Portugal has a population of approximately 10.5 million, with over a tenth living in the capital, Lisbon. Despite development in the major cities, there is much poverty, and traditional farming methods provide a meagre living in the country areas, with the main agricultural products being wine, olive oil and cork.

Portugal is loved by the Brits as a holiday destination. There are many expats living in the sun-kissed area of the Algarve, known for its sandy beaches and nightlife. But what of the church in Portugal, and the work of God in this spiritually needy land?

Portugal remained untouched by the Reformation. Roman Catholicism was the official state religion until 1974 and remains dominant, with over 90% claiming to be Catholic. In the 1950’s and 60’s, Pentecostal churches grew under persecution but numbers of evangelicals remained small.

Challenges

  • Despite an influx of Brazilian Christians, less than 1% of the population is evangelical.
  • Emigration and increased secularisation mean many churches have no young people.
  • The evangelical church is seen as foreign.
  • Someone has said that the church in Portugal has the “gift of invisibility”, as few people know of its existence.

Sunday worship continues, but little else. A survey by the Evangelical Alliance of Portuguese Churches has noted a drastic 40% decline, with 1630 churches existing in 2000 and only 964 by 2016. This is due to emigration, secularisation and nominalism.

Opportunites

However, the same survey also reported that, in the last 15 years, 322 new church plants took place. In Lisbon, the Baptist College and the Portuguese Bible Institute are starting to send new gospel workers, and in 2020 the International Theological and Leadership College began in the Algarve.

UFM has its first couple in the country after two decades: Brazilians, Leonardo and Ana Moraes. They report encouragements and conversions. The Brazilian church has matured and sent some of its best people as mission workers.

If you visit Portugal, the International Church of the Algarve holds English services and offers a warm welcome. Why not encourage the Lord’s work in this needy land, where you can pass through many towns with a highly visible Catholic church yet still no evangelical witness.

 

Andrew and Jenny Love are based in South Wales and undertake church training visits to Brazil and Portugal