The Foursquare Church, officially named the International Church of the Foursquare Gospel, is a Pentecostal denomination that resulted from the dynamic evangelistic ministry of Aimee Semple McPherson, who opened the historic Angelus Temple on Jan. 1, 1923.
Following the opening of Angelus Temple, our founder did not take time to rest on her laurels. The first “branch” church from Angelus Temple had its beginnings in Oct. 1923 in Long Beach, Calif. Other Los Angeles-area church plants rapidly ensued in Pasadena, Santa Monica, and Santa Ana; all four churches are still open today. As time passed, Foursquare branched out to the rest of the United States; we now have churches in most of the 50 states, including Hawaii and Alaska.
The launch into foreign ministry fields also began in the 1920s. In 1927 Sister Aimee commissioned Vincente and Teodora DeFante as missionaries to the Philippines. Foursquare is still alive and well in the Philippines, which has a very strong national church presence. A former missionary herself, our founder’s desire to go around the world with the Foursquare Gospel led to The Foursquare Church’s being known as a missionary movement. At this time we have approximately 100 missionary units deployed throughout the world. From our earliest days, foreign missions was a primary emphasis—and remains so today.
Another early Foursquare initiative was establishing an educational institution to train Foursquare ministers and missionaries. The Echo Park Evangelistic and Missionary Training Institute opened in 1923, not long after Angelus Temple opened. The institute’s name was changed in 1926 to L.I.F.E. (Lighthouse of International Foursquare Evangelism) Bible College. Today the school is known as Life Pacific College in San Dimas, Calif.; it is a WASC accredited college.
The term "Foursquare Gospel" came about during an intense revival in the city of Oakland, Calif., in July 1922. To a crowd of thousands, Aimee Semple McPherson explained Ezekiel's vision in the book of Ezekiel, chapter one. Ezekiel saw God revealed as a being with four different faces: a man, a lion, an ox and an eagle.
To Sister Aimee, those four faces were like the four phases of the gospel of Jesus Christ. In the face of the man, she saw Jesus our Savior. In the face of the lion, she saw Jesus the mighty Baptizer with the Holy Spirit and fire. In the face of the ox, she saw Jesus the Great Burden-Bearer, who took our infirmities and carried our sicknesses. In the face of the eagle, she saw Jesus the Coming King, who will return in power and victory for the church. It was a perfect, complete Gospel. It was a Gospel that faces squarely in every direction; it was the “Foursquare Gospel.” The four symbols perhaps most identified with Foursquare today are the cross, cup, dove and crown which stand for Jesus the Savior, Jesus the Healer, Jesus the Baptizer with the Holy Spirit, and Jesus the Soon-Coming King, respectively.
An Evangelist Is Born
From the beginning of Sister Aimee's ministry in Los Angeles, she made headlines. She had traveled from the East Coast to Los Angeles in 1918—along with her mother, two young children and a secretary—at a time when women could not even vote. By the time the Nineteenth Amendment (which gave women the right to vote) passed in August 1920, she was gaining world renown as an evangelist.
Her penchant for doing the unexpected and unprecedented never ebbed. During the Great Depression in the 1930s, Sister Aimee oversaw a commissary ministry from Angelus Temple that fed more people in Los Angeles than government programs were able to care for. During World War II she sold more war bonds than the most famous Hollywood stars. Local Foursquare churches today follow in her footsteps to be sensitive to social issues and to the needs of disenfranchised people.
Having devoted her life to making the most of every opportunity to spread the gospel, Aimee Semple McPherson met an untimely end. She died in 1944 at the age of 54, and the leadership of The Foursquare Church passed to her only son, Rolf Kennedy McPherson. He served as the president and chairman of the board of directors for 44 years, retiring in 1988. At that time the denomination comprised more than 1,300 churches.
Passing the Mantle
Following Dr. Rolf McPherson’s retirement, John R. Holland became the third president of The Foursquare Church, serving until 1997. The fourth president, Paul Risser, served from 1998-2004; Jack Hayford served from 2004-2009. Glenn Burris Jr., was elected president by the convention voting body in June 2010, and is now serving as president. Each successive president has intentionally preserved the evangelistic and missionary emphasis that characterized Foursquare’s founder from the very beginning of her ministry.
Currently The Foursquare Church has more than 1,700 U.S. churches; globally, The Foursquare Church has more than 66,000 churches and meeting places in 140 countries and territories. That is a significant impact in the less than 90 years since Angelus Temple opened in January 1923.
To learn more about the history of The Foursquare Church and founder Aimee Semple McPherson, we recommend the following books and articles.
This is That by Aimee Semple McPherson
* The information on this page was excerpted in part from The Vine and the Branches: A History of the International Church of the Foursquare Gospel, by Nathaniel M. Van Cleave, 1992.