The Reality of the Evangelical Church in Portugal 

Source: Assessoria de Missões da Aliança Evangélica Portuguesa (Translated by Luis Branco)

The evangelical church in Portugal is seen as a “religion” of foreigners to foreigners. Portuguese look at these “strange churches” that gather in shops, warehouses and cellars, which are one day in a place and tomorrow have disappeared, as something that “Brazilians or Americans” need to maintain their religious habits. It’s theirs and for them. The latest study by the Portuguese Evangelical Alliance (an organ that represents the evangelical churches before the state) highlights the growth of church care compared to the previous research conducted in 2016. 

Four years ago, each church had an average of 49 people, in 2020 that number rose to 73. Some point to immigration as the major engine for this growth. Portugal faced an economic crisis in which many immigrants have returned to their countries of origin or emigrated to other European countries, but in recent years many have chosen Portugal to live their retirement, to work here or from here. Immigration is undoubtedly one of the major factors for this growth. This thesis is reinforced by the study by the Manuel Francisco dos Santos Foundation that reveals that two thirds of evangelicals in the Lisbon Metropolitan Region are foreigners. 

This research conducted by the Evangelical Alliance also highlights the increase in the number of baptisms. In 2016 each church baptized an average of 5 people (every 2 years), this number rose to 9. Investment in the planting of new churches has been growing. Of the 500 churches interviewed in this survey conducted in 2020, 46% have been planted in the last 20 years. Almost as many churches have been planted in the last 5 years as those founded between 1960 and 1980. Of the 500 churches interviewed, just under half have concrete plans to plant a new church over the next 5 years. All this investment in planting new churches has another side of the coin. About 45% of the churches planted in the last five years, have an average assistance of 25 to 50 people, 40% have less than 25% of Portuguese and 39% of these new communities have not baptized anyone in the last two years (2018 and 2019). 

We also found that 82% of churches that have less than 25% of Portuguese attending their services have been planted in the last 20 years. Just over 70% of these churches are led by Brazilian pastors. In the last 20 years many churches have been planted, this is an extremely positive factor, however the downside is that many are not growing, do not reach Portuguese and are not baptizing anyone. These new communities grow through immigration or the transfer of members of other evangelical churches. Other worrying numbers are related to the age of evangelical leaders. Of the 500 pastors interviewed, 50% are between 40 and 60 years old. The number of pastors over 60 is higher than those under 40. When we look only at the Portuguese pastors, the numbers are even more frightening. More than 60% said they were over 50 years old. 

There is a huge shortage of church planting and revitalization across the country. In the midst of so much need, this 2020 survey (based on various indicators) elected 5 districts that should be seen as a priority action: Bragança, Guarda, Portalegre, Évora and Beja. We dubbed this quintet “Fifth Deep” because everyone is in the interior of Portugal. The study by the Manuel Francisco dos Santos Foundation in 2018 divided the population of the Lisbon Metropolitan Region into four religious profiles: 1) practicing religious (those who often attend cults or religious celebrations); 2) non-practicing religious (mostly non-practicing Catholics); 3) believers without religion (believe in some deity, but do not identify with any religion in particular; 4) non-believers (those who reject the existence of any deity). These four profiles exist across the country, however the percentages vary from region to region. The “believers without religion” are the fastest growing group in Portugal today. This is a growing trend because younger generations are increasingly fitting this group. The study by the Portuguese Institute of Marketing Administration in 2015 reveals that 31% of respondents (almost all under 40) have no religious activity. Portugal is considered a “post-Christian” country today. For many Portuguese, Christianity is seen as something that belongs to the past. The great obstacle to preaching the gospel is undoubtedly the indifference with which many react to the Christian faith. In other regions of the country, especially in the interior of Portugal, the Catholic tradition is still very strong. Taking on a realistic stance is well aware of the difficulties presented to us, but it also consists in not disregarding the opportunities before us. 

Another survey conducted in 2019 (based on 500 interviews with “non-evangelical” scattered from north to south of the country) reveals that 78% of respondents agree that people are now more open to talk about their (not necessarily Christian) spirituality, 62% have a positive opinion about Jesus Christ and 24% would be receptive to an invitation to talk informally about the Bible. Portugal needs new missionaries like “bread to mouth”, yet these new workers need to come with the awareness that their work needs to be done in cooperation with the “national churches”. It is very tempting to start a project from evangelicals from another country or from other evangelical communities. The initial growth is fast and apparently gives a successful image. The “sending” churches welcome missionary reports, yet the real impact is virtually nil. We observe many who have traveled this path and today seek to reach Portuguese through the structure of the “newly planted church”. They cannot do so because church members “demand” that this new community be similar to their home church and this results in the little effectiveness in the reach of the local population. It is extremely important that the one who comes, realizes that although the language is the same; The culture, the way of thinking, the habits and customs are very different. The missionary must come with the desire to “stay here until the end of his days”, to take root in culture, to build friendships with Portuguese; It takes fitting capacity to deal with frustration and humility to learn. The missionary who already knows everything will experience enormous disappointments. Portugal is not a sterile field. There are difficulties and opportunities as in all mission fields. There is room for creativity and new ideas. You can come. 

Source: Portuguese Evangelical Alliance Mission Advisory

This article is provided courtesy of Luis Branco of Portuguese Evangelical Alliance Mission Advisory.

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