The Seventh-day Adventist Church is the largest religious denomination in the Caribbean nation of Jamaica, according to recently released reports from the latest census in that country. A total of 322,228 individuals or 12 percent of the total population are reported to be Adventists. This represents an increase of 15 percent over the last decade or an average annual growth of 1.5 percent.
The second largest category is “Pentecostal” with 295,195 represents a cluster of denominations and independent congregations, as does the third largest category “Churches of God” at 246,838. Pentecostals grew by 19 percent over the decade or nearly two percent per year and Churches of God increased their adherents by 14 percent, a slightly lower rate than the Adventists.
The growth rate for Adventist adherents as reported in the Jamaica census is about the same as the growth rate for Adventist membership in the North American Division (NAD). The membership reports of the Jamaica Union Conference report a much higher rate of growth. It has not been less than 3.5 percent in any year over the last decade. This figure is often compared with that of the NAD and results in concern about a slowing growth rate among North American Adventists, but the Jamaica census data suggest that it may not be the whole story.
Mainline Protestant denominations and the Roman Catholic Church all suffered declines in adherents over the decade. The largest decline was in the Anglican Church which has traditionally had a significant role in the country because of Jamaica’s history as a British colony and Commonwealth nation.
The number of Jamaicans who told the official census-takers that they are Adventists is significantly greater than the 260,610 official membership figure of the Jamaica Union Conference. In fact, it is nearly 24 percent more, which is likely a larger factor than can be explained by the unbaptized children in Adventist families who may be reported in the census but would not be part of the official membership.
Both the government census and the denomination’s official membership reports position the Adventist community in Jamaica as one of the proportionately largest in the world. This means that the Adventist faith has penetrated this island nation to a greater degree than almost any other nation on the globe. One result is that immigrants from Jamaica have a very significant share of the denomination’s membership in the United Kingdom, eastern Canada and the northeastern United States.
Clinton Chisholm, a faculty member at the interdenominational Jamaica Theological Seminary, points out the religious influence that Jamaica has as “the Protestant stronghold of the Western world,” in a recent article in the Jamaica Gleaner. It is often said to have “the greatest number of churches per square mile” of any country, although Chisholm debunks this as being an actual quote from The Guinness Book of World Records. He does point to a report earlier this year from the Pew Research Center showing that the United States for the first time no longer has a Protestant majority.
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