How can I know that the Foursquare in the PNW is at the vanguard of their church when I have not visited them around the rest of the country, much less the world? Two reasons: First, I could tell from the books they are reading, the questions they are asking, and the things they were passionate about, that they are at the forefront of classical pentecostal churches as a whole, about which I do know a little bit, in terms of engaging with present trends and anticipating future expressions of the coming reign of God. Second, a witness from an unexpected source: over dinner one evening with faculty from George Fox Seminary (where I graduated with the master’s degree in Christian history and though back in 1993), I asked Native theologian Randy Woodley which church was doing exemplary work among Native populations in North America, and he responded without hesitation: the Foursquare, in terms of its empowering indigenous leaders. His response was completely unexpected but confirmed my sense that something important was happening among this relatively small group of Foursquare gospellers here and around the country.
In conversation with their various leaders, I came to discern that in some respects, the more or less adolescent phase of Foursquare development may actually be part of the key to its current vitality. What I mean is that, as they put it, it’s only been in the last twenty-five years that the church leadership has transitioned from the McPherson family (since 1988), and that has opened up to myriad conversations about its identity, mission, and vision. What is remarkable is that these discussions are not being prematurely foreclosed; but rather than being debilitating, they have instead invigorated a range of responses, at least in terms of exploratory practices, and it is these latter that have revitalized the church, especially in the PNW, even while keeping their discursive negotiations relevant and interesting.
While a sociologically reductionist “explication” of Foursquare PNW is certainly possible, I do not want to discount a theological – better: pneumatological – factor. Perhaps the renewing work of the Spirit is facilitated at least in part through a persisting adolescence that resists all of the suffocating aspects of ecclesial “maturation” (growing up). To be sure, such a “youthful” denominational or even institutional phase can be challenging in some respects, but if not hierarchically predetermined, may leave open conceptual and practical space for pentecostal mission to innovate for the renewal of the church. Those interested in global renewal may need to take a closer look at what is happening in the International Church of the Foursquare Gospel, especially in this “pagan” region of the PNW.