Christianity’s Booming Sector

Pentecostal and Charismatic Numbers Surge

By Father John Flynn

WASHINGTON, D.C., OCT. 22, 2006 ( Pentecostalism and other similar charismatic movements are among the fastest-growing sectors of global Christianity. So says a 10-nation study published by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life. The Washington, D.C.-based research group released the study Oct. 5.

According to the study, around a quarter of the world’s estimated 2 billion Christians are thought to be members of Pentecostal and charismatic groups, which emphasize the active role of the Holy Spirit in their daily lives.

The study was based on random surveys carried out in the United States; Brazil, Chile and Guatemala in Latin America; Kenya, Nigeria and South Africa in Africa; and India, the Philippines and South Korea in Asia.

The findings confirm the error of predictions about the demise of religion, comments Luis Lugo, director of the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life in the preface. “Talk of ‘secularization’ and of a ‘post-religious’ society has given way to a renewed recognition of religion’s influence in people’s social and political lives,” he writes.

A case in point is Pentecostalism. It was born just a century ago and now ranks second only to Catholicism in the number of followers, Lugo noted. In Latin America, Pentecostals now account for about three in every four Protestants, according to the World Christian Database.

The Pew Forum noted that in its study the term “Pentecostal” is used to describe members of a range of different groups: from the Assemblies of God (or Church of God in Christ) which were founded almost a century ago, to more recent ones, such as the Brazil-based Universal Church of the Kingdom of God.

The concept of charismatic, however, is much looser. Many of the people covered by this category belong to Protestant, Catholic or Orthodox churches; they define themselves as charismatics but stay within their respective churches.

The study uses the general term of “renewalist” as a way to refer to Pentecostals and charismatics as a group. In some countries the number of renewalists reaches a high level.

Adding up numbers

In the United States the renewalists account for 23% of the population — 5% Pentecostals and 18% charismatics. In Brazil it is just under half of the population, with 15% describing themselves as Pentecostals, 34% as charismatics. In Guatemala the total reaches 60%, made up of 20% Pentecostals and 40% charismatics.

Kenya has the highest number of Pentecostals, where they account for a full third of the population. Charismatics comprise another 23% of the count. The Philippines also has a high level of renewalists: Charismatics make up 40% of the population; Pentecostals, 4%.

Not all the countries studied, however, had high levels of the two groups. In India, for example, the combined numbers of the two only add up to 5% of the population. Nigeria, with a total of 8%, and South Korea, 9%, were also at the low end of the scale.

As a rule it is the charismatics who are by far the larger group, with the exception of Kenya and Nigeria. Pentecostal numbers are generally higher in Latin America and Africa than they are in the United States or Asia.

In six of the 10 countries the Pew surveys found that the combined numbers of Pentecostals and charismatics account for a majority of the overall Protestant population. In fact, in five nations — Brazil, Chile, Guatemala, Kenya and the Philippines — more than two-thirds of Protestants are either Pentecostal or charismatic.

Speaking in tongues

The surveys found a number of characteristics regarding the religious experiences and practices of renewalists.

— They are generally more fervent in their religious practice. The vast majority of Pentecostals say they attend religious services at least once a week. Majorities of charismatics in every country except Brazil and Chile also say they attend church at least once a week. These levels are generally higher than for other Christians. Renewalist members also come out on top of other Christians in practices such as daily prayer and reading the Bible.

— Use of the media, mainly television and radio, to reinforce their religious faith is common among renewalists, particularly among Pentecostals in the United States, Latin America and Africa, where at least half say they do so more than once a week.

— In seven of the 10 countries surveyed at least half of Pentecostals say that the church services they attend frequently include people practicing the gifts of the Holy Spirit, such as speaking in tongues, prophesying or praying for miraculous healing. These aspects are less common among charismatics.

— Although many say they attend religious services where speaking in tongues is a common practice, fewer affirm that they themselves regularly do this. Moreover, in six of the 10 countries surveyed, at least 40% of Pentecostals say they never speak or pray in tongues.

— In all 10 countries surveyed, large majorities of Pentecostals say that they have personally experienced or witnessed the divine healing of an illness or injury. In eight of the countries a majority of Pentecostals say that they have received a direct revelation from God.

— In seven out of 10 countries Pentecostals say that they personally have experienced or witnessed the devil or evil spirits being driven out of a person. Generally, fewer charismatics report witnessing these types of experiences.

— In eight of the 10 countries surveyed majorities of non-renewalist Christians believe that the Bible is the word of God and is to be taken literally. This view is even more common among Pentecostals.

— Pentecostals also stand out, especially compared with non-renewalist Christians, for their views on eschatology. In six countries, at least half of Pentecostals believe that Jesus will return to earth during their lifetime. And more than 80% in each country believe in “the rapture of the Church.” This refers to the belief that before the world comes to an end the faithful will be rescued and taken up to heaven.

— Pentecostals also make a big effort to spread their faith. In eight of the 10 countries, a majority of say they share their faith with nonbelievers at least once a week. Charismatics tend to be somewhat less likely to do this.

— At least 70% of Pentecostals in every country, with the exception of South Korea, believe that faith in Jesus Christ represents the exclusive path to eternal salvation.

Faith and politics

The Pew study also devoted a section to analyzing the political implications of the growing numbers of Pentecostals and charismatics. Many of those surveyed affirmed that it is important that political leaders possess strong Christian beliefs.

The study describes the moral and social views of the Pentecostals as being “conservative,” on a range of issues such as homosexuality, abortion, extramarital sex and divorce.

In general, a majority agree with the proposition that church and state should be separate. Yet, a sizable minority favor the idea that the government should take steps to ensure their state is a Christian country.

Nevertheless, while they agree that religious people and religious groups should be active in politics, relatively few spend much time actually discussing political issues. They concentrate mainly on religious practices — with results that are spreading quickly.

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