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Evangelicals climb sharply - But Adventist remains the largest Christian denomination in Jamaica

Published:Sunday | October 21, 2012 | 12:00 AM
Raising their hands, worshippers at the Emmanuel Apostolic Church in Portmore, St Catherine.

Tyrone Reid, Senior Staff Reporter

As the traditional churches continue to witness a decline in the number of Jamaicans sitting in their pews, the Pentecostal, Seventh-day Adventist and various Church of God groupings are seeing a steady increase in worshippers.

The recently released Population and Housing Census 2011 revealed that a multitude of Christian believers are flocking to the 'non-traditional churches'.

In 1960, the Pentecostal movement was a blip on the national religious radar as it accounted for less than one per cent of Jamaica's approximately 1.61 million population count.

By the time of the 2001 census, the Pentecostal movement picked up enormous steam and jumped from 14,739 in 1960 to 247,452. In the 2011 census, the denomination recorded 295,195 affiliates.

Among the major growing church denominations, the Pentecostal church is the fastest growing as it recorded a 19.29 percentage growth rate between 2001 and 2011.

However, despite the ground gained by the Pentecostals, the Seventh-day Adventist Church retained its rank as the largest denomination in the country.

It moved from 281,353 affiliates in 2001 to 322,228 in 2011; an increase of 14.53 per cent.

In 1960, the Church of God was just a single grouping and it boasted 191,231 affiliates.

Last year, the combined entities labelled Church of God had more than 617,000.

These include the Church of God of Prophecy, the New Testament Church of God and what the census takers labelled 'Other Church of God'.

"The report from the 2001 Census (STATIN 2003) noted the overall decline among the traditional Christian denominations and the rise of the Evangelicals. The 2011 data show that this trend has continued," read a section of the 2011 Census of Population and Housing - Jamaica.

However, the statisticians pointed out that though 160,000 persons reported other churches, it should be noted that after the cleaning of that data, there might be movements in the table.

"For the first time in a census, it will be possible to view these responses which were written on the questionnaires. This information is being extracted manually for compilation. It is quite possible that some of these responses will be added to the stated categories," read another section of the 2011 census report.

In spite of the potential change in the numbers, the Reverend Dr Wellesley Blair, the New Testament Church of God's administrative bishop for Jamaica and the Cayman Islands, thanked God for the increase.

Keeping it real

He attributed the growth to his organisation's presentation of the gospel. "We make the real things real … somebody else may make the real things look false," said Blair.

"People want real things. They are tired of the fake things. Those are strong statements but I can back them up," he boasted.

Blair also had strong words for those who accuse the evangelical movement of sheep stealing. "That is not a fair statement and it belittles the ability of the Jamaican people to think for themselves."

Pastor Everett Brown, president of the Jamaica Union Conference of Seventh-day Adventists (SDA) said he was encouraged by the numbers because it showed that the preaching and teaching of his church has not been in vain.

However, he told our news team that the work is far from complete. He attributed the rise of the SDA to being the single largest denomination on the island to the approach that seeks to minister to the whole person.

"The SDA embraces the philosophy of Jesus Christ to minister holistically, not just to go to heaven but to live a healthy life here as well," said Brown.

He explained that the number captured by the census would indicate the total number of people who adhere to the SDA philosophy as the last membership count done in April of this year showed just over 273,000 persons were members.

Pastor O'Garth McKoy, bishop of the United Pentecostal Church of Jamaica, told The Sunday Gleaner that the explosion in numbers is the work of God through men.

"It is largely due to the awareness, the hand of God and the word being taught," said the bishop.

He added: "Evangelism has been enhanced, therefore communities and universities are now being reached that were not being previously reached."

"There has been a shift in recent times among the people because they need something real, something life-changing. They want to experience the Book of Acts. And, the message in the Book of Acts is very real."

  •  Church of God

Church of God in Jamaica — 124,184

Church of God of Prophecy — 113,225

New Testament Church of God — 163,912

"Other Church of God" had — 215,837 .

Church of God distribution

124,184

Church of God in Jamaica

113,225

Church of God of Prophecy

163,912

215,837

'Other Church of God'

New Testament Church of God

6,995