Belo '97

January 27-30, 1997
Belo Horizonte, Brazil

Church Growth in Brazil - A Reality Check
A Special Report from Belo '97

How many evangelicals are there in Brazil? Some have been saying more than 40 million; others 35 million; and others as few as 25 million. Well, recent studies by several reliable sources have given us the clearest overall picture of the Brazilian church ever.

The primary source is the Brazilian census bureau, IBGE, world renound for it's sound research, which began in 1970 to record the religious affiliation of the population. In addition, several academic sociological studies have confirmed the validity of this data. We recognize that census data leave a lot to be desired -- ethnic breakdowns of the Christian population, number of churches, geographical distribution of the churches, etc. However, while the Brazilian church gears up to do its own research, many important conclusions can be drawn from this available data which can help guide the church as it sets goals and establishes plans to reach the nation of Brazil.

We can all rejoice that the Brazilian church has grown more than 2 times as fast as the population for more than 20 years. From 1970 to 1980, the church grew at an annual rate of 5.06% while the population grew at the rate of 2.48% per year. From 1980 to 1991 the church continued to grow at a similar rate, despite a decrease in population growth rate (5.18% average annual growth for the church and 1.93% for the population as a whole). Praise God for the healthy, consistent growth of the Brazilian church for more than 20 years at more than double the population growth rate!

So, how many Brazilian evangelicals are there? In 1970, the census revealed an evangelical population of 4.8 million; in 1980, 7.9 million; and in 1991, 13.7 million. Assuming the growth rate from 1980 to 1991 has continued until today, there were 17.8 million evangelicals in Brazil at the end of 1996, which make up 11% of the country's population. And, if the growth continues at this rate, Brazil will be 50% evangelical in the year 2045.

There are also wide regional variations in the concentration of evangelicals. While on a national average, the percent evangelical is 11%, the Northeast region is only 6.8% evangelical, with estimates of less than 3% in the interior of the Northeast. The Southern region shows a percent evangelical similar to the country as a whole, but the church there grows at a rate well below that of the rest of the country (5.18% per year for the whole country and 2.8% for the South).

When analyzed on a municipal level, even wider variations become evident. There are 222 municipalities with a population of 116 thousand of less than 1% are evangelicals. And, there are nearly 1,300 municipalities representing nearly 20 million people which are less than 5% evangelical.

The presentation of this information at Belo '97 had a sobering effect on the delegation. We praise God for the more than 20 year history of consistent church growth. However, we recognize that we can't rest yet. The job of reaching Brazil for Christ is not done. We need to seek out the unreached areas and take the gospel to every part of the country. The churches in the areas that are more reached are recognizing their responsibility to help their brothers in the more needy areas. The evangelical church in Brazil needs to continue to grow in order to have the resources to fulfill its role in reaching the unreached of the world for Christ.

Belo Horizonte, Jan 29, 1997
by Larry Kraft, OC International, Brazil

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