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Less than 20 years ago, more than eight of ten people in Ireland attended Catholic Mass at least weekly. Today, fewer than half do. The erosion of Ireland's traditional Catholic identity may be largely due to secularization, but it's an opportunity for evangelicals, whom the Irish have historically shunned as foreign.

In fact, much of evangelicalism's growth in the country is foreign—but not British. Ireland's steadily growing economy has attracted immigrants from China and Nigeria, and now about one-third of Ireland's evangelicals are immigrants. Churches have adapted with PowerPoint slides that translate Bible verses into multiple languages.

Research published in 2006 by the Evangelical Alliance Ireland (EAI) shows that the number of evangelicals tripled from 10,000 in 1980 to 30,000 in 2006. However, evangelicals still make up less than 1 percent of Ireland's population. More than 60 percent of evangelical churches have started in the last 25 years; 40 percent in the last 10. Nearly half claim no denomination.

The Irish Bible Institute (IBI) has also played a key role in the church growth. Remarkably, IBI is "the first major evangelical Bible college since the Puritans lost control of Trinity College, Dublin, in the 1630s," said former Trinity fellow Crawford Gribben.

"A number of former and current IBI students, teachers, and adjunct faculty are engaged in church planting across different denominations," said Patrick Mitchel, IBI director of studies. "In the 'pioneer days' of the 1970s and 1980s, church planters tended to be mostly missionaries from the United States or Northern Ireland."

For centuries, evangelicals failed to penetrate Ireland. Evangelistic efforts in the 1800s were thwarted by a pervasive Catholic influence. ...

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April 2007

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