The Assemblies of God (AG) denomination, a Pentecostal fellowship, has seen rapid growth in recent years, expanding at a rate several times that of the U.S. population with diversity proportions largely mirroring those of the United States. With major divisions and lowering adherent rates in many—make that most—Christian denominations today, one wonders what occasions the burgeoning of the Assemblies denomination.
The growth of the AG is demonstrative of a larger trend in the Church as a whole: the congregations that change their teaching with the times and try perpetually to mold a less offensive Bible are declining in adherents while those that stay true to historical, biblical teaching are rapidly expanding.
My recent interviews of congregants of New Life Assemblies of God, a rural Assemblies congregation based out of Farmville, VA, elucidated reasons for the church’s health.
New Life is my “home” church, the church of my collegiate home that is, so I know from personal experience that New Life deals with taboo issues candidly. In fact, before I came to New Life, I had quite different stances from what I do now on tithing, sex before marriage, and a myriad of other hot button issues. I had simply never heard these issues discussed in church before, despite years of Christian school and regular church involvement.
When asked how New Life’s dealing with “typically taboo issues such as dating, sex before marriage, tithing, etc.” shaped their view of their church, New Life congregants answered unanimously:
“The small…church I came from did not acknowledge that these topics even exist…but our leadership [at New Life] deals with these bluntly but gently and also teaches love along with it.”
“New Life deals with taboo issues…and other difficult topics the same way. Sin is sin. Jesus still loves the sinner as we should, but we do not have to love, nor tolerate the sin, nor should we judge others for sinning differently than us.”
“I am glad that [New Life’s lead pastor] is willing to speak about these topics from the pulpit. Too few pastors are willing to cover these topics.”
The result of New Life’s unabashed proclamation of truth? “[W]e have an active stream of people coming to Christ at New Life.”
A pastor at New Life told me that over the last two years, the average Sunday congregation at the church has grown more than 35%, from about 300 to over 400 people. Modeling the Acts church in its fellowship and offering an altar call for salvation every Sunday, New Life’s congregation is well on its way to being “added to daily” (Acts 2:47).
It stands to reason, then, that shirking tough topics or giving in to cultural pressure to compromise convictions encourages not health, but sickness. But is New Life a good representative of the Assemblies of God denomination at large?
A broader example of how denominations handle tough topics can be seen their public statements on those issues. Take the topic of sex before marriage, for instance. The Assemblies of God denomination has easily accessible, public statements on sex before marriage. The statements clearly detail biblical reasoning for participating in sexual relations only in “a monogamous, heterosexual, marriage relationship.”
Other denominations are less clear on the matter. The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), for example, recently removed the “fidelity and chastity” ordination standard of its elders and deacons. Before the 220th General Assembly of the PCUSA (2012), the requirement read as follows: “to live a chaste and disciplined life, whether in the covenant of marriage between a man and a woman or in single life.” The 220th General Assembly adopted broader terms, saying that the PCUSA “does not have one interpretation of Scripture on this matter.” As a result, the PCUSA is locked into a rapid decline, losing 5.54% of its adherents just last year.
It is clear, then, that the denominations that have confusing and changing opinions are seeing a great decrease in adherents while those that, like the Assemblies of God, are clear, open, and in line with biblical teaching on the tough subjects are expanding rapidly. Certainly numerical growth is not the only mark of church health, but new conversions to the faith—a principle aim of Christ in the Great Commission and a major contributing factor to Assemblies growth—are nothing to spurn.