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In some neighborhoods of São Paulo, there is a church on every block. In the nation's capital, Christian bookstores advertise their products on expensive billboards in the city center.

Christian radio and television broadcasts reach across the entire nation. The nation's Congress now has an assertive political bloc of evangelicals.

It sounds like a dream come true for evangelicals, but in Brazil, where all this is taking place, the surge of interest in evangelical Christianity also comes with huge challenges and not a few dangers.

Brazil's population of 170 million has seen a decades-long surge in growth among Protestants. While many Brazilians are attracted by the Pentecostal movement and its expressive worship, mainline Protestant churches are also growing.

There are an estimated 1.1 million Baptists, 800,000 Lutherans, and nearly every other traditional Protestant group imaginable. But they are tiny compared to the estimated 15-to-30 million Brazilians who belong to Pentecostal churches, making Pentecostalism the most prominent feature of the Brazilian Protestant profile. (Accurate numbers are nearly impossible to develop since many Brazilian Christian families spread across more than one faith group.)

The Atlas of World Christianity estimates that the number of Pentecostal Christians across South America grew 500 percent between 1960 and 1980. Growth has slowed since then; nevertheless, South America today has "the strongest Christian community in the world," the Atlas reports.

40 new churches per week

Much of the growth surge is due to a year-round focus on evangelism and church-planting. For example, in Campinas, a city of 1 million in southern Brazil, teenagers from a 3,000-member Nazarene church spend every Saturday in ...

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Brazil's Surging Spirituality
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December 4, 2000

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