The Latin American Socio-Religious Studies Program, known by its Spanish acronym PROLADES (Programa Latinoamericano de Estudios Sociorreligiosos), was founded in 1977 by Clifton L. Holland, a Protestant missionary (Presbyterian) who at that time was serving with the Latin America Mission in Costa Rica. Below is an historical overview of our origin, growth and development from 1972 to the present.


Holland and his family arrived in Costa Rica in 1972 to work with the Institute of In-Depth Evangelization (known as INDEF), where he served as an adminstrative assistant to Dr. Orlando Costas and founded INDEF Publications. Holland was also the founder and first editor of the quarterly bulletin, In-Depth Evangelism Around the World. In 1974, Holland conducted the first national study of Protestant Church Growth in Costa Rica and produced the first directory of Protestant congregations (churches and missions) known to exist.

In 1975, Holland became part of INDEF's Central America Team and began to travel with team members to teach workshops and seminars on a variety of subjects: evangelism, discipleship, church growth, strategic planning, leadership development, etc. These activities brought him into contact with Protestant church leaders all over Central America, where he participated in many of the regional conferences of Evangelical leaders, as well as national leadership conferences in each country.

In 1976, Holland conceived of the idea of conducting a regional Protestant Church Growth Study of Central America, encouraged by key Evangelical leaders in the region who wanted to know more about the dynamics of church growth in their respective countries: which denominations were growing and why, which groups were NOT growing and why, geographical areas without any Evangelical church presence, unreached ethnolinguistical groups, etc. This led to the founding of PROCADES (Central American Socio-Religious Studies Program, later renamed PROLADES) in 1977. This new ministry was developed with the support and encouragement of INDEF's leadership, and PROCADES became a department of INDEF with Holland as its first director.

Under the auspices of PROCADES, Holland coordinated church growth studies of the Protestant Movement in each country of Central America between 1977-1981. In most of these countries, this was the first time that a national Church Directory of the Protestant Movement had been produced, and it was an effort of many people and organizations that participated in various aspects of the study, including logistical and financial support. Some outside funding was provided by Christian foundations, mission agencies and service organizations in the USA.


In 1981-1982, Holland took a sabbatical to continue his doctoral studies in the School of World Mission (SWM) at Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, California, where he had previously completed his Master's program in Missiology (M.A. in 1972, concentration in Cultural Anthropology).  While attending classes at the SWM, Holland wrote a series of National Profiles on the Status of Christianity for Central America and served as editor of World Christianity: Central America and the Caribbean (Monrovia, CA: MARC-World Vision, 1982).  He also taught two courses at Fuller at the Master's level: "Protestant Church Growth in Central America" (School of World Mission) and "Hispanic Protestant Church Growth in Southern California" (School of Theology, Hispanic Studies Department).  For the later course, Holland used his book, The Religious Dimension in Hispanic Los Angeles: A Protestant Case Study (So. Pasadena, CA: William Carey Library, 1974), which was the published version of his M.A. thesis (550 pages) at Fuller.

During his time in Southern California, Holland founded In-Depth Evangelism Associates (also known as IDEA Ministries) in 1982 as a support arm for INDEF. Incorporated in California as a non-profit organization, IDEA Ministries became the major source of funding for the work of PROLADES, now with a focus on all of Latin America and the Caribbean.

After finishing his course work at Fuller Theological Seminary in 1982, Holland returned to Costa Rica and continued to do research and writing for his doctoral dissertation, "A History of the Protestant Movement in Central America, 1750-1980" (unpublished manuscript) while serving as Director of PROLADES.

In 1982, Holland and his associates decided to create their own School of World Mission in Costa Rica to help train Latin Americas for cross-cultural ministry in the Americas, and from the Americas to the rest of the world, in response to the Great Commission of Jesus Christ. INDEF encouraged Holland and his supporters to create their own organization to administer and develop this new ministry, which was incorporated in Costa Rica as the Missiological Institute of the Americas (known as IMDELA) in 1982, with Holland as Executive Director. IMDELA began to hold its first classes at the Master's level in Missiology in 1983, using the facilities of the Nazarene Seminary of the Americas (SENDAS) in Ipis de Guadalupe, located in the foothills to the east of the nation's capital, San Jose. PROLADES  became one of the departments of IMDELA under the coordination of Lic. Alberto Pozo (Baptist), along with the School of World Mission (directed by Holland, Presbyterian) and the department of Christian Leadership Development (directed by Lic. Eduardo Monzón, Episcopalian). In 1985, Dr. Paul Bergsma joined IMDELA as Director of the School of World Mission, on loan from the Christian Reformed Church.

At that time, PROLADES began to offer technical services to Christian organizations in many countries of Latin America and the Caribbean to help them define and conduct research projects in their respective countries. During the 1980s, technical assistance was provided for research projects in the following countries, in addition to those of the Central American region: Hispanics in the USA, Mexico (Mexico City), Haiti, Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, Venezuela (Caracas), Colombia (Bogota and Medellin), Ecuador, Peru and Argentina (Buenos Aires and Patagonia). The Mexico City Church Growth Study began in 1986 under the co-sponsorship of VELA Ministries and PROLADES. To date, VELA-PROLADES have published over a dozen reports on Protestant Church Growth in the Mexico City Metro Area, including an update of the Mexico City Church Directory in 1999. A national study of Protestant Church Growth in Mexico was begun in 1993.

Also, Holland served as Research Associate for Latin America for the Lausanne Committee for World Evangelization, attending various international conferences on research (including Chicago, London and Amsterdam) and participated in workshops on Missiological Research at the II Lausanne Congress of Evangelization in Manila in 1989. Holland also participated in two of the Latin American Conferences on Evangelism, sponsored by the Latin American Theological Fraternity (FTL), as a workshop leader on Missiological Research: Huampaní, Perú, in 1979 and Quito, Ecuador, in 1988.


At the end of 1989, Holland resigned as Executive Director of IMDELA and was replaced by Dr. Paul Bergsma; he also resigned from the Latin America Mission and became a full-time staff member of IDEA Ministries, with headquarters in Orange, California. IDEA Ministries took over the management and development of PROLADES, with Holland as its director. A program office for PROLADES was established on the campus of the William Carey International University/U.S. Center for World Mission in Pasadena, California, in early 1990, to coordinate "A Study of Ethnic and Religious Diversity in the Greater Los Angeles Metro Area (GLAMA)," which was later expanded to include the Los Angeles 5-Country Region (Los Angeles, Orange, San Bernardino, Riverside and Ventura counties).

The GLAMA study was a joint venture with more than a dozen institutions, including the U.S. Center for World Mission, the William Carey International University, World Vision USA, Bressee Institute for Urban Studies (Church of the Nazarene), Azusa Pacific University, BIOLA University, Urban Training Institute of the School of Theology at Claremont (United Methodist Church), Southern Baptist Convention of Southern California, Korean Frontier Mission, Urban Training Institute at the Church on Brady (Southern Baptist, affiliated with Grand Canyon University in Arizona), School of Religion at the University of Southern California (USC), Youth With A Mission (YWAM) and Pacific Christian University (Christian Church-Churches of Christ).

The final result of the GLAMA study was a computer database of about 12,500 religious groups (of every religion and denomination) and a series of reports and workshops to share the fruit of the research and analysis, which began in 1989 and ended in 1996. This project included research and analysis of all known religious groups in Los Angeles 5-county region, as well as every identifiable ethno-linguistical group. The focus of the study was on "Ethnic and Religious Diversity in GLAMA," with a specific goal to identify the least evangelized ethno-linguistical groups (or population segments) in terms of Protestant church outreach.

However, in the process of conducting the GLAMA study, Holland and his associates were faced with the challenge of identifying and classifying every identifiable religious organization, both Christian and non-Christian, and locating the international headquarters of each one. To assist in this process, Holland developed a working relationship with Dr. J. Gordon Melton, Director of the Institute for the Study of American Religion (ISAR), in Santa Barbara, California. Dr. Melton is author and/or editor of a series of books and articles on the study of New Religious Movements (NRMs) in the USA and Canada, including the Encyclopedia of American Religions (Detroit, Michigan: Gale Research, 1996). Holland depended heavily on the information contained in several of Melton's books to properly identify and classify each religious group in GLAMA, as well as in Mexico, the Central American region, and among Hispanics in the USA.

Since 1996, Holland and his associates have developed a working database of every known religious group in all the countries of the Americas, which has become known as the RITA (Religion-In-The-Americas) Database.


The RITA Database project has been designed and developed by PROLADES in response to the general need to know more about the origin and development of all religious groups in the Americas, and the project has been subdivided into various regions: North America (USA, Canada and Mexico), the Caribbean (including Bermuda), Central America (Belize, Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica and Panama), and South America. Also, Spain and Portugal were added to the study because of the affinity of language and culture. 

Building on its expertise in studying the history of the Protestant Movement in Latin America and the Caribbean regions, Holland and his associates are now dedicating their energies to studying the origin, growth and development of New Religious Movements (NRMs), with a focus on Margin Christian Churches and Non-Christian Religious Groups.

The purpose of this research and analysis is to create a database of reliable information on every religious group in existence in every country of the Americas, and to make known this body of information to the academic community (especially to professors, fellow researchers and students), governmental and non-governmental organizations (NGOs), mission agencies and denominational bodies, and the general public via the Internet in an electronic format.

To this end, we have created a new website ( to facilitate the interchange of information and to enlist the participation of fellow researchers, based in each of the respective countries of the Americas, to assist us in the process of correcting, updating and developing the RITA Database to its full potential as a tool for research and information sharing.

Our desire is that the RITA Database will become a joint venture with other researchers and interested institutions in each country of the Americas, so that we can all gain a more comprehensive understanding of the dynamics of religious movements in this part of the world, including the major reasons for the origin, growth and decline of religious groups.  To this end, we have created a program of Country Research Associates (CRAs) to facilitate this process.



In the contemporary context of religious pluralism in the Americas, the older religious groups are now faced with the challenge of revitalization and renewal or of declining membership and influence in a modern world, where there exists a greater respect for each other's human rights and for freedom of religion, which means that most people now have the freedom of choice--to choose to remain in the religion of their parents, or to choose to affiliate with another religious group, whether Christian or non-Christian.

In the context of Latin America during the 1800s and 1900s, the tendency was for the Roman Catholic Church (RCC) to resist modernization and globalization trends, including the introduction of NRMs in countries where the RCC was the dominant religious group, usually the official state religion. However, along with the transition to independence from Spain and Portugal and the rise of Liberal governments in the Spanish and Portuguese-speaking countries of the Americas during the 1800s, the RCC was forced to face the liberalization of traditional laws and customs, including the approval of new laws allowing for "religious tolerance" and "religious liberty." This new freedom of choice--both politically and religiously--resulted in the development of the new context of political and religious pluralism that exists in most countries of the region.

Until the early 1960s, Latin America and the Caribbean witnessed the slow decline of the traditional religions and the progressive development of NRMs, mainly of the Protestant variety. It was the rapid growth of the Protestant Movement, mainly the Pentecostal churches, beginning in the 1960s in most countries that caused great alarm and turmoil for the RCC, as its leaders witnessed the erosion of its membership and its leadership--a decline in the number of secular and religious priests (males) and religious workers (both male and female) and its inability to recruite new leadership for the priesthood and the religious orders.  Historically, in many countries of Latin America, the RCC was heavily dependent on foreign (mainly North American and European) priests and religious workers, and it had a poor track record in recruiting and training national priests and religious workers.

This internal crisis in the RCC led to a series of articles and books on the subject of "The Invasion of the Sects" authored by Roman Catholics who were fearful of the consequences of this new social and religious reality in their respective countries--the decline of Catholicism and the growth of Evangelicalism, especially Pentecostalism. However, in most of these studies, there was a lack of differentiation between those religious groups that are part of the Protestant Movement and those that are not, especially those that PROLADES has classified as Marginal Christian Groups (Jehovah's Witnesses, Mormons, Christadelphians, Christian Science, Unity, Light of the World Church, Mita Congregation, Voice of the Chief Cornerstone, Children of God, etc.). Moreover, many RCC authors also confused the situation by mixing in information about Non-Christian Religious Groups, such as the Moonies, Hari Krishna, Scientology, Transcendental Meditation, Theosophy, Rosicrucians, Gnostics, Buddhists, New Age, etc.

One of the main purposes of the RITA Database and the Classification System of Religious Groups developed by PROLADES is to help clear the fog of confusion about the origin, development and belief systems of the various religious movements, especially to help the general public to differentiate between those groups that belong to the Protestant Movement, those that are Marginal Christian Groups and those that are Non-Christian Religious Groups.


In the modern context of "freedom of religion" in the Americas, every member of every religious group (whether Christian or non-Christian) should be allowed to exercise their personal religious faith without discrimination or persecution, as guaranteed by the various laws of the land based on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (United Nations, 1948), the Declaration on the Elimination of All Forms of Intolerance and of Discrimination Based on Religion or Belief (1996) and other international agreements regarding the tolerance of diversity in all of its forms and respect for the rights of the individual and minority groups.

Our motivation in creating the RITA Database is to add to our collective knowledge about religious groups of every kind in Latin America and the Caribbean regions, using the tools of the social sciences and enlisting social scientists and other interested researchers in this process, as well as to encourage tolerance of diversity, respect for human rights and the free exercise of religion without discrimination in every country and throughout the Americas, Spain and Portugal.

The Scientific Study of Religion in Latin America and the Caribbean is a discipline that needs to be encouraged and respected by all, especially by those who are committed to a particular religious faith as well as by those who profess no religious affiliation or belief system. The lack of tolerance and respect for other people's human rights and their religious freedom is a social disease that needs to be cured, regardless of the source of the disease--religious fanaticism and any form of persecution by any group against any other group is a violation of our collective human rights in a free society.

PROLADES is dedicated to upholding these principals and values as we pursue our research and information goals, and we are willing and eager to work with any person or organization in any country of the Americas (and Spain and Portugal) that respects and lives by these guidelines, regardless of their religious affiliation or lack thereof.

We welcome inquiries about our research activities and training programs, and we are eager to find individuals and organizations in each country of the Americas, Spain and Portugal that are interested in working with us in accomplishing these stated objectives.  Currently, we have a working relationship with individuals and organizations in most countries of the Americas via e-mail and Internet services.  

For further information, please contact us at:

Clifton L. Holland, Director de PROLADES

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Apartado 1524-2050, San Pedro, Costa Rica
Telephone: (506) 2283-8300; FAX: (506) 2234-7682

Last updated on 19 May 2012