Rough signs of hope (or is it despair) amid a sea of tranquil satisfaction
We say that Spain has never known revival, but rather a gentle but unceasing growth in the churches since the Gospel was first freely preached here in 1869.
The past 25 years, however, coinciding with the Constitution, have seen three significant movements of revival in Spain. The trouble is that so far they have not had the impact on the rest of the church necessary to bring about wholescale revival.
Most of Spain's population, while holding on to its own idionsyncracies, has moved firmly into the main stream of western secular worldliness. Middle class attitudes and consumerism pervade throughout.
Yet, despite these things, three movements have stood against the flow, offering the Spanish evangelicals an opportunity to hold onto something different. These are:
- The gypsy revival of the late 70s and 80s
- The impressive response of drug addicts to the opening of evangelical rehabilitation centres in the '80s and early '90s
- The arrival in ever larger numbers of economic immigrants from the revival lands of Latin America, as well as other better evangelised parts, such as Romania and West Africa, from the mid '90s until the 2008 Credit Crunch.
Sadly, time after time, the reaction of the settled believers has been mainly to keep these groups at arm's length and not to attempt to learn how they can also benefit from the Lord's doings outside the main stream of church life. In the third case much progress has finally been made integrating Latins, although many immigrant churches have also sprung up, particularly where language has been an issue.
Currently the gypsy Filadelfia church is the largest, yet perhaps also the neediest of the denominations, with little regular fellowship with others; the drug rehab centres have largely grown through recycling their own converts and they have established their own fellowships with only marginal interrelation with mainstream churches. Only the Latins, the most recent arrivals on this scene, have not yet come universally to the conclusion that they need to go it alone for spiritual survival, since some are even too weak economically, legally and perhaps spiritually to be able to establish their own fellowships.
It is clear that the arrival on the evangelical scene, often even on church doors, of dozens of needy people, be they gypsies, drug addicts or immigrants, poses an enormous challenge for the churches and many find they cannot cope. Form is threatened and far more besides. Thus different social ministries have gradually grown, keeping problem people at arm's length and as the needs change so do the ministries. Yet on the whole the challenge to take in and disciple a flood of new, weak believers remains the main one for the churches and with the current wave of Latins is even more important in many ways than it was for the previous waves of converted Spaniards who always had their own kind to turn back to.
Your prayers are welcome for this situation, that the churches will finally rise to the challenge and consider the opportunity rather than the threat!
Finally, despite difficulties in adapting to the new waves of arrivals on the scene, the churches have continued growing during the past years through all kinds of different ways. While far more needs to be done, the church scene is a far bigger thing than it was back in 1975.Decision calculates that the number of evangelicals in Spain grew from 20,000 to 100,000 between 1968 and 1998, a fivefold increase. That figure could be seen again in the decade to 2008, doubling to almost a million if we add all protestant sympathisers. Even without the gypsy revival and the wave of conversions through the rehab centres, the number of regular church members must have more than doubled in the period to '98. Yet the longing in the heart of an evangelist is to see that 'regular, Spanish' church membership growing at 100% per decade and thus opening the way structurally to allow greater growth through the exceptional works of God's hand such as those he has blessed us with over the past decades. Pray on!