TWU Book Launch: What can organizational leaders learn from the growth of Pentecostal churches in Canada?
“What we focus on are the organizational qualities of the PAOC and how they were able to move from a small revival group that most thought nothing would come of it, to the most prominent evangelical denomination in Canada today.”
-- Dr. Michael Wilkinson
Pentecostalism and related charismatic movements represent one of the fastest-growing segments of global Christianity, according to a Pew Research Center report. Even as other Christian denominations have declined, Pentecostalism seems to be gaining popularity worldwide.
Yet only a century ago Pentecostals represented a relatively small group among Christian believers.
In a new book, After the Revival, Dr. Michael Wilkinson, Trinity Western University Professor of Sociology and past Director of the Religion in Canada Institute, together with Laurentian University historian Dr. Linda Ambrose, investigate how Pentecostals in Canada were able to move from a small revival group to become the most prominent evangelical denomination in Canada today — and what lessons other church and organizational leaders can learn.
Attend the Canadian Society of Church History Book Launch for After the Revival
September 30, 2020 – Register online.
Pentecostalism in Canada
Wilkinson reports that the PAOC serves over 250,000 people weekly. That number is almost twice as high as the attendance for the United Church of Canada, which at one time was the nation’s largest Protestant denomination.
Between 1911 and 2011, Pentecostals in Canada experienced more than 900% growth, expanding from just over 500 people to well over 400,000, according to Canadian census numbers.
The greatest Pentecostal growth, however, is in the global south and many immigrants are contributing to its expansion in Canada.
“The fasted growing segment of Pentecostalism worldwide is in Africa, Asia, and Latin America,” Wilkinson explains, “and Pentecostalism continues to be transformed in Canada with the migration of charismatic Christians from countries like Nigeria, Ghana, Argentina, Mexico, South Korea, and Philippines.”
Organizational strengths of the PAOC
In After the Revival, Wilkinson and Ambrose discuss how the PAOC have adapted to cultural changes in order to thrive.
“We focus on how they negotiated challenges within and among Pentecostals to organize, but also how they at times adopted cultural patterns and at other times opposed cultural shifts in Canada,” Wilkinson says.
What other organizations can learn
In contrast to the nation’s general congregational decline, the PAOC has experienced growth. Wilkinson attributes this growth to a history of strategic leadership and management, and steady financial support.
Regarding the culture of PAOC leadership, Wilkinson shares, “They allowed women to participate in church ministry, and the history shows women played a prominent role in the church.”
As for overcoming challenges, Wilkinson notes, “When they were facing financial challenges and some declining numbers, they adapted quickly and found ways to transform their churches.”
Decentralized decision-making is another PAOC practice. As Wilkinson observes, “They have a decentralized polity that allows congregations to make decisions at the local level.”
Additionally, an openness towards immigrants has helped with attendance numbers. As Wilkinson remarks, “They have welcomed new immigrants, and the PAOC has grown with the arrival of Pentecostal Christians from Africa, Asia, and Latin America.”
“Even with the growth of the PAOC and other forms of Pentecostalism, however, evangelicalism is facing some challenges,” says Wilkinson.
In the book, A Culture of Faith, authors Wilkinson and Sam Reimer discussed various congregational challenges, including declining attendance, aging clergy, fewer people training for ministry, younger ministers questioning if ministry is what they want to do, and youth that are leaving the church.
“In A Culture of Faith we noted that the evangelical population in Canada was about 10% but recent figures show it has declined to about 6% of the Canadian population,” Wilkinson reports. These challenges will also impact the future of the PAOC.
Beyond investigating the experiences of the PAOC, After the Revival addresses broader questions about how religious movements organize, establish an identity, and develop a subculture that flourishes.
About Trinity Western University
Founded in 1962, Trinity Western University is Canada’s premier Christian liberal arts university dedicated to equipping students to establish meaningful connections between career, life, and the needs of the world. It is a fully accredited research institution offering liberal arts and sciences, as well as professional schools in business, nursing, education, human kinetics, graduate studies, and arts, media, and culture. It has five campuses: Langley, Richmond-Lansdowne, Richmond-Minoru, Ottawa, and Bellingham, WA. TWU emphasizes academic excellence, research, and student engagement in a vital faith community committed to forming leaders to have a transformational impact on culture. Learn more at www.twu.ca or follow us on Twitter @TrinityWestern, on Facebook and LinkedIn.
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