Portuguese Evangelicals Have Planted New Churches, But Their Numbers Are Still Falling

Published 09 March 2017  |  
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The statue of Christo Rei (Christ the king) in Almada, Portugal.

Evangelical churches in Portugal are on the decline.

The number of evangelical churches in Portugal fell from 1,630 in 2000 to 964 in 2016, according to Evangelical Focus. Numbers have fallen despite the fact that more than 300 new churches were planted in the same period.

The statistics, coming from research by the Mission Advisory Board of the Portuguese Evangelical Alliance, suggest that evangelical Christians in Portugal number around 46,900, though some statistics suggest as many as 150,000. A conservative estimate has Portuguese evangelicals representing 0.4 per cent of the population.

322 churches have been planted in Portugal since 2000, and 39 per cent of evangelical church baptisms (which average five per year) in the same period came from the new wave of church plants. Overall numbers have still fallen, though there are still more evangelical churches than in 1980, when there were 894 congregations.

One explanation for the decline in churches is said to be migration of believers to their countries of origin. The report says: 'The great growth in the beginning of the century was due to the arrival of returnees from the Portuguese former colonies, and the arrival of Brazilian immigrants'. The reports regrets that the influx of immigrants helped imply that evangelicalism was an 'imported religion' only for foreigners, not Portuguese nationals. The study found that 66 per cent of evangelical church leaders were born in Portugal.

It also notes that 'the tendency of centralising all church activities in one place' encouraged church decline. Most Portuguese evangelicals (seven in 10) live in one of three districts: Lisbon, Porto and Setúbal.

The average membership of an evangelical church in the country is 49. In cities the number is usually over 50 while in rural areas the average is less than 20. The reports said that in some regions the church was almost 'invisible'.

The study also notes that the majority of evangelical churches have no 'involvement in cross-cultural missions'. It suggests an opportunity to work with the country's Muslim community, 'due to the strategic geographical position of our country'.

The reports concludes that churches are too reliant on human and financial foreign resources. It also emphasises the need for addressing the future: 24 per cent of Portuguese pastors are aged over 60, while just 18 per cent are aged below 40. The report said: 'There is a clear need to be addressed in respect to the preparation of a new generation of leaders.'

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