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The recent growth of Pentecostalism in Belgium.

Sociologists of religion and casual observers alike have noted the steady decline of institutional religion in continental Europe. Belgium has been no exception to this trend, and while the schools, hospitals, labor unions, and political parties that were linked to the Roman Catholic Church insulated the devout for a time, secularism seems to have ultimately won out. (1) Attendance at Mass plummeted in the 1970s, and many Catholics left the church, devoting more of their energy to economic pursuits than to God and church. (2) Although not as secularized as the British, Bulgarians, Czechs, or Swedes, Belgians were already among the more secularized Europeans studied by Loek Halman and the European Values Study group in 1990. (3)

It is a mistake to assume, however, that this loss of power of institutional Catholicism means that Belgian Christianity has retreated on all fronts. While Belgium may be considered to be "post-Catholic" in its overall religious orientation, younger Protestant movements have demonstrated strong growth in the last decades of the twentieth century and into the twenty-first. If you met a committed churchgoing Belgian in the 1960s, most likely that person would have been Roman Catholic. Today, that person is very likely Pentecostal and of foreign descent.

The number of Protestant churches has grown significantly over the last several decades, almost doubling since 1980. (4) In addition, some of the largest Protestant churches in Belgium today were started after 1980. Church membership statistics are more difficult to establish. In 1980, on the basis of school registration statistics and church membership rolls from 190 churches, historian Emile Braekman estimated the number of Protestants in Belgium to be between 90,000 and 100,000. By 2010, the number of Protestants in Belgium was estimated at 150,000, with the largest population percentage (6%) in Brussels. (5)

Although membership statistics for all the churches are not available for 2012, it can be estimated that between 1980 and 2012 Protestants have grown from a little less than 1 percent of the Belgian population to closer to 2 percent, with the highest percentages in Brussels. This is surprising and unexpected growth, however it is assessed. In contrast, the total Belgian population has shown only slight growth over the same period, from 9.9 million in 1980 to 10.4 million in 2012.

Foreign Influences

Belgian Protestantism has experienced steady growth from 1830, the date of Belgian independence. This growth has been in several major waves and has almost always been dependent on a missionary force coming from outside of Belgium: the Baptists in Belgium originated as part of a French work, the Reformed Church originated with an expatriate Dutch population left in Belgium after its independence, the work of the Salvation Army was sponsored from Britain, and the Belgian Gospel Mission was financed and staffed by English and American Christians. With several historically Protestant countries in close proximity (Holland, Britain, Switzerland), and then with the American and British presence in Belgium's religious situation after the two World Wars, the influence of foreigners has been a consistent theme in the growth and development of Protestantism in Belgium. In 2002 John Doherty surveyed twenty-two evangelical church planters, only nine (41 percent) of whom were Belgians. (6)

The presence of foreigners as part of Belgian Protestantism leads to the issue of language. When Belgium gained its independence, there were three language groups within its borders:
Table 2. Belgian Protestant Churches, 2012,
Languages Used in Worship

583 national-language Protestant churches
     Dutch (190), French (383), German (10)
201 nonnational-language Protestant churches
     Arab (3), Armenian (5), Congolese (6), English (93),
     Ghanaian (4), Italian (13), Korean (4), Portuguese (29),
     Romanian (5), Russian (6), Rwandan (5), Spanish (12),
     Turkish (4), other (12)
784 total Protestant churches (a)

Source: Yearbook of the Administrative Council of Protestant and
Evangelical Religion in Belgium,

(a) The total number of churches by language, 784, exceeds the
total number of churches, 690, given in table 1 because many
congregations either have translation during their services or
have separate services for different language groups.

French, Dutch, and German. Developing a national strategy for a denomination of churches has always been complicated by differing and sometimes competing regional needs. Each linguistic area of the country was influenced by the foreign national entity across the border (France, Holland, Germany) at least as much as it was by the other linguistic groups within the country. In many denominations, no national body exists, with the denomination made up of two sister denominations (one French-speaking and the other Dutch) that have developed in parallel. Church planting has always been less prolific in Flanders, and the growth of French-speaking churches indicates that this trend will continue. (7)

While the use of English in Protestant church services began in the sixteenth century as a service to expatriate English sailors, merchants, and soldiers, primarily through the Anglican Church, every major denominational grouping now holds church services in English. With the development of Brussels as the center of the institutions of the European Union and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, the use of English in the Belgian capital has grown, and English has become a major language in Protestant worship across the country.

Other languages have also come to be used much more in worship than in the past, and for the same reason: immigration. (8) There are more Portuguese-, Spanish-, and Italian-language churches than German-speaking churches, although German is one of the three official languages of Belgium. A large number of the English-speaking churches consist, not of British or American residents, but of immigrants originating in former British colonies in Africa. In 2012 more than one-third of all Protestant worship in Belgium took place in a language other than Dutch, French, or German.

The African Christian Diaspora in Belgium

That Ghanaian and Congolese languages would even be listed as languages of worship demonstrates the impact of the African Christian diaspora on Belgian Protestantism. In 2000, Way-Way Dibudi estimated that 60 Protestant churches in Belgium originated with African immigrants. (9) By 2012 more than a tenth of all Belgian Protestant churches were of African origin. Nevertheless, as is indicated by the relatively small number of churches that conduct their services in African languages, the thrust of these churches is toward integration into Belgian society as a whole. French is generally the language of choice for these churches, which are often pan-African in nature, with participants coming from a number of French-speaking African countries, including Burundi, Cameroon, Congo-Brazzaville, Congo-Kinshasa, Mauritius, Rwanda, and Togo. They resolutely object to being called "African" churches, for they see their mission as extending to all people and nations, whereby God would use the African diaspora for a special purpose in the globalization of Christianity. Many of these churches have the words "international," "worldwide," or "global" in their names to underline this conviction. In addition, many African pastors now serve as clergy in the older Belgian denominations, and large numbers of members of francophone, germanophone, and Dutch-language churches are of African origin. (10) Their presence is shaping the present and future of Belgian Protestantism.

Growth of Historic Protestant Churches

In the period following the First World War, the efforts of the Belgian Evangelical Mission, Brethren churches, Methodists, and Seventh-day Adventists led to the establishment of 101 new churches by 1940. The period between 1909 and 1940 was the golden age of church planting for these groups in Belgium; they succeeded in beginning an average of 3.3 new churches per year. The fledgling Assemblies of God planted 11 churches in the same period.

As table 3 indicates, for the forty-year period between 1940 and 1980, non-Pentecostal churches grew from a total of 220 to 302 churches, for a total net growth of 82 new congregations. For the same period, 58 new Pentecostal or Charismatic churches were founded (not shown in the table), a startling rate of growth considering that there were only 11 Pentecostal churches in 1940. In comparison, the growth rate of non-Pentecostal churches was approximately 2 churches per year for this same period, a significantly lower rate of growth compared with the period from 1909 to 1940.

Although the Evangelical Free churches grew from 33 to 53 churches between 1980 and 2012, and the various Baptist groups grew to number 22 churches, the momentum of the Protestant church planting movement in Belgium after 1940 had passed definitively to the Pentecostal and Charismatic churches. When we consider church closures in the historic Protestant churches as shown in table 1, the net increase in the number of new non-Pentecostal churches slowed even more between 1980 and 2012.

Growth of Pentecostal and Independent Churches

Since 1980, Pentecostal and Charismatic churches have shown almost exponential growth and confirmed themselves as the dominant source of new Protestant congregations in Belgium, as shown in table 4.

Of a total of 308 churches planted between 1980 and 2012, over half--173---were affiliated with Pentecostal or Charismatic denominations. If the independent churches are included, many of which are affiliated with Pentecostal or Charismatic movements that do not have a national organization in Belgium, (11) this shift would be underlined even more strongly. Also not included in the tally are churches with a charismatic orientation that have remained within the structures of the historic churches. (12) Whichever way the data are evaluated, Pentecostal and Charismatic churches make up the lion's share of new churches started between 1980 and 2012. Belgian Pentecostalism grew from 69 churches in 1980 to 242 churches in 2012, more than tripling its number in thirty-two years.

In 2012, even without the independent churches, Pentecostal and Charismatic churches made up 35 percent of all Protestant churches in Belgium. The growth rate of these churches between 1980 and 2012 was approximately 7.8 new churches per year, a stronger rate of growth than that of even the golden years of church planting among the non-Pentecostal denominations before the Second World War, which was 3.3 churches per year. If the current growth continues, Pentecostal and Charismatic churches will represent half of all Protestants in Belgium within the next fifteen or twenty years.

The growth of immigrant churches, especially in Brussels and other major urban areas, is strongly linked to the growth of Pentecostalism, but immigrants are not the only reason behind the increase. Many Belgians themselves have been drawn to Pentecostalism, even within immigrant-led Pentecostal churches. (13) Pentecostalism has become, as Allan Anderson demonstrates in his 2004 monograph, a global faith, with a dynamism that seems destined to leave its mark on post-Catholic secular Belgium. (14)


(1.) Loek Halman and Ole Riis, Religion in Secularizing Society: The Europeans" Religion at the End of the Twentieth Century (Leiden: Brill, 2003), 128-41; Hugh McLeod, Religion and the People of Western Europe, 1789-1970 (Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press, 1981), 36-46; Cecil Stalnaker, "An Analysis of Contemporary Christian Nominality within French-Speaking Belgium and Its Missiological Implications" (Th.D. diss., Evangelische Theologische Faculteit te Leuven, 1993), 38-39. As late as the 1990s, Belgium was considered ungovernable without a Catholic political presence (Hugh Robert Boudin, "Churches in the European Community II: The Churches in Belgium," Expository Times 104, no. 5 [1993]: 132).

(2.) McLeod, Religion and the People of Western Europe, 132-43; J. D. Hughey, "The Challenge of Our Task in Catholic Europe," in Baptist Witness in Catholic Europe, ed. John Allen Moore (Rome: Baptist Publishing House, 1973), 17.

(3.) Halman and Riis, Religion in Secularizing Society, 64.

(4.) Statistics for the growth of Belgian Protestant churches are drawn from the following sources: Emile Braekman, "Le reveil du Protestantisme dans le Royaume de Belgique (1830-1980)," Belgia 2000: Toute l'histoire de la Belgique 5 (1984): 87; Egbert A. Bos, "Church Planting in Flanders" (master's thesis, Evangelische Theologische Faculteit te Leuven, 1988), 14 (where Bos updates and corrects Braekman's statistics); Michael Dandoy, Le Protestan tisme: Memoires et Perspectives (Brussels: Editions Racines, 2005), 82-83, 99; Geert Wouter Lorein and Jean-Louis Simonet, "Le protestantisme evangelique non-E.P.U.B, en Belgique," Le Messager Evangelique 344 (1994): 386; and Jean-Jacques Lovis, "Gabriel 2015: generation active belge resolue a l'implantation d'eglises locales. Statistiques francophones relatives a l'implantation d'eglises" (Colfontaine, Belgium: DAWN Belgium, 1996), 17.

(5.) For the 1980 calculation of total Protestants in Belgium, I depend on Braekman ("Le reveil du Protestantisme," 86-87), who based his estimate on 1972 church membership rolls. See also "Belgium," in Operation World: The Definitive Prayer Guide to Every Nation, Jason Mandryk (Colorado Springs: Biblica Publishing, 2010), 141-45.

(6.) John Doherty, "Church Planting in Belgium: A Study of the Structures and Support for New Church Plants" (unpublished paper, Univ. of Wales, 2002), 7. Of the non-Belgians, four were from the United Kingdom; two each from France, Italy, and the United States; and one each from Canada, Congo, and Switzerland. These non-Belgians, however, appeared to be permanent residents or immigrants; they had been living in Belgium for an average of 18.4 years.

(7.) The United Protestant Church of Belgium, the Baptist Union of Belgium, the Seventh-day Adventists, and the Belgian Gospel Mission remain bilingual or trilingual.

(8.) Other major French-speaking regions in the West have experienced a similar phenomenon. Between 1998 and 2002 in Quebec, Canada, the overall population increased by 3.4 percent, but French-speaking Protestant churches increased by 8 percent, and ethnic churches by an astounding 92 percent. During the same period, however, English-speaking churches declined by 12 percent (Church Planting Canada, "Workshop, implantation d'eglises au Quebec" [2004]).

(9.) Way-Way Dibudi, "The African Christian Diaspora in Belgium, with Special Reference to the International Church of Brussels," International Review of Mission 89, no. 354 (2000): 451.

(10.) Ibid., 453, 455; see also J. Kwabena Asamoah-Gyadu, "An African Pentecostal on Mission in Eastern Europe: The Church of the 'Embassy of God' in the Ukraine," Pneuma 27, no. 2 (2005): 299-300.

(11.) A web-based survey of the 80 independent churches listed at (accessed on October 31, 2012) showed international affiliations, for example, to Peniel (UK) and to the European Assemblies of God. The names of several other independent congregations clearly reflect their charismatic character (e.g., "Praise Centre" or "Church of Prophecy").

(12.) One example is the Baptist church in Ougree (Liege), which has retained characteristics of a charismatic church since the early twentieth century. Other examples exist in the United Protestant Church of Belgium.

(13.) See Dibudi, "The African Christian Diaspora in Belgium," 453.

(14.) Allan Anderson, An Introduction to Pentecostalism: Global Charismatic Christianity (Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 2004); see also his "Spreading Fires: The Globalization of Pentecostalism in the Twentieth Century," International Bulletin of Missionary Research 31, no. 1 (January 2007): 9-10.

Colin Godwin has served in Europe and Africa in ministries of evangelism and leadership training. Currently Africa Team Leader for Canadian Baptist Ministries, he is the author of Baptizing, Gathering, and Sending: The Significance of Anabaptist Approaches to Mission in the Sixteenth-Century Context (Pandora Press, 2012).
Table 1. Belgian Protestant Churches, 1830-2012, Listed by

Denomination                                   1830   1865   1909

Union of Churches                               16     16     26
Belgian Evangelical Missionary Church                  19     42
Reformed Church                                                2
Silo Mission (Flemish)                                         8
Methodist Church

[In 1979 the preceding churches merged as:]
United Protestant Church of Belgium
Other churches affiliated with the U.PC.B.

Foreign churches                                 5      6      9

Brethren                                                2     12

Liberal Protestant Church (Brussels)                           1
Salvation Army                                                11
Seventh-day Adventists (b)                                     4
Union of Baptists in Belgium                                   3
  Other Baptists                                               1

Assemblies of God
Belgian Evangelical Mission

Evangelical Free Churches
Independent Churches
Union of Pentecostal Churches
  Other Pentecostals

Flemish Reformed Church
Free Methodists
Life and Light Mission (Gypsy Mission)

Total                                           21     43    119

Denomination                                   1940   1980    2012

Union of Churches                               24
Belgian Evangelical Missionary Church           46
Reformed Church                                  5
Silo Mission (Flemish)                           8
Methodist Church                                20

[In 1979 the preceding churches merged as:]
United Protestant Church of Belgium                   104     106
Other churches affiliated with the U.PC.B.                     32

Foreign churches                                16     31      27 (a)

Brethren                                        35     40      43

Liberal Protestant Church (Brussels)             2      1       1
Salvation Army                                  12     13      10
Seventh-day Adventists (b)                      13     27      28
Union of Baptists in Belgium                     5     13      17
  Other Baptists                                 1      6       5

Assemblies of God                               11     38      26
Belgian Evangelical Mission                     33     29      22
Lutheran                                                2       3

Evangelical Free Churches                              33      53
Independent Churches                                   11      85
Mennonites                                              3       2
Union of Pentecostal Churches                          11      85
  Other Pentecostals                                   20      50

Antioch                                                        81
Flemish Reformed Church                                         7
Free Methodists                                                 3
Life and Light Mission (Gypsy Mission)                          4

Total                                          231    382     690

Source: The most recent statistics come from the yearbooks of the
Administrative Council  of Protestant and Evangelical Religion in
Belgium, which since 2003 has been the official intermediary between
all Protestant churches and the government (see f; accessed on October 31, 2012).
In addition, see the statistical  resources cited in endnote 4.

(a) The figure for foreign churches in 2012 includes only Anglican
churches (13) and the  churches of the Italian-speaking Chiese
Cristiane Italiane nel Nord Europa (14).

(b) For figures on Seventh-day Adventists in Belgium, see Georges
Vandenvelde, 100 Ans  d'adventisme en Belgique et au Grand-Duche du
Luxembourg, Special Centenaire (Brussels:  Federation
Belgo-Luxembourgeoise des eglises Adventistes du Septieme Jour,
1996), 2-15.  Between 1980 and 1993, three churches were closed,
after which new churches were  opened in Brussels, notably the
English language International Church in 1994.

Table 3. Growth of Belgian Historic Protestant Churches, 1830-2012

            Churches at the   Churches at the    Net     New churches
Period      beginning year      ending year     growth     per year

1830-1865          21                43           22         0.6
1865-1909          43               119           76         1.7
1909-1940         119               220          101         3.3
1940-1980         220               302           82         2.1
1980-2012         302               363           61         1.9

            Annual growth rate (%)
Period           over period

1830-1865            3.0
1865-1909            4.0
1909-1940            2.7
1940-1980            0.9
1980-2012            0.6

Table 4. Growth of All Belgian Protestant Churches, 1980-2012

Types of          Churches   Churches    Net     New churches
churches          in 1980    in 2012    growth     per year

Pentecostal and
  Charismatic        69        242       173         5.4
Independent          11         85        74         2.3
All others          302        363        61         1.9

Total               382        690       308         9.6

Types of          Annual growth rate (%)
churches                1980-2012

Pentecostal and
  Charismatic               7.8
Independent                21.0
All others                  0.6

Total                       2.5
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Author:Godwin, Colin
Publication:International Bulletin of Missionary Research
Article Type:Essay
Geographic Code:4EUBL
Date:Apr 1, 2013
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