One of the speakers at our April conference with CIMPEC (the national pastors’ and ministers’ association) was Bishop Ismael Laborde Figueras of the United Evangelical Church – Lutheran Synod. He presented his research on church growth in Cuba from an evangelical perspective, which included an overview of the current challenges the church faces.
If you would like to read his entire presentation (translated into English by ACTION missionary Rob Dods, please click here.) Otherwise, I will post a few excerpts below that I found most interesting. I praise God that ACTION is heavily involved in assisting the growth of the Cuba church in the area of pastoral leadership development through regular conferences and book distribution.
On the recent revival of faith in Cuba:
When the 1990’s arrived, almost 20 years had passed since Cuba had experienced a revival in the church. This was due in part to the trauma of what is called in Cuba the special period, the fall of the socialists, and the quest by Cubans for a new spirituality. These factors were aided by specific openings in the government and the Communist Party of Cuba in the 5th Congress, in which a modification of its statutes in favor of the inclusion of Christians was approved, and some philosophical interpretation errors regarding religion and believers were rectified.
Without a doubt, all of these circumstances and proceedings in Cuba showed the fingerprints of the Holy Spirit. Atheism, a staunch opposite to Christianity and all religious manifestations (which it considers occultism), began to lose ground until reaching the point where it was considered nothing more than a dogmatic and archaic model. The different factions of atheism practically denied the Christian background of many of the martyrs of Moncada and of various heroes of our independence.
However, since the first years of the Cuban revolution, which started in 1959, the government publically declared guarantees for those who profess their faith. The process of alienation and self-defense of evangelical Cuban congregations typical of the post revolutionary period, political compromises, the narrow-mindedness of some pastors and believers, and the tendency of evangelical communities to cloister had been overcome. God was speaking to Cuba!
The visit from Pope John Paul II In 1998 and the Evangelical Celebrations organized by Cuban churches under the leadership of the Council of Churches in Cuba were the detonators that revealed the mobilizing power of Cuban Christians, after 30 years of limitations on living out and organizing their faith. The churches carried out religious celebrations in public places. Cuba was opening up to faith. Being a Christian was no longer an ideological problem. Religious prejudice had officially been overcome and faith was no longer seen as a threat to socialism.
The growth of churches and the back door theory:
In Cuba there are close to 100 evangelical denominations, some are registered but many are not. At this moment there close to 60 that are registered. Although there is no official ley de culto (law establishing worship), some churches have received official recognition by the government and others function under the legal protection of the Council of Churches in Cuba. Many of these evangelical groups have been the fruit of divisions in other denominations. In other cases, brothers and sisters who have been lay workers in a certain denomination emerge on the evangelical scene as pastors. Some of them put forth the argument that God gave them a revelation, others go forth in rebellion, and still others start their ministry in goodwill, usually with the aid and counsel of some exterior leader or pastor, who don´t always agree with their earlier beliefs.
In the midst of this process of the atomization of the evangelical church in Cuba, one might have a distorted image of the true growth in the church, since crowds of people constantly move from one church to another seeking in the visible church what can only be found in the invisible church.
Some of these churches are small groups that meet in private houses, with leaders who haven´t received adequate biblical theology training and who haven´t matured enough in their faith. This causes many people who sincerely converted in services or evangelistic events to feel dismayed and to move on to other churches or simply to fade away because of the lack of spiritual food that their pastor or leader can give them. This happens as a result of limitations in their pastoral training, due in part to the confusion between the universal priesthood of all believers and the ordained ministry or public pastoral position in the Christian church. In the case of many of these churches, the growth is inconsistent.
If you were to carefully observe the people who congregate in many of these communities you would see that they maintain a certain number of members. The number can even grow, but if you continued observing you would notice that they are not the same people, illustrating the back door theory, which states that many enter and many exit. One of the reasons for this is that the church hasn´t been successful in being a community of faith, but rather they continue to be merely a group of people who meet, or to put it another way, the local church hasn’t been planted.
Most of the small churches in Cuba have small buildings and limited sources of economic resources. Some don´t have partner churches abroad, and others have strayed from the fundamental doctrines of their founders, which has led us to the point where we don´t have our own identity or our own theology or ecclesiology.