Beliefs Culture Institutions

Assemblies of God defies denominational decline

The Assemblies of God, a denomination rooted in rural and small town America, appears to have leaped into the 21st century with dramatic results. Photo courtesy Assemblies of God
The Assemblies of God, a denomination rooted in rural and small town America, appears to have leaped into the 21st century with dramatic results. Photo courtesy Assemblies of God

The Assemblies of God, a denomination rooted in rural and small town America, appears to have leaped into the 21st century with dramatic results. Photo courtesy Assemblies of God

ORLANDO, Fla. (RNS) The Assemblies of God, a denomination rooted in rural and small town America, appears to have leaped into the 21st century with dramatic results.

At its General Council meeting this week (Aug. 5-9), the denomination touted its formula for defying the seemingly irreversible decline of other religious groups: contemporary music, arts and high-tech quality communication, outreach to young people, immigrants and ethnic minorities.

The denomination reported a 1.8 percent increase in U.S. membership to 3 million adherents. Globally, the gain was 1.5 percent, to 66 million, making it the largest Pentecostal group in the world.

Why are the Assemblies of God defying the odds?

“We have been flexible when it comes to culture — music, dress, pulpit attire — while remaining consistent on that which has not changed, which is doctrine,” said George O. Wood, the newly re-elected general superintendent who is also chairman of the World Assemblies of God.

George O. Wood, the newly re-elected general superintendent, who is also chairman of the World Assemblies of God. Photo courtesy Assemblies of God

George O. Wood, the newly re-elected general superintendent, who is also chairman of the World Assemblies of God. Photo courtesy Assemblies of God

Wood, 71, an attorney as well as a minister, said other denominations have “shifted in their doctrinal focus, and softened their reliance on the authority of God’s word, especially as it relates to Scripture and sexuality morality.”

For example, the denomination’s boys’ youth group, the Royal Rangers, appears to have benefited from the Boy Scouts of America’s recent decision to admit gay scouts.

“Since the May 23 BSA decision, Royal Rangers has received many inquiries from families, churches, and denominations seeking an alternate way to mentor future men,” said Doug Marsh, national Royal Rangers director. “We have helped dozens of troops make the transition or take steps for a forthcoming change.”

The denomination steadfastly opposes gay marriage and ordination.

Among the 26,000 delegates and visitors thronging the cavernous halls of the Orange County Convention Center for the biennial meeting, which ended Friday, there is still a smattering of older white people and women in modest, ankle-length skirts and sensible black shoes.

But they are almost lost among the young, especially people of color. Fully 40 percent here are under 25, according to the gathering’s organizers, many of them immigrants or children of immigrants, and minorities.

Efraim Espinoza, director of the denomination’s Office of Hispanic Relations, credited the denomination’s intentional focus on Spanish-language resources and emphasis on community leaders tasked with nurturing local Hispanic congregations.

The Assemblies grew out of the 1906 gathering* called “the Azusa Street Revival” in Los Angeles, a series of interracial services that featured what would become the essential elements of Pentecostalism, including speaking in tongues (glossolalia), faith healing, prophecy and a practice called “slain in the spirit,” in which a person falls to the ground as a result of a Holy Spirit encounter. In the early decades, few of its preachers were seminary trained.

The Assemblies of God, a denomination rooted in rural and small town America, appears to have leaped into the 21st century with dramatic results. Photo courtesy Assemblies of God

The Assemblies of God, a denomination rooted in rural and small town America, appears to have leaped into the 21st century with dramatic results. Photo courtesy Assemblies of God

Today, the Assemblies of God congregations range from urban storefronts to suburban megachurches. And although its theology is proudly conservative — some would say fundamentalist — the denomination’s history has given it some key advantages.

In addition to being racially integrated from its inception — as a Fuller Theological Seminary student in the 1960s,Wood marched for civil rights — the Assemblies has always ordained women. In some areas, according to Charisma magazine, 60 percent of new pastors are women.

The denomination was an early adapter of contemporary, and then electric music.

However, some change can be disquieting. In the past year, the denomination reports that traditional “water baptisms” have nearly doubled while “spirit baptisms,” involving speaking in tongues, declined. Some have wondered whether this was a product of unfamiliarity with the tradition among immigrant members.

But Wood, son of a China missionary, attributes this to yet another cultural shift — the eclipse of regular Sunday evening services, where such conversions often took place. He said he thought that thousands of unrecorded “spirit baptisms” have taken place at summer camps for young people.

Six months ago, the denomination hired a team of young communicators and social media veterans of the Relevant Group in Orlando to assist the larger denominational communications team in Springfield, Mo.

This team is helping develop a Pentecostal voice for new media and, significantly, is based in Nashville, Tenn.  Their instrument of choice is the iPad.

“Historically the Assemblies of God has always been entrepreneurial,” said Steve Strang, the son of two Assemblies of God pastors, as well as the founder and CEO of Charisma Media, a book and magazine publisher based in Lake Mary, Fla.

“They’ve always hustled,” he said. “When entrepreneurs look and see that things are not growing, they make a judgment and adapt, and that’s what’s happening.”

[Editor’s note: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated the date of the Azusa Street revival.]

About the author

Mark I. Pinsky


Click here to post a comment

  • Thank God….a denomination is staying true to the biblical view of homosexuality. GLORY GLORY! Also, the AOG will be a group that other religious groups will envy!

  • I came into the AG from another denomination and while maintaining my conservative beliefs Ive enjoyed the freedom of true worship and the freedom of The Holy Spirit.

  • it’s easy to pretend this is a victory for a particular version of doctrine, but the sad fact is that the day-to-day process of AOG is almost entirely devoid of doctrine. apace with increasing popularity, services have replaced meaningful content with anodyne dance parties revolving around the one word mantra of jesus. i suspect you could replace the word jesus with chocolate and have a perfectly functional cult of dessert without making any other significant changes. so for all the apparent steady shift towards AOG, there’s a good possibility that it represents a monster slowly sucking all the traditional content out of religion, leaving an unwieldy entity that collapses when people get sick of dancing at the jesus disco. if you take an honest look at how much churn there is in membership [imo AOG is evolving into a phase that young people go through, with the church providing an alternative version of the party culture that young people gravitate towards] the behemoth has a lot less solidity and inevitability than a simplistic look at the numbers suggests

  • The worship is great and, in most of the AOG churches where I have been in attendance, the fellowship is good as well.

    However, on the minus side, over the past 43 years that I have been a born-again Christian, I have observed the diminishing of outreach to the lost, discipleship after salvation (this includes deliverance) which would always include the teaching of sound doctrine.

    I am saddened that the AOG no longer resembles the church of The Book of Acts because the above two essential requirements are obviously missing.
    These have been replaced by a local church that caters to entertaining the congregation rather than preaching and teaching in an uncompromising manner. This is compromise in order to keep the numbers up and I believe that it is an affront to our God.

  • Its okay if some people say bad things about the group of people who stands for the truth of the Word of God like the AoG around the world in particular, the Bible says that if anyone say things against you, they are saying it against me…God will hold them responsible for what they re saying…. Anyway God bless the AoG around the world…and a revival is rushing throughout the earth…Jesus is coming very soon…Hallelujah.!!! Jesus loves you….eeenok

  • Great statement. Some AOG do practice Acts Christianity, but too few follow that example. And you are right: discipleship including deliverance are two lost arts in the Church today over which the devil rejoices.

  • I agree. I can see this happening in our AOG church. I love my church and hate to see the Acts account being left by the wayside.

  • I would caution those who base their opinion (either positive or negative) on their experiences with a limited number of A/G chuches in a limited geographical area. Those of us who have been engaged with hundreds of A/G nationally and internationally can affirm the movement’s strength, diversity, and commitment to evangelism and Scripture (including the book of Acts).

  • Are they preaching the ‘good news of the kingdom in all the inhabited earth for a witness to all the nations’ before the end of this era comes? (Matthew 24:14)

  • I’m proud to be a minister in this fellowship. While some may not agree, I believe they remain relevant today constantly keeping their focus on reaching the lost for Christ. I appreciate the leadership that maintains our doctrinal stance, while being flexible with technology and media. Dr George Wood is a fantastic leader will skill, compassion, and a complete commitment to Christ.

  • Unfortunately, the view from inside the AG national headquarters is not the same as the dressed up view shown outside. Employee morale is at an extreme and all-time low. R&D costs on digital initiative pieces soar, pushing levels 10 and 15 times what could ever be considerably recuperated through sales. Dissension and discord are plainly shown in the upper leadership ranks where many of the positions are held by non-AG, conveniently converted members that previously held questionable views on major doctrinal points. Entire outreach and ministry lines that still bring the majority of revenue to the midwest complex are being quietly reduced to minimal staff and staged into sunset mode to quietly disappear. And the thread that runs through it all is a complete preference for style, flash and youth appeal over substance and significance.

  • You can’t base an opinion of the AOG off of a few AOG churches you have attended. Just like how I can’t say the AG does those things because the few AOG churches I’ve been too does spread the gospel and looks like the church of Acts.

  • Magnificent goods from you, man. I’ve understand your stuff previous to and you’re just too excellent.
    I actually like what you have acquired here, really like what you are stating
    and the way in which you say it. You make it enjoyable and you still care for
    to keep it wise. I can not wait to read much more
    from you. This is really a terrific website.

  • Yep John, one church. But which one ? The AOG ? Methodist ? Baptist ? Or one of the other thousands of church’s out there ? Or maybe, all belivers are the church ? If thats true, then Jesus” church is all mixed up. One church teaches this, and another teaches that. Scripture teaches, if you find fault with someone take it to him alone, if he does not listen take it to the church. Well, if a Baptist found fault with a AOG, which church would they take it to ? Well, for the first 1500 years of Christianity there was only one church,the Catholic Church and now, well, everyone can start their own church. So much for unity. 🙁

  • To see the growth is a real blessing in many countries .
    But The ADD in France are very closed and they with much difficulties they accept others evangelicals groups and even others Pentecostals churches, Does the Holy Spirit agree with such attitudes .
    Things are changing but with a cost of seeing pastors that are asked to leave the movement because they meet others ministers or churches.
    This was my case in 1972 .

  • Michel,
    I’m a 37 years old pastor in french Assemblies of God. I don’t know you and I don’t know your story, but I can tell you that the things you’re telling about were right, but they are changing, slowly, but really changing. During several decades, I think that pastors needed to keep the french AOG churches in the orthodoxy of the pentecostal doctrines. It was a young denomination, and I think they wanted christians in their churches to stay in the full gospel view. It was the way to build a strong pentecostal identity in a country where evangelicals had never been numerous, because of persecutions during centuries. Sometimes It produced some hard behaviours against people who wanted to work with other evangelical denominations. Perhaps it was sometimes out of all proportion… But I can see however a beautiful heritage with churches now all across the country. The french AOG (ADD in french) are now holding the hand of the majority of other french evangelical denominations, included the non-pentecostals, through the creation of the CNEF (French National Evangelical Council). As all other denominations I guess, we always need to be reformed at the same time we need to stay based on all the Bible! Everyone makes mistakes, and even if the best would be not to, the most important is certainly to repent and change.
    God bless you.

  • I think you are totally off base. The AOG have grown because they have embraced the Latin community as well as other ethnic groups as equals unlike your so called “traditional” Churches. As far as your assumption that the AOG lack Biblical doctrine is crazy. It is the adherence to their doctrine that makes them unique. They still believe in the inerrant word of God, the trinity, second coming of Christ, the reality of heaven and hell and the virgin birth. These are essentials. What you hold dear I suspect is nothing more then tradition. An that my friend is the death of every denomination.

  • Christianity first came from the seven original churches as the Bible Maps portray, What is now the area of Turkey. Romanism persecuted the believers, as the Apostle Paul stated himself. He was a Roman Jew set about to kill and destroy any who declared the faith in Jesus Christ until his conversion on the Damascus road when he saw a great Light and heard the words “Paul, Paul, why persecutest thou ME. , Paul then went on to become the greatest missionary for Jesus Christ and the Gospel (Good news) . He was was severly beaten and was imprisoned by Rome many times for his faith, yet he continued, against the Roman power that exsisted at that time.. Even the Apostle John,, (the beloved disciple) was exiled to the Roman Prison on the island of Patmos because he refused to stop preaching Jesus Christ. The Bible (The Word of God alone) contains the whole and wonderful stories of the seven original churches that were founded because of their faith .The Book of Revelation also mentions the seven original chuches as the seven candlesticks of the end time.
    Word of God not the Catholic church, is surviving all the onslaught of the world .God’s Words says: ” Heaven and earth will pass away but MY WORD will not pass away”

  • Aim from Uganda, I would like to request you to bring your ministry to my church for more partnership.Thanks.

  • I was supposed to be a fourth generation minister in the AG. Yet , it did not work out that way. My grandfather was a good man, who loved his family and flock. My father dreamed of Swaggart fame, and sold his soul every Sunday. To preach and not believe, tough to swallow that idea at 11. I was a Royal Ranger, I can still recite their mottos, I respect that the AG has always been open to women, and people of “ethnicity”, whatever that means. But, this fight against homesexuals, and progressive modern thought will be its death nail. Maybe sure at this time the south american influx has increased the AG numbers. But over time the majority of them will sway back to their Catholic roots, as the new pope preaches love and compassion to all. Ya know. like Jesus would.

  • Thank God, the AG is very solid in its doctrine and conduct. However, like any other church, there are some things that needs to be improved and corrected. One of these is in regards to woman as pastors. It is definitely not Biblical. Also, it is not widely accepted even within the AG, that is, in countries like Brazil.

  • Yes. It’s possible. I left many years ago and I am glad I did. If you want to leave, you have to withdraw yourself from the “praise high” of worship that people get dependent upon or addicted to. You’ll feel blue initially, but after a while you’ll start to feel normal emotions again without the big high and lows. Also, when you leave the “fold”, you will need to make friends with people outside of the AoG circle and have a support system that won’t judge you. I can tell you there is life after the AoG, and I have found it to be a much better life where you can think for yourself and make your own decisions. Blessing upon you and your path.

  • I was born and raised the the AOG, my great Grandfather was one of the original ministers. Grandparents from both sides and my parents have served on church boards and ran women’s ministry, children’s ministry & missionary week. I believe the doctrine to be true, and there are few ministers in the denomination to be Godly men & women. During collage I saw many that I was raised with make poor choices. What disturbed me was how those issues where handled. If you were a ministers son or daughter a blind eye was turned. If you weren’t a who’s who’s child (minister’s child, relative of some famous AOG’er or wealthy church donor) the book was thrown at you and they were thrown to the AOG wolves. I didn’t like how people lied at a drop of a hat. Families were focused on how to get piece of the religious pie, by buying the Bible Quiz equipment and only their click could be on the select team that could compete and win scholarships. Music ministers having affairs and the head pastor trying to do the right thing by letting him go and the members running the head minister out, because the members liked the music minister better. It was at that point I walked away. I took a break from any church environment. Luckily God had a hold of my heart and not the denomination. My husband and I found a Bible teaching church after we were married. This church was so different, there was biblical right and wrongs being taught with a loving environment. So different then the church environment that I was raised in. Like one of the comments above said, once you leave no one will stay your friend. My sister and I both walked, none of the kids we grew up with ever contact us or are included us on the youth groups Facebook page. It’s as if we never existed. Call me crazy, but years later my husband and I sent our son’s to an AOG school in Northern California (I grew up in So Cal). There was not a better choice or we would have sent them there. I decided that I would keep an open mind and maybe it was just the two churches I attended and not all were what I experienced. With knowing what I knew, I decided I was going to become very active in the school environment. I have to say the school did not change my perspective of the AOG denomination. I will even have to go as far to say they border on acting like a cult. Everyone is related, pastors children where hired by the church or school (no credentials or experience to justify why they held that position). If you are not one of them you are not let in. I was always held at arms distance. If you do not attend an AOG church then you are not a true believer. Everything that I saw growing up in the two churches I attended was happening here. When my last son graduates from high school in a year I will say, I will not knowingly choose to walk into another AOG church or organization EVER.

  • I understand that some Christians hold the mistaken viewpoint that women being pastors is not biblical. But reading fallible men’s English translations is not the same as going to the most reliable source Greek manuscripts of the Bible, where it definitely is biblical for women to prophesy (preach and discern with vision) with some named (e.g., Priscilla and Junia) to be pastors and even apostles in the pre-Constantinian church to which Paul wrote his letters.

    Also Paul did not write or intend what men of centuries-past misogyny translated into English about male domination of women. See, e.g., theologian and pastor John Bristow’s book: What Paul Really Said About Women. Jesus (in two gospels, Matthew and Mark) said that wherever the gospel is preached, what a woman did — anointing Him on the head, a priestly act overturning conventional wisdom, appropriate for the new Christian priesthood of all believers) — would be told in “memory of her.” It’s seldom preached by men this way.

    It’s simple really. Men who don’t want to give up their fallen worldly power over women for the new creature we each become in Christ — neither male nor female — tend to fear equality of women and men.

    Pray, my brother, that Jesus will remove your fear, and give you eyes to see and ears to hear.

    Bravo to AOG and all churches that follow the Bible and the example of Jesus to let women as well as men use their God-given gifts without discrimination before our Lord.

  • Just because a religious movement grows it does not mean they are approved by God. Assemblies of God is a denomination that is run for the pastors and by the pastors. Spiritual abuse is common in this denomination. Senior pastors humiliate and abuse junor pastors often. The leadership is hierarchical and a pyramid. They control and dominate . The only junior pastors who are not abused are the sons and sons in law of senior pastors. This article clearly reveals one important fact the Spirit baptism is declining and it shows the quality of this denomination. The reason they give water baptism to unregenerate people is to get money for pastor’s private kingdom. No genuine repentance and no true conversion but water baptism to unqualified people. Also this denomination collects 10 of the income as so-called tithe. Rusd Kelly has posted a rebuttal to AoG on tithing. Lying and growing will one day implode.

  • I’m with Luke…cite some references or otherwise qualify your statements to justify your accusations, please.

  • The fight against homosexuals and alleged ‘progressive’ thought is entirely Biblical. Homosexuality is a sin and is clearly denounced in the scriptures-in both the Old and New Testaments. And ‘progressive’ thought includes(but is not limited to) abortion, evolution, historical revision, moral relativism etc… All of those seek to devalue human life and the moral standard of the Bible throughout our nation’s history.

  • I say to all that are affiliated with the AOG organization are any other, you need to stop listening to the traditions of men that are preaching a Pre-Tribulation so called (Rapture) doctrine, and get into the word of God for yourselves and learn the truth as to when Jesus Christ is coming. You do not need a PHD, DD or any other after your name. Throw away the Cyrus Ingersol Scofield Bible, get for yourself another bible, a KJV, and a Strongs Concordance and begin studying the Bible by subjects, such as, over comers, the parable of the sower, last trump, the mark of the beast, etc, again study by subjects. Rev.15:2&3, V2 And I saw as it were a sea of glass mingled with fire: and them that had gotten the victory over the beast, and over his image, and over his mark, and over the number of his name, stand on the sea of glass, having the harps of God.
    V3 And they sing the song of Moses the servant of God, and the song of the Lamb, saying, Great and marvellous are thy works, Lord God Almighty; just and true are thy ways, thou King of saints. Matt. 24:4 “And Jesus answered and said unto them, Take heed that no man deceive you”.

  • God will use a donkey to preach if that’s what he wants to use! A woman preaching is not against the bible.

  • my dad is an AG pastor. I finally left. When I left I finally was part of actualy ministering of the gospel and preaching truth. Unfortunately being a part of the AG for so long all I saw was seeker friendly church growth tactics. I have a place in my heart for the AG. However. I had to get out.

  • Pastor T Focus please I need a direct link to study the church bible school online I so much like to study as to become full member who will understand what it really mean to be part of the church AOG Thanks

  • My sister Cassandra, please I need a direct link to study the church bible school online I so much like to study as to become full member who will understand what it really mean to be part of the church AOG Thanks

  • Sadly, I feel the PAOC church (AoG in Canada) has become lacking, almost pushing a social gospel. I remember back to when I was younger, and I almost do not recognise it any longer. Numbers are good, but that means nothing to me. We have hate speech laws here, so they avoid ‘touchy’ subjects, and fail to speak out against societal ills like they used to. I suspect they are worried about losing their charity status.

  • The Assemblies of God have “distinctive” doctrines that are rarely practiced…. II Timothy 3:5 says to stay away from those with a form of Godliness but deny its power…. The A/G of 21st Century is NOT Azuza…

  • I’ve been in the AOG for 40+ years. You must have never found strength in the Lord—which was available to you—through genuine salvation! Obviously, you were weak and looked to others to lead you around like a puppy dog! Man up! Accept responsibility for your Christian walk and quit trying to blame a particular church for your lack of growth in the Lord!

  • I’ve been in the AOG for 40+ years. You must have never found strength in the Lord—which was available to you—through genuine salvation! Obviously, you were weak and looked to others to lead you around like a puppy dog! Man up! Accept responsibility for your Christian walk and quit trying to blame a particular church for your lack of growth in the Lord!

    (I agree, AOG needs to rethink the end times “rapture” doctrine! Dr. Wood is smart enough to present a biblical scripturally sound doctrine.