Belo '97 Brazilian Church Responds to Diminished Statistics

AD2000 and Beyond International Office

Gathering sets plans for strategic evangelism

The census figures were like formidable dignitaries at the conference. Dour, no-nonsense, pinch-faced insisters on verifiable data. Despite flamboyant claims which have raced as high as 40 million evangelicals in the last decade (around 40% of the population), church growth in Brazil has, in reality, been steady since 1970 at a mere 5-6% per year. At that determined pace, the 150-year-old evangelical church in Brazil now numbers 17.8 million, or only 11%, of that predominantly Catholic country. The IBGE (the Brazilian census bureau) figures have been a reality-check for those prone to unbridled optimism. Their announcement at Belo 97, a national conference sponsored by the international evangelization movement, AD2000 and Beyond, and by Youth for Christ, in Belo, Brazil the last week in January, brought the previously jubilant crowd to a decidedly more sober character.

The more than 3,000 delegates quickly grasped the realization that "neighbor-reaching-neighbor" evangelism would be inadequate to fulfil the mandate of the AD2000 movement "a church for every people and the gospel for every person by the year 2000." The interior of the Northeast section of the country has only 3% evangelicals, with 222 municipalities having 1% or less, hardly enough to leaven those populations. In addition, there are 139 aboriginal tribes which have had no opportunity at all to hear the Gospel in their own language.

The 2500 youth attending the conference were seen as the key to the cross-cultural missionaries needed and the 250 pastors and church leaders were not slow in figuring them into the national evangelization plans. National goals adopted at the conference included:

  1. sending 50,000 new missionaries.

    This has been one of the special objectives of Wake Up Deborah!, a Brazilian prayer movement of mothers praying that their offspring would be called as missionaries. In the year and a half since its inception, Wake Up has 20,000 registered mothers praying 15 minutes per day and meeting monthly for corporate prayer and testimony.

  2. adopting (taking cooperative responsibility for planting churches among):

In order to facilitate these adoptions, Adopt-A-People of Brazil presented an adoption kit containing a manual, colored transparencies, prayer cards and a video, for use by Brazilian churches willing to take a small piece of the responsibility.

The results of the congress traveled far beyond the few thousand present. Trans World Radio beamed the sessions all over the region. Phone lines were kept busy with incoming requests for more information. One Brazilian television hostess invited the AD2000 leaders to be guests on 15 upcoming editions of her daily talk show.

While Brazil is home to the third largest body of evangelicals in the world, and currently sends 1700 missionaries, the history of the evangelical church is not one of cooperation, but fragmentation, along doctrinal, denominational, and geographical faults. Oswaldo Prado, the leader of AD2000 in Brazil, called for repentance and unity among Christians in order for the conference goals to have any hope of success.

While statistics failed to validate the meteoric growth curve often touted in world Christian circles, church growth remains healthy. Since the population growth is less than half the rate of church growth, the church continues to gain ground at a steady pace. Speakers may still have grist for their superlatives, if they should live so long. If the rate continues through the first half of the next century, Brazil will be 50% evangelical by the year 2045.

--Debbie Wood, AD2000 Publications Director

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