The women wear dresses and high heels. The men are decked out in dark slacks or double-breasted suits. The parking lot is so full that cars are lining the driveway to the Masonic Hall and pulled up on the grassy shoulders of Edgartown-Vineyard Haven Road.

The Sunday night attraction is no dance party. This is church for some 200 Brazilians, and the service will last well over three hours. Their makeshift chapel in the back of the Masonic Hall is so crowded that more than a dozen churchgoers can't find a vacant chair and are forced to stand the whole time.

It's no wonder that this Island congregation of the World Revival Assembly of God is building its own church. The land, just two lots away, is almost cleared, and church leaders are ready to borrow the $1 million it will take to build the 15,000-square-foot church that will hold 500 people.

Turns out that Brazilian churches on the Vineyard are doing a booming business. Over in Vineyard Haven, another Assembly of God branch - New Life - has just negotiated a deal to buy the Kingdom Hall of Jehova's Witness on Pine street.

"We are now 120 to 130 members," says Flavio Desouza, a 36-year-old auto mechanic and a deacon at the New Life Assembly of God, which has been meeting at the Christ United Methodist Church, also known as the Stone Church, in Vineyard Haven.

Elsewhere on the Island, there are another half-dozen Brazilian church groups - Methodists, Baptists, Catholics and others. Elio Silva, whose Edgartown store, Island Star, caters to Brazilians, estimates that 70 per cent of the roughly 2,000 year-round Brazilians have joined one of these church groups.

Religion is just one of the drawing cards. More commonly, the Brazilians take their first steps into church in order to satisfy deep cultural and social needs.

"They like seeing other people and being able to dress nice and go out," says Mr. Silva.

"In Brazil, the culture is more about people. They like to get together with family, and they like to visit each other," says Joao Barbosa, a housepainting contractor who has just completed his ministry studies in the World Revival church.

Brazilians are also turning to the churches as a way to cope with the pressures of being immigrants.

Many people come to church to pray to be healed of sickness, says World Revival Assembly of God pastor Jose dos Santos, whose words are translated by Mr. Barbosa.

"But there are also other kinds of needs. The situation of being in a different country, you always need something. When you have faith, you ask your Father, and your Father gives it to you," says Pastor dos Santos, known to his congregants as Pastor Zezinho.

Brazilians will tell you that for many of them, their religious awakening actually came when they arrived in America.

"In Brazil, they never go to church. When they get here, they think they're alone," says Danielle Andrade, who manages the Copacabana restaurant, a Brazilian diner in Oak Bluffs. "You want something from your country, your language. The same things you think, they think. You feel good when you go to church."

Indeed, on Sunday evenings at the Masonic Hall, the good feelings are hard to deny. The music, much of it cranked out by a live band, sounds like an FM pop radio station.

People frequently raise up one or both hands and close their eyes while singing along to the catchy songs. Toddlers roam freely among adults, welcomed into different laps. Men greet each other warmly, putting an arm around the other's shoulders.

In summer, they will stay here until 1 a.m., eating food and sipping cans of cold soda, says Rodrigo dos Santos, the son of the pastor and a high school senior.

For Rodrigo and many of his young friends in the church, their religious commitment is a good way to stay out of trouble, to steer clear of drugs and alcohol. Church is not just a Sunday commitment. Between prayer services, choir practices and Bible school, many are in church at least three times a week.

"We are pretty busy," says Mr. Desouza, who came to the Island three years ago after four years in Boston. When he's not working for Goodale's Construction, he's very involved in the church.

"It's a change of life," he says. "Before, I drink too much, smoke and everything. I like to start a new life."

The Assembly of God church leaders see such behavior modification as one of their tasks. "The ministry is here to help them. Otherwise, they do bad things on the street," says Mr. Barbosa. "We take people away from drugs and move them to a better life."

Indeed, for Brazilians newly arrived in America, the dominance of drugs and alcohol in the culture poses a new challenge. "Drugs here are easier to get," says a Brazilian woman in her twenties. "Here you work 20 hours a week, and you have the money to buy them."

In Brazil, she says, drugs don't figure as heavily in the social scene. But if you're in the church, the rules are clear: no drinking, no smoking.

"That's what the religion requires," says Mr. Silva, who acknowledges that the churches can be conservative and restrictive. "They expel you from the church if they are seeing you going out with a boyfriend at night. If you want to be there, you've got to know the rules. That's the way the congregation works. It's family, and they care about you. Sometimes being a family, they will give you a correction. That's more than a friendship."

Of course, for some, that kind of control can be too much. A young woman was asked to leave one of the churches when she began dating a Brazilian man who is Catholic. "It's good when you're 16 to 18, but when they get over 21, they can't do anything. It's hard," she says. "When you go out of church, they see you. You're hanging out with people who smoke weed, and you're connected to those people."

But the pull toward the churches appears to be strong for many Brazilians here.

"They find a spiritual help they weren't expecting to find," says Mr. Silva. "They go in and the next thing they know, they've become a member of the church."