Researchers at Sepal (Serving Pastors and Leaders) studied results from Brazil's Census 2000 survey by the Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics and other information from a March 2007 study conducted by Datafolha, a major domestic information firm.
Based on figures obtained from both sources, Sepal concludes that over half of the nation's population will be evangelical in less than a decade.
"We believe 52 per cent of the population will be evangelical by 2020, or about 109.3 million evangelicals within a total population of 209.3 million," said Sepal researcher Luis André Brunet, in an interview with The Christian Post this week.
Brunet said that the findings were 95 per cent accurate provided that the evangelical growth rate from 1990 to 2000 remains consistent in the next 40 years.
In 2010, Epoca, a widely read news magazine in Brazil, released figures from studies on evangelical growth. Those interviewed included theologians and anthropologists, who unanimously agreed that evangelicals were increasingly influencing all spheres of Brazilian life concluding that the evangelical presence has contributed to the decline in alcoholism, increase in school enrollment, and reduction in the number of broken homes.
However, Brunet was quick to point out that Christians should "think beyond the numbers" before drawing conclusions. "If we consider two lines of thought, a revival is not happening in Brazil," he said, adding that revival is characterised not just by "mass conversion of people, but also profound changes in social thinking as influenced by born-again Christians."
First, Brunet attributed growth to "aggressive evangelical outreach, adoption of more flexible [church] rules, society's openness to Christian life, and an increasingly influential middle class."
Brunet also cited a substantially weaker evangelical presence in Brazil's northeastern region.
According to the researcher, the region could be divided into A and B, with A representing beachside and large urbanised environments, where the evangelical growth rate is at modest but acceptable levels. B encompasses rural areas where evangelicals rarely exceed 1% of the local population.
Second, says Brunet, evangelical growth has been held in check by "strong Roman Catholic roots in the population, in addition to age-old mysticism". In addition, poorer road conditions and difficult access to mass media also contribute to difficulties in evangelical outreach.Besides social conditions, Brunet adds, church growth has been hampered by internal matters especially those involving finances.
"Actually, the reason for this is that revenue is so minimal, that the mission cannot be self-sustained in the long term," Brunet continued.
In one SEPAL case study, the city of Quinze de Novembro has about 80.4% evangelicals, while its neighboring town of Alto Alegre has that of only 0.28%.
"The most evangelised city [is] beside one of the least evangelised cities of the country," commented Brunet, emphasising that Brazil has "mostly unprepared leadership that lacks direction in theology, ecclesiology and missiology".
"Will life change in a Protestant-majority country," he asked, expressing concern that Brazil's growing prosperity may tempt Christian leaders towards materialism.
"The middle class is expected to double over the next year," said Brunet, saying that there are signs more materialistic leaders have begun leading their flock astray with prosperity theology. In addition, he maintained, evangelicalism has to overcome the "superficiality of life in Brazilian people".
"We see this [superficiality] among Brazilian evangelicals today, and it seems that it will remain for the next years, accelerating the duality between 'religious life' and 'secular life', which already exists today," he said. "Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the soul of a heartless world... It is the opium of the people. That is any human impulse caused by dissatisfaction for political, economic or social reasons."
Brunet mentioned "that selfishness and individualism present in these days can also be seen in religious life".
"Although some believers have concern for their neighbours, in other words other people, we can say that the majority are only concerned about their own welfare," he said.
At this time of writing, Sepal researchers are awaiting the results from the IBGE 2010 census to confirm the projected growth rate of evangelicals in the Brazilian population. Upon doing so, Sepal will create an outreach map based on comparing old and new data.
Conclusively, Brunet believes, positive changes can occur including the creation of stronger institutions representing evangelicals "who cry aloud for the world of God".
"We must indeed pray to the Lord of the heavens that this transformation of the Brazil may be genuine according to the standards presented in the Gospel of Christ." Christian Today
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