The Assemblies of God, one of the fastest-growing denominations in the world, got its start 100 years ago in Hot Springs. Members from around the world will begin gathering Tuesday in Springfield, Mo., where the U.S. headquarters are located, for several days of celebration.
With more than 67 million members worldwide, including more than 3 million members in the United States, the Assemblies of God is the largest Pentecostal denomination in the world. Arkansas is home to about 430 Assemblies of God congregations. It all began with a gathering in the Spa City when a group of like-minded Christians, inspired by the Azusa Street Revival of 1906 in Los Angeles, came together to form the new denomination.
"Azusa is seen by many historians as the catalyst for the Pentecostal movement worldwide," said Assemblies of God spokesman Mark Forrester. "Ministers began having a Pentecostal experience as part of the Azusa Street Revival and many took that experience home and found their churches questioning the experience ... so they found a need to affiliate."
At the time several Pentecostal publications had been started, including the Word and Witness, based in Malvern. E.N. Bell, the publisher and a local minister, issued a call in the publication to his fellow Pentecostals to meet at the Opera House in Hot Springs in April 1914. Three hundred came to the gathering, Forrester said, and the Assemblies of God was established, with Bell elected chairman. Later that same year a second general council was held in Chicago that solidified the group's desire to promote "the greatest evangelism the world has ever known."
A hallmark of the Pentecostal experience is speaking in tongues, known as Spirit baptism or baptism with the Holy Spirit. Assemblies of God doctrine also emphasizes personal salvation, water baptism, divine healing and the premillennial second coming of Jesus Christ. Global missions and evangelism are also a key focus.
"That's been a mark of the Assemblies of God throughout its history -- the focus on global missions and evangelism," Forrester said.
The church differs from other denominations in that it doesn't have a single worldwide hierarchy and instead relies on self-sustaining national churches with their own leadership. Members from around the world are expected to attend the centennial celebration; so far, representatives from 118 countries have registered to attend.
The denomination has had 24 consecutive years of growth, which Forrester attributes to many factors, including a marked increase in adherents from ethnic minorities, as well as increased participation among millennials. This year's statistics indicate that 54 percent of members are under the age of 35.
"I know both of those counter a lot of trends, but the charismatic, Pentecostal movement in general has had phenomenal growth," Forrester said.
He also points to the denomination's commitment to the fidelity of Scripture and a dependence on the Holy Spirit as strengths.
The Rev. Rod Loy, pastor of First Assembly of God in North Little Rock, said the denomination's emphasis on missions and caring for the hurting contributes to the church's continued growth. He said the church's emphasis on ministry to children and students attracts parents who want their children to be spiritually grounded. That translates into an increase in younger members. And, he said, many are seeking something bigger than themselves.
"There is an increasing interest in the supernatural. People want to not only hear, but feel God is real, active and involved in their circumstances," Loy said. "Our emphasis on not only knowing, but experiencing God and His supernatural power is a key."
The denomination is committed to starting new churches -- in the United States and around the world -- which also contributes to the growth.
"Every 52 minutes a new church is established internationally," Forrester said. "Domestically it's about a church a day. It's definitely been a concerted effort."
Loy said his church is very involved in starting new congregations. They have done so in Lonoke, Vilonia, Hot Springs Village and Little Rock. Loy also serves as a mentor and coach to a number of church planters around the country.
The church has also started congregations around the world.
"In the last eight years our church has helped establish over 1,200 churches in 64 nations," Loy said. "It's been a central focus of our local congregation -- giving, and going and praying as we work with our church planters around the world."
Much of the denomination's growth is occurring in Latin America, which has 30 million adherents, with Brazil accounting for 23 million. Africa is another area of rapid growth, with 17 million adherents.
Loy said it's an honor for Arkansas to be the birthplace of the Assemblies of God.
"One hundred years ago, a small group of people met in Hot Springs. They had no idea that what they established would one day number more than 60 million people around the world," he said. "It's awesome being part of the Assemblies of God in Arkansas, where it all began."
The celebration of the centennial will be Tuesday through Aug. 10 and will include a global church planting summit with about 2,500 pastors from across the globe coming together to strategize. The World Assemblies of God Congress, which includes the superintendents of national churches, will also meet.
George O. Wood, general superintendent, said the event will be "a moment of revival, a moment of celebration, and a moment of focusing on our mission, to complete the great unfinished task of ensuring every person has a chance to hear of Jesus' love for them. This 100th anniversary gives us the opportunity to focus on what God still has for us to do as we look with joy to our past history, give thanks for the present, and look forward to what we still have to accomplish in the future."
Information about the denomination and the centennial is available online at ag.org.
Religion on 08/02/2014
Print Headline: Assemblies of God to mark 100 years