Evangelical Churches in Brazil Rapidly Expand in Slum Communities: ‘God Is the Only Option for the Poor’

Evangelical churches in Brazil are rapidly growing, and the growth is found mostly in favelas or slum communities.
The Cantagalo favela in southern Rio de Janeiro is home to two Catholic churches and at least 15 evangelical churches, according to a local pastor. March 26, 2017, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil Thomas Reuters Foundation/Chris Arsenault

Evangelical churches in Brazil are rapidly growing, and the growth is found mostly in favelas or slum communities.

Although Brazil is predominantly Catholic, with more than 60 percent of the population identifying as Catholic, more and more people, particularly the poor, are being drawn to evangelical churches. This is because communities receive from evangelical churches the help that the government could not give them, according to Thomson Reuters Foundation.  

Evangelical churches are reaching out to the slums, called favelas, and provide services in education, healthcare, sanitation and economic development. With slum dwellers often dealing with problems like crime and poverty, it is easy to see why they are drawn to the presence of evangelical churches in their community.

"The government doesn't help us so God is the only option for the poor," 37-year-old Pastor Antonio, a former drug dealer who later on gave his life to Christ, explained.

"There are a lot of problems here in the favela. Poverty, a lack of work, crime, mental health issues - the church helps with these things," he added.

Jeff Garmany at the King's College London's Brazil Institute explained that Brazil's church growth is being fueled by the government's inability to address the needs of the people.

"The state's inability to adequately deal with these issues allowed the churches to grow and make inroads with people," Garmany told Thomson Reuters Foundation. "The evangelical churches aren't just providing religious services in the favelas, they're addressing social issues people are dealing with head-on."

The church's continued growth is also reflected on its increasing political influence as more people begin to embrace "traditional values and strong adherence to the Bible," according to Al Jazeera.

Celso Russomanno, a known devout Christian, ran for mayor of Sao Paulo last year. Megachurch bishop Marcelo Crivella also ran for mayor in Rio de Janeiro and won with strong support from the working class. With Crivella as mayor, Rio de Janeiro and perhaps other parts of the country are expected to lean right in what many people call a religious shift.

In 1970, Brazil was predominantly Catholic, with 92 percent of the population belonging to the Catholic Church. However, in recent years, the number of Catholics in the country has declined while that of the evangelicals has gone up.

In 2010, the Catholics only comprised 64.4 percent of the population. On the other hand, the number of evangelicals climbed from 5 percent to 22 percent within 40 years, according to Alternet. Many of these are found in favelas, where the number of evangelicals is higher compared to other communities.

Although Brazil still has the most number of Catholics in the world, experts estimate that by 2030, the number of evangelicals and Catholics in the country would be neck and neck. 

Tags : Brazil evangelical churches, evangelical churches, Brazil Catholic church, church growth, churches serving communities, favelas, church growth in favelas