The leaders of the Assemblies of God announced plans to expand their tents through aggressive evangelism technique during their annual meeting. Each of the 12,000 A/G churches in the U.S. were asked to continue the tradition of the largest Pentecostal denomination by beginning a new congregation elsewhere.
Entitled “Every Church a Parent or Partner,” the effort reminds the denomination of its church starting heritage that began in 1914; despite high risks, members left their home churches to begin new congregations throughout the United States elsewhere.
While the AG is already known as the third fastest growing religious body in the United States in the 1990s, the denomination’s leaders stressed the need to continue the momentum.
"We can't be satisfied with past successes," Thomas Trask, the denomination's top official, said in an interview with the AG news service.
Over the past three decades, local AG congregations have focused more on growing larger than starting new churches because of the high costs related to such ventures. Local congregations became “gathering instruments rather than sending instruments,” Paul Drost, director of the department for starting churches said.
Also, “territorialism” hindered expansion; many AG congregations staked their turf and were disparaged if they overstepped their boundaries.
However, Trask criticized such thinking. “We need to send a message that this church will not tolerate territorialism," he said. "Every denomination that has tolerated territorialism has experienced decline."
The AG hopes to let local congregations begin new churches through the initiative by providing training, advice and low interest loans as needed.
The church starting department has already conducted 40 “leader training BootCamps” that prepared 3,500 leaders. 15 percent of AG pastors have also committed themselves to starting 1,000 churches over the next two years.
"God is really speaking to the hearts of our ministers,” Drost said.
According to the denomination, no neighborhood will be excluded.
"Jesus set no boundary lines and excluded no neighborhoods. The worse the neighborhood, the more we need to plant a church there," said Charles Hackett, home-missions director.
Meanwhile, the leaders also stressed the growth of current congregations. According to Ron Johnson, a pastor from Hampton Va., new churches begin when one congregation cannot reach a whole city. His congregation, Bethel Temple is about to start its fifth church. "Did I want a large church, or did I want to change a culture?" Johnson said.
Drost expressed enthusiasm for the future of his denomination.
"These are great days to serve the Lord Jesus Christ," he said. "We anticipate that the best is ahead of us – in the church worldwide, not just the Assemblies of God. I sure am thankful that God has included me in His plans."