There are about 75 million pentecostals in Latin America (as of 2005).
There are somewhere between 10 and 12 million Pentecostal Brazilians in just the Assemblies of God (since the numbers for the Church of God were unavailable, I used the most closely-related denomination).
There are only 2-3 million members in the entire United States.
We are now the mission field. After Pentecostalism spread throughout Latin America, igniting them with the passion to teach, many of them came (and still come) to the United States to share their fire and joy for God. They are most popular in the Latino communities.
Moreover, many Latinos are abandoning their childhood Catholicism for this new fiery faith. They’re even “exhibiting very high levels of religious commitment. On average, Hispanic evangelicals—many of whom also identify as either Pentecostal or charismatic Protestants—not only report higher rates of church attendance than Hispanic Catholics but also tend to be more engaged in other religious activities, including Scripture reading, Bible study groups and sharing their faith.”
But why? Why are so many Latinos (and Latin Americans) wholeheartedly accepting God (specifically Pentecostalism) into their lives?
Blending of Cultural Styles through Music
The first attraction of Latinos and Latin Americans to Pentecostalism is our “spirited style of worship”, which reflects that of the communities. It is clear when one listens to the rhythmic, highly-stylized music of Latin American and Latino communities that there is a sense of spirit and emotion in every pulse. Pentecostalism, unlike Catholicism and other strict Christian faiths, gives them the opportunity to express that emotion. Not only do the imported Pentecostal hymns reflect such, but they are allowed to meld their own cultural styles in to create new hymns that illustrate their specific and personal passion for God (called coritos).
Expression of Emotion
Along with the previous point is the general allowing of the church to express emotion. Latin Americans and Latinos come from extremely diverse backgrounds—some poor, rural, backbreaking work, lack of political stability, and feelings of being underrepresented, invisible, and lost. Pentecostal churches embrace the mixed emotions and allow members to freely express these.
“The church becomes one of the few places where they feel free to laugh and cry and shout and sing. This emotional expressivity is evident at many points during a Pentecostal service: in the tears that often accompany the spontaneous prayers of congregants as the service gets underway; in the impassioned testimonials of being saved by God from drugs, alcohol or depression that members stand and share with the congregation; in the exuberant spirit thrown into the singing of each corito.”
Personal Relationship with God
Pentecostal Christianity offers direct access to God that many other sects—specifically Catholicism—cannot give. Since many Latino Pentecostals are former Catholics, it is important to consider how this personal relationship with God might be the selling point.
One Latino Pentecostal preacher put it like this: “Pentecostals do not need saints and angels and statues, not even a priest. All Pentecostals can preach, heal and feel the Holy Spirit. Everyone can pastor and feel like a priest.”
Real Evidence of the Holy Spirit in their Lives
Additionally, about a fifth of Latinos who convert from Catholicism say that the decision was associated with a ‘deep personal crisis’ (23%).
Pentecostalism is attractive because it emphasizes the “rewards in the here and now, a popular theme for many Hispanic immigrants in search of the American dream. [Moreover,] there is a strong emphasis on education, hard work and prosperity, and talk of creating a better life not [only] in the afterworld, but [also] here, even in the ghettos, on earth.”
Another Latino pastor states that “the deepest impact that Christianity made on me was the central concern of Jesus for the poor […] that’s also what got me back into the church.”
Many Pentecostal churches offer hope to poor Latino immigrants and second, third, etc. generations, reflecting the original attitude of Jesus. Pentecostal Latinos are here because they are seeing real results from their faith. They are being healed, emotionally, physically, and spiritually. They are being bodily healed, saved from addiction, and lifted out of poverty.
Isn’t it amazing what God can do?
Warm and Welcoming Sense of Community
“Nearly a third (31%) [of Latinos who left who converted from Catholicism] say they found a congregation that reaches out and helps its members more.” That is important not only to them, but to all Pentecostals. (It’s the sort of horizontal growth that Pastor Rodriguez and Dr. Crosby emphasize here).
One pastor states:
“’As soon as I started visiting Pentecostal churches in Newark, the question became: ‘Why don’t more people do this?’ he says. ‘These churches were more agreeable, congenial, welcoming to Hispanics than most of the other Christian churches […] They had a warmer atmosphere where people felt at home.”
Moreover, Latino immigrants absolutely need this kind of warm, welcoming community. They feel unable to connect with other Americans. In short they, “feel adrift in this country,” but Pentecostal churches help them “feel less alone in their struggles and [allow them to] rely on the congregation for personalized support with broken families, the hardships of a new country, and feelings of nostalgia.”
Do we exhibit these qualities? Are we willing to blend our music with that of a different culture? Do we allow emotional expression? A personal relationship with God? Real workings of the Holy Spirit? Are we a welcoming community?
These are questions to ask ourselves as we assess our level of growth and diversity within the church. What are we doing well and what could we work on?
In the meantime, please seriously consider helping to alleviate the devastation caused by Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico. The Church of God World Missions is accepting donations to help reconstruct damaged buildings all over the country.
“Overview: Pentecostalism in in Latin America.” Pew Research Center. Oct 5, 2006. http://www.pewforum.org/2006/10/05/overview-pentecostalism-in-latin-america/
Masci, D. “Why has Pentecostalism grown so dramatically in Latin America?” Pew Research Center. Nov 14, 2014. http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2014/11/14/why-has-pentecostalism-grown-so-dramatically-in-latin-america/
Puente, D. “The Rise of Pentecostal Churches.” ABCNews.com. Jan 16, 2007. http://abcnews.go.com/US/story?id=2799081
“The Shifting Religious Identity of Latinos in the United States.” Pew Research Center. May 7, 2014. http://www.pewforum.org/2014/05/07/the-shifting-religious-identity-of-latinos-in-the-united-states/
Wallace, B. “The Latino Pentecostals.” Drew Magazine. 2008. http://www.drew.edu/news/2016/04/13/the-latino-pentecostals