"Ability to Adapt": Mission and History

From and interview with Assemblies of God theologian Simon Chan:

If liturgical worship is such a good preparation for mission, why are Pentecostalism and evangelicalism, which hardly follow the ancient structure of worship, growing so fast?

In the modern age, the free churches are evangelistically successful, but in the broader history of mission that hasn't always been true. Europe was evangelized in the early centuries by missionaries who were certainly not free-church evangelicals. And think of the spread of the Orthodox Church from Russia to northern Africa.

In Singapore, we keep very close statistics about the growth of the Assemblies of God, which is currently the second-largest Protestant denomination in the country. We are good at evangelizing, bringing people in, but we have also noticed that many of those people that we have brought into our churches would over time go to more traditional churches and seeker-friendly megachurches. Our net growth isn't really that much, but in terms of bringing people in, yes, we have significant numbers of people being brought into the church for the first time. It may be that in God's providence he is using free churches, Pentecostals, and charismatics to reach out to the world, but I still believe that his aim is to embrace them all within the one holy, catholic, and apostolic church.

Surely part of Pentecostalism's success is its ability to adapt rapidly in a technological culture.

Pentecostals are definitely very adaptable. They are quick to seize upon new opportunities for the sake of the gospel. They make use of the technologies of the times. There is a certain habit of mind that enables them to readily leave behind things that don't work and to move on to things that they think will work. Whereas the liturgy creates a different habit of mind, a habit of stability. This has its strengths and weaknesses, just as the Pentecostal mindset has its strengths and weaknesses. But in my view, in the modern world especially, the danger of a short memory far outweighs the danger of not being willing to change.

Many people would say the opposite: For the church to succeed in its mission, it needs to be ready to change.

But is that true in the long run? Coming from a Pentecostal background, I'm more sensitive to the dangers that a church is exposed to when it forgets its history.

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