The Recent Rise of Evangelicalism in Brazil
Last week, CNN reported on some new research which showed a 44% jump from 2000 to 2010 in the number of evangelicals in Brazil. At the beginning of the decade, just 15% of Brazilians self-identified as evangelical. By 2010, CNN that number had risen to 22%. (The CNN report was based on a release from the Instituto Brasileiro de Geografia e Estatística, the national statistics agency.)
Having recently returned from Brazil, I was able to drop in on a bit of this growth. The Brazilian church leaders I met with like Sérgio Queiroz, Ricardo Agreste, and others have all seen substantial growth in their ministries. I hosted two episodes of The Exchange, which featured Sérgio, while I was there as well.
Many evangelical megachurches and ministries (like that of Cidade Viva in João Pessoa) did not exist 10-15 years ago. However, good things have been happening in many churches there.
LifeWay Research is currently doing research in Brazil, using an adapted version of the Transformational Church research and also studying the views of the unchurched. We will release this data and start resourcing churches with what we learn later this year.
So where did this growth come from? Well, it is certainly a mix-- partly from new converts and partly from the decline of the Roman Catholic Church. In the 10-year period, self-identifying Roman Catholics fell from 74% to 65%.
The decline of Roman Catholicism in Latin America and the subsequent rise of evangelicalism has been well-documented over the past century. For example, forty years ago in Brazil, 93% of the population was considered Catholic and just 4% evangelical. Compare that to the numbers now being reported, and you can see a definite swing. My experience is that evangelicals tend to reach lapsed or inactive Catholics more than active Catholics, but the numbers here may point to both.
Regardless, I am impressed that many evangelicals in Brazil are living missionally within their local communities. Ministries to the poor are springing up all over the country and, more importantly, they are often being accompanied by gospel proclamation. Churches throughout Brazil are working with one another to care for their countrymen's welfare-- both physical and spiritual. It's a trend I'm glad to see.
That is not, I assure you, all of the growth that is called "evangelical." The rise of Neo-Pentecostalism is a real concern (and that is not the same as Pentecostalism, which is concerned about the rise of the Neo-Pentecostal movement). However, there is much to celebrate here, and I am looking forward to our increasing involvement at LifeWay Research in Brazil.