02 September 2020

Learning from church growth in Brazil

Earlier this year before lockdown, Carolyn Lawrence visited the Methodist Church in Brazil. Here, she shares some of the lessons from her trip to a church that has seen significant growth in recent years.

As part of my year of office as Vice-President of the Methodist Conference I was offered an overseas visit on behalf of the church.  As the theme for the Presidential year is going to be about growth, I really wanted to visit a place where the Methodist Church is growing to see what I could learn from them.  I am so thankful that I had the opportunity to visit this amazing country before Coronavirus closed down all travel! 

Brazil is the fifth largest country in the world in terms of area and population.  It is home to half the population of South America and covers half the land mass.   It is the world’s ninth largest economy but there is huge disparity between the rich and poor.  One example of the poor suffering for the benefit of the rich is in the case of Havaianas flip flops.  I was told that these were originally affordable footwear for Brazilians but since the demand for them overseas has increased, they are sadly now priced outside the reach of most Brazilians and seen as luxury items in other parts of the world. 

Gathering at Igreja Monte Calvario, Santa Cruz

Politically Brazil has had its ups and downs and the current president, Bolsonara, is considered to be the Trump of Latin America because of his deeply unpopular economic policies.  The rate of deforestation in the Amazon has escalated under his leadership and this is thought to be because companies illegally deforesting have become more confident under his ‘pro-business’ policies.

The main reason for my visit to Brazil was to find out about their strategies for church growth in the hope that we could learn from them and see if any of the basic principles would help us as we seek to reach out to others with the love of Jesus Christ in the UK. 

The Methodist Church in Brazil has grown from 167,000 members in 2010 to a current figure of around 275,000 and still growing.  It is clear that God is blessing them mightily and I realised that we have so much to learn from their passion and commitment as well as their strategic approach to mission. 

Street outreach - ministering to the police

I visited three different parts of Brazil: Manaus, Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro, and in all three places heard stories about what the church is doing to reach out in mission and evangelism.  The setting and the practical application varied but the strategy and vision were consistent.  Reflecting on my visit I can see several key principles of church growth in Brazil, all of which I believe can teach us about our walk with God and our outreach in this country.  Many of the principles relate well to the Liverpool Resolutions of 1820 which were made as a response to the decline of the Methodist Church at that time, and as we mark the 200th anniversary of these resolutions they seem particularly pertinent in these days.  

So what are the key principles of church growth in Brazil? 

To begin with, the church in Brazil have an emphasis on evangelism and their church strategies reflect this core value. 

Their six evangelistic emphases are as follows:

  1. Encourage evangelising zeal in the life of every Methodist and every local church.
  2. Revitalise the charism of clergy and lay ministries in various aspects of the mission.
  3. Promote discipleship from the perspective of salvation, sanctification and service.
  4. Strengthen church identity, connectivity and unity.
  5. Implement actions that involve the church in the care and preservation of the environment.
  6. Promote greater commitment and response from the church to the cry of the urban challenge.

The church nationally focus on one emphasis each year and this becomes the theme of their study materials. 

Some of the principles of growth arising from these emphases include cell church, exuberant worship, Bible study, pastoral care, prayer, emphasis on the whole family, sensitivity to the Holy Spirit, tithing, theological training, consistency of pastoral leadership and evangelism operating hand in hand with social action.  

With Sandra Lopez from the Global Relations team

Over the coming year I will seek to unpack some of these principles and to share stories from this visit.  I pray that we can learn from a church that is financially self-sufficient, growing and full of evangelical zeal, and to be encouraged as we find new ways to bring the light of Christ into our own communities.

Carolyn Lawrence, Vice-President of the Methodist Conference

 

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