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One million churches, the great global challenge of the Assemblies of God

4,300 participants from all over the world attended the World Congress of the largest Pentecostal denomination. Reaching new generations and church planting, major goals. A report from the Madrid Arena.

AUTOR 7/Joel_Forster MADRID 16 DE OCTUBRE DE 2023 12:46 h
Assemblies of God leaders pray for the advance of mission in the 5 continents, during the World Assemblies of God Fellowship Congress in Madrid, Spain, 12-14 October 2023. / Photo: [link]Shine 2023[/link].

1 million churches. This is the dream around which the gathering of the world’s largest Pentecostal denomination, the Assemblies of God, revolved from 12 to 14 October.



Madrid had been chosen in 2020 to host the 9th World Congress of the WAGF (World Assemblies of God Fellowship) but then the Covid-19 epidemic in Europe forced to first postpone and then cancel the event.



Three years later, the Madrid Arena in the Casa de Campo park brought together 4,300 participants, half of them delegates from practically every country in the world. The figures include one hundred children and several hundreds teenagers.



But how to go from the current 370,000 churches to one million by 2033? Dominic Yeo, the pastor of a megachurch in Singapore and newly elected President of the Assemblies of God worldwide, is optimistic. “I think we’re even going to surpass that number”, he told Evangelical Focus in an interview to be published soon. The idea is simple: “every church plants two other Christian communities” in the next decade. “If even only 1% of the population of our nations were in one of our churches, right now, they wouldn’t fit”. 





[photo_footer] 4,300 people participated in the Assemblies of God World Congress at the Madrid Arena / Photo: Shine 2023. [/photo_footer]



 



Humility and collaboration



After decades of growth, the Assemblies of God believe they have learned lessons from the wider evangelical environment. “In the next years we will need less celebrities, the only we celebrate is Jesus”, Friedhelm Holthuis, chair of the Federation of Pentecostal Churches in Germany, said in a plenary. The multiplication effort must come in a context of humility and cooperation: “We will succeed not because of our super stars, but because we are a strong team”.



“We don’t just start churches. We want to start churches, that start churches, that start churches, that start churches, than start churches…”, Holthuis added. “I’m convinced that we will reach the goal of 1 million churches. The Assemblies of God will beat Coca-Cola, in every place of the world!”





[photo_footer] Art space in the Crystal Pavilion / Photo: Shine 2023. [/photo_footer]



 



The importance of the next generation



The vocabulary heard from the stage often alludes to “honouring” people who have served the church in the past and present: superintendents, pastors, church planters, pioneers of projects that have reached thousands in unreached nations.



In the alternative programme #NextGeneration, they also talk about big dreams in Christian ministry. Héctor Escobar, pastor of a church in Seville, addresses the more than 700 young people who fill a space of their own in an adjoining space, the Crystal Pavilion. He jokes about no longer recognising the music young people listen to today or the apps they use. But in a culture full of people looking for more online followers, “a missionary without access to internet in the Amazon forests transforms more lives than any influencer on social media”, he tells the young audience. “There are many people full of talents and skills, but only few are brave, faithful and obedient to God. If you’re not obedient, you’re only serving yourself”.







Kids of all ages listen attentively, some sitting on the floor because there are no chairs. Earlier, with the praise band blaring, they have been jumping and singing in festive mood, in English and Spanish. There is no doubt that the Assemblies of God have the highest density of semi-professional musicians in the evangelical world.



Meanwhile, volunteers roam the common areas and expo booths doing interviews and collecting images for the social media profiles of the congress. The whole programme is translated into French and Italian, as well as English and Spanish. Sign language is also available. “Most of us have been trained in our local churches”, they tell us at the multimedia production area.



[photo_footer] The parallel children’s programme brought together more than a hundred children. / Photo: Shine 2023. [/photo_footer]



 



Radical kindness in mission



“As we move toward a million church plants, we must believe Acts 2 but also Acts 3. We are not just Pentecostals is in what we believe, but Pentecostal in how we live”, says Heath Adamson, director of Convoy of Hope, a social justice NGO. In an increasingly disconnected world, “love will be a sign and a wonder” - a defining miracle of the church, he argues.



Adamson goes through the Old Testament to show how marginalised and poor people encountered God and hope. “Jesus lived a life of radical kindness that restored people to a place of honour”, he concludes.





[photo_footer] The worship times featured a choir and a praise band made up of members of Spanish churches.  [/photo_footer]



But compassion alone is not enough, had said earlier the United States Assemblies of God Superintendent, Doug Clay. In times of “spiritual famine”, the churches’ action must flow from the Word of God. “God did not give us his Word to make us smarter sinners but to transform lives”. Amidst an applause, he adds: “My prayer is that we will not let political rhetoric replace our prophetic relevance in society”.



 



“Listening to the Holy Spirit”



Each session ends with a kind of altar call. One of them is to pray for European Christians. Marek Kaminsi, a pastor in Poland laments that “many Christians anointed by the Lord in Europe are not being heard”. The barriers are often language, a lack of resources and not having a large platform.



[photo_footer] One of the simultaneous seminars on global issues / Photo: Shine 2023. [/photo_footer]



Even in the context of a carefully planned schedule, each speaker allows himself moments of improvisation and “listening to the Holy Spirit”. As when the only delegate from Benin is called to the front, and a revival in his country is prophesied over him.



Mission in the world dominates many of the afternoon’s seminars and panel discussions. There is talk of “combating biblical illiteracy” or “keys to revival in Africa”. Asia and Latin America are also represented in the programme, for example with the preaching of Argentinian pastor Daniela Freidzon.



Art has its own place beyond music, with a space where a dozen artists from the Assemblies of God exhibit paintings, poetry and sculpture.







 



An evangelical driving force



Because of their size and projects, the Assemblies of God operate as a driving force in many national evangelical movements. in Spain, for example, the Faculty of Theology in La Carlota (Córdoba) has invited in recent years theologians from a wide spectrum, beyond the Pentecostal world.



The interest of other organisations in being present at the Pentecostal congress is also evident in the 27 Christian organisations that have set up booths in the visitor's area.



Each of the three days ends with evening sessions called “Nights of Faith and Glory”, open for other churches in Madrid city to attend.



The grand evangelistic closing of the world congress is on Saturday 14. The “Festival of Light”, in line with the congress motto (‘Shine: called to influence’) brought toghether artists known beyond the Spanish borders, such as Marcos Vidal, Kike Pavón or Papel Maché.





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