "Here's the man for Port Augusta." Now, this guy was a board member, he wasn't a pastor.

I looked at this guy and I thought, gee, I don't know, he's a nice guy and all that, but in my view he wasn't pastor material. He was a faithful board member.

So I never said a word to him. About two weeks later he rang me and asked to meet with me.

He said I've been thinking of going into the ministry and he said he wondered what to do. He thought perhaps he was called to NSW. Soon after he drove through Port Augusta on a work trip and he felt God say, this is it.

I told him, Al, you've got no money, there's only six people, and they're "Poms" (English). You'll have to go and get a job, and that's it. He said well, I think God wants me to do it.

So, off he went. Within 6 months, he had seventy people.

Now, that story, that simple story, was repeated over and over again.

The mechanics and human willpower will not work if the Spirit is not at work.

In my twenty years as National Superintendent we planted a new church about every ten days—680 churches. That trend has continued under Brian Houston's leadership, except now the churches on average are larger.

What role did ministry training play in fueling a church planting movement?

When I became National Superintendent, the Commonwealth Bible College (now Southern Cross) was our only college for the nation. Everyone felt it was our duty to support the denominational college.

But we had a few "renegades" like Daivd Cartledge in Townsville who decided to start their own colleges. David was the first.

David is a driver and he began to recruit from all over Australia. The College became successful.. He applied for AusStudy and recognition from the government.

The new college was graduating young leaders and off they'd go and plant all these churches.

Others followed David's example and started colleges all over the nation. I planted one here in South Australia.

Eventually we had 18 colleges. We set up basic guidelines so they could be registered with the denomination.

The fear was, if we start more colleges they will compete with each other and not be viable. When we had just one college there were 40-50 graduates annually. Once we had colleges throughout the nation we had 1,000 graduates a year.

These new colleges were not turning out PhDs like the central college could. But they taught good knowledge of the bible and the basics of church life and leadership.

The colleges just kept feeding church planters into the movement. Without that, I don't think we would've made such a difference.

The central college at first was troubled, but now has reinvented itself and provides resources and expertise to colleges all over the nation. It's doing an even better job today because of all the new colleges.

What other changes did you need to make?

I can think of two.

Firstly, we changed our view of leadership at a national and state level. We encouraged visionary leadership rather than administrative leadership in the denomination. Our state and national leaders were at the same time, effective local church leaders.

Administrators and educators have an important part to play in a movement. But they should not lead the movement. Leaders should lead.

Secondly, we had to battle the "territorial mindset"—the idea that you can't come in to "my territory" and plant a church.

We brought out a rule saying we could start a church anywhere, anyplace, at any time. Provided that you do two things. One, you're ethical and don't go after people in other churches. And secondly, you go and talk to the local pastor and tell him what you want to do. You go and talk to the State Executive and tell them what you're going to do. You're not asking for permission, but you are doing the right thing.

Andrew, what would you like to say to the next generation of Australian church planters?

I want to remind them of importance of the anointing.

It's something I learnt from my dad. He was converted following the Welsh revival in a fresh outpouring of the Spirit. His Pastor was a coalminer, and he was just a dear old guy who loved the Lord and took to preaching. He taught other young men like my dad to preach under the power of the Spirit.

Well you can't live without God. I mean, if you try to get through on methods, it just won't work.

Have your goals and plans, but look for that God-factor every time you want to plant a church.

And so, there's always a supernatural factor about it. I think even our guys today, church planters, sometimes overlook that.

It doesn't matter how good you are and how big you are, it's got to be God.

Andrew Evans on the rise and rise of the Australian Assemblies of God

andrew-evans-1.jpg Andrew Evans was born in India to missionary parents. He served as a missionary in Papua New Guinea. Back in Australia he took a church of 150 people and grew it to thousands—Paradise AOG. For twenty years he led the Assemblies of God (now Australian Christian Churches) in exponential growth of both churches and people.

He was the National Superintendent 1977 to 1997. In 2002 he started the Family First Party and was elected into the Legislative Council of South Australia.

I met up with Andrew in Adelaide just before he retired from parliament. We talked about the astonishing growth of the Assemblies of God under his leadership.

The Assemblies of God grew steadily from its formation in 1937. Then in the late 1970s the growth became exponential. What happened?

We didn't sit down on day one and said okay this is the way to make it happen. It was an evolving thing, I think that God just gave us clues for each stage as we needed them. All along we felt we were led.

I was narrowly elected National Superintendent at our 1977 National Conference. I was just 41 years old. Afterwards, the deputy, Phil Hills, came up to me and said, before we wind up the conference could you set some goals? We'd never set goals in 40 years of meetings.

We'd set goals for overseas missions and the remarkable thing is we always reached them.

Phil said, what about a growth goal? And I said, let's do it. How much? And he said 50%. I said okay.

50% growth in what timeframe?

The next two years.

It seemed impossible. So I got up and told the conference, we're going to suggest that we go for 50% increase and everyone put their hands up and voted and it happened.

After the conference I began to think how are we going to achieve this. I wrote to each of our churches and challenged them to trust God for a certain number of new decisions for Christ.

Two years later we'd grown by 68%.

So, the next two years, we said we'd go for 100%. And we got 128%.

Risk nothing and you get nothing. If you aim at something your faith will grow.

What else contributed to the change?

Another thing we did was challenge our pastors to visit Korea together. Two hundred and forty came on trip. It was faith building to see the finances come in.

We saw what God was doing in Korea and it inspired us. We were all on a high, all wanting to go back and take the word of God to the nation.

Some pastors went too far. They may have a church of 50, and they believed they would have thousands in two years. It didn’t happen. We learnt that it was far better for a church of 50 to trust God for 70 rather than a 1,000.

Despite this, it was still important to stretch people's faith.

We came back and in the next two years saw a 120% increase. At our next conference I felt God speak say, little by little we'll take the nation.

How was that going to happen?

We decided we'd go for a church in every Australian town of over 1,000 people within two years (1981-83). Then we had to work out how to do that.

And we set out a four point strategy:

1. Identify the towns. 2. Adopt the town in prayer. 3. Seek to start a home group. 4. Begin a small church.

We asked each church of 100 to try and plant a new church every two years. We didn’t want to make it too hard.

Some did some didn’t. Some planted two or three. Others planted none.

Every two years at the National Conference the figures and the stories would come in and people got inspired.

Some states were better than others. Queensland did particularly well. They identified all their towns and they got their districts to allocate where churches should be planted. They reorganised very well.

In the 1990's they'd reached every town of over 1,000.

Sounds like the National Conference played a key role.

Right from the start it was important to change the tone and purpose of our National Conference. Since our beginning it was focused on the issues that divided us. There were long and heated debates about theological technicalities. The rest of the time was taken up with business.

And so, I made my decision that I'd make the conferences inspirational. We reduced the business and limited the time spent debating non-issues.

Year after year the Conference became a place for corporate vision and inspiration as stories came in of progress and as we set new faith goals.

Next post: Andrew Evans part 2