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Members of the Pentecostal Church of God in Lejunior, Kentucky praying for a girl in 1946.

Pentecostalism is a spiritual Christian revivalist movement that began within revivalistic Protestantism, especially in the United States in the 19th century. The goal of the Holiness Movement was to move beyond the one-time conversion experience that the revivals produce, and reach entire sanctification. The Pentecostals went one step further, seeking what they called a "baptism in the spirit" or "baptism of the the Holy Ghost" that enabled those with this special gift to heal the sick, perform miracles, prophesy, and speak in tongues.[1]

Pentecostalism has experienced explosive growth for the past half-century. The membership is young and fast-growing. Combined, the Pentecostals (in separate denominations) and charismatics (inside other denominations) add up to very large numbers. The statistics are highly inexact but the combined total is perhaps one Christian in ten, worldwide.

In 2011, a Pew Forum study of worldwide Christianity found that there were about 279 million classical Pentecostals, making 4 percent of the total world population and 12.8 percent of global Christendom Pentecostal.[2]

The American sociologist and author Peter L. Berger introduced the concept of desecularization in 1999.[3][4] According to Berger, "One can say with some confidence that modern Pentecostalism must be the fastest growing religion in human history."[5] See also: Growth of pentecostalism and Growth of religious fundamentalism and Historical examples of the exponential growth of Christianity

The atheist author and advocate David Madison, PhD wrote in March 2019: "I remain haunted—and terrified—by what I read on a Christian website, not long after the turn of this century: that by 2025, there will be one billion (yes, that’s with a “b”) Pentecostals in the world."[6]


Pentecostalism focuses on the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the Apostles as described in the Acts of the Apostles and Pentecostals strive to embrace that same spirituality on a weekly or daily basis.

When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly a sound came from heaven like the rush of a mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting. And there appeared to them tongues as of fire, distributed and resting on each one of them. [Acts 2:1-3]

That is, Pentecostalism consists of becoming a messenger for the Holy Spirit. Adherents seek gifts of prophecy and healing, and sometimes speak in different or unrecognized tongues. Like evangelicals they emphasize the centrality of the conversion experience and the impending return to earth of Jesus. However Pentecostals are distinctive in their concentration on divine healing and Holy Ghost baptism, and forms of worship, such as "speaking in tongues" they see as part of that baptism.

Supporters of the movement cite as an obstacle to participation a distrust or diffidence towards the Holy Spirit's ability to achieve today what was accomplished in the first century A.D. Pentecostals emphasize the necessity of revivals; their theology is Arminian.

In social terms, Pentecostalism has demonstrated egalitarianism, with African Americans and whites sharing revival pulpits and with women often welcomed as inspired speakers.

Theologian Harvey Cox (who is not a member) describes what to expect in typical services in the U.S., suggesting why critics sometimes call them "holy rollers":

high-amperage music, voluble praise, bodily movement including clapping and swaying, personal testimonies, sometimes prayers "in the Spirit," a sermon full of stories and anecdotes, announcements, lots of humorous banter, a period of intense prayers for healing, and a parting song.[7]


From a worldwide perspective, the Assemblies of God is the largest Pentecostal denomination. However, the vast majority of its membership is outside of the United States. It has 2.5 million members in the U.S. and 25 million overall.

Next in size are the Church of God and The Church of God in Christ, a predominantly African American denomination based in the U.S.

Other Pentecostal denominations include the Church of God, Cleveland, Tennessee (1.0 million members in the U.S.); the International Pentecostal Holiness Church (244,000 U.S.members); the International Church of the Four Square Gospel (252,000 U.S. members); the Full Gospel Fellowship (412,000 members in the U.S.); and the United Pentecostal Church International (646,000 members in the U.S.) Some, including the United Pentecostal Church International, do not believe in the Trinity, but most do. There are scores of smaller Pentecostal bodies.[8]


In the late 19th century the Holiness Movement transformed Wesleyan teaching by emphasizing revivalist techniques of invitation, decision, and testimony, and by insistence on visible evidence. By the 1890s physical healing was commonly expected, and the experience of sanctification was called "baptism with the Holy Spirit". Divided by the rise of Pentecostalism after 1900, the surviving Holiness groups became less exuberant.

On the surface, Speaking in tongues was the critical factor separating Pentecostals from adherents of the Holiness movement, but the underlying difference between the two was the manner in which the movements interpreted scripture. Holiness people used metaphor to make biblical events synonymous with personal experience. For them, the Exodus symbolized the progression of the soul to the life of holiness. Pentecostals sought to reenact elements of the biblical text literally, and believed they participated in the fulfillment of scripture.[9]

A short, profound Pentecostal revival in Wales (part of Britain) in 1904-5 lasted less than a year, but made 100,000 converts. The revival spread from south Wales to north Wales, then to Britain, and eventually to Los Angeles, California, which proved fertile ground for Pentecostalism.[10]

Azusa Street Revival

The world's Pentecostals and charismatics trace their roots to a sacred event, the Azusa Street Revival in Los Angeles. William Seymour (1870-1922), who held electrifying revivals in 1906-1909 at the Azusa Street AME church in Los Angeles. This revival was marked by great emotional excitement, interracial harmony, and an obsession with speaking in tongues and healing. It was touched off by the preaching of Seymour, an African American who had absorbed the teachings of Charles F. Parham in Texas.[11]

However the origins go back further. Baer (2001) explores the significance of ideas of divine healing to the emergence of Pentecostalism from the radical holiness movement in the late 19th century. The careers and ministries of Maria B. Woodworth-Etter, John A. Dowie, and Charles F. Partham all demonstrate a commitment to notions of divine healing, where faith and belief in Christ and his atoning sacrifice on the cross could bring about a complete healing of the body and the soul.

Pentecostalists participated in a broader evangelical culture in which divine healing was a key element in a program that could include ecstatic religiosity and a belief in Christ's imminent return. Newspapers reported the purported healings of these three ministers in revival meetings during the 1880s-1900s.

Aimée Semple McPherson

Aimée Semple McPherson was an important factor in the spread of Pentecostalism in the first half of the 20th century. Although she always identified herself as Canadian, she built her temple in Los Angeles, from which she hoped to evangelize the world. Before settling down in 1923, however, she experienced unnerving success as a faith healer. Never comfortable with the role, not least of all because she was committed to saving souls, not bodies, McPherson attempted during her secluded final decade to devise a theory of faith healing. Although still celebrated by her followers as a prophet and a healer, she expressed discomfort with both these roles. Physically exhausted, she died in 1944 at the age of 54 from a drug overdose.[12]

Women played a major role in the Pentecostal revival movement from the 1900s to the 1940s, founding denominations, preaching, and occasionally acting as pastors. As Pentecostalism aligned itself with mainstream evangelicalism after World War II, women's leadership declined.

Oral Roberts

Oral Roberts week-long revival in Los Angeles, 1957

After World War II a pan-Pentecostal revival in the U.S. was highly successful. A new generation of independent leaders emerged, including Oral Roberts (1918 – 2009) and Jimmy Swaggart (1935 – ). These preachers, along with ecumenically-minded Pentecostal leaders such as David Du Plessis (1905–1987), encouraged the spread of the charismatic movement to mainstream Protestant churches and the Roman Catholic church.

Oral Roberts became a pioneer in the use of radio and television. In the 1960s and 1970s, he left the faith-healing circuit to build Oral Roberts University, founded in 1963 in Tulsa, Oklahoma. He claimed to have raised over a billion dollars.[13]


Of the thirty-seven million Latinos living in the United States, nearly five million declare themselves to be either Pentecostal or Charismatic, and more convert every day. Latinos are not new to Pentecostalism; indeed, they have been becoming Pentecostal for more than a hundred years. Thus several generations have never belonged to any other faith. However, there is a common misperception of all of them as recent converts. The Latino Pentecostals participate in the spiritual and material culture of the larger evangelical Christian movement and imprints that movement with its own experiences. Diverse Latino faith communities—U.S. Chicano churches, pan–Latin American immigrant churches, and mixed Latin American and U.S. Latino churches—have carved out their own unique religious space.[14]

Evangelical response

Pentecostals resemble fundamentalists and evangelicals in some ways, but theologically they are quite different. Fundamentalists attach such unique authority to the letter of the Bible that they are suspicious of the Pentecostals' stress on the immediate experience of the Spirit of God. Indeed, text-oriented Christians tend to be wary of mystics. The theology of Pentecostalism is embedded in testimonies, ecstatic speech, and bodily movement. The theology encompasses a full-blown religious cosmos, an intricate system of symbols that respond to the perennial questions of human meaning and value. The difference is that, historically, Pentecostals have felt more at home singing their theology, or putting it in pamphlets for distribution on street corners.[15]

Wacker (1996) looks at the bitter fight between existing radical evangelical groups and emerging Pentecostals between 1906 and 1916. To outsiders the sides were indistinguishable in their doctrinal beliefs, but to insiders their differences were immense. Pentecostals emphasized the absolute need to exhibit gifts of the spirit, something that most radical evangelicals denied. Strife bitterly divided churches, families, and communities because the opponents had so much in common. Both sides assumed theology to be an exact science, that only one correct interpretation of the Bible was possible, and that the worst sin was a rejection of orthodoxy. A legacy of animosity persisted between the two groups for years after.[16]


Pentecostal church members opposed Charles Darwin's theories of organic evolution and natural selection because they viewed the theories as challenging the biblical narrative and detracting from the idea of human perfection. Wesleyans among them placed experience over exegesis and did not assign as high a priority to fighting Darwinism as other conservative Protestants. They tended to adhere to the gap or ruin-and-restoration theory, which placed geologic ages between the beginning of creation and the Edenic restoration, or they backed the interpretation that biblical "days" spanned great geologic ages. Pentecostals spent much less time than fundamentalists in fighting Darwinism, but their level of activity did increase during the fierce debates of the 1920s. Some Pentecostals support theistic evolution, but they have been virtually silent.[17]

Missions and International

Latin America

In Latin America, where secularization is still limited and Protestant churches have far narrower social bases, Pentecostalism has spread very rapidly.[18] The main force is the rapid urbanization of the continent, in which millions of people have been pushed into urban slums marked by social disarray and a chaotic informal economy. Pentecostalism serves as a healer of maladies and, for women, as a means of reducing the alcoholism and violence of men. The consequences of conversion include the cultivation of habits that increase success in the informal economy, enabling people to survive rather than sink into misery.[19]


Pentecostalism has grown rapidly in Africa.[20]

In Africa, Pentecostal churches attract restless young men eager to retain wages earned in the impersonal labor market, migrants eager to link into supportive networks, and women eager to exit from the systems of bridewealth, polygamy, and arbitrary patriarchal power. For all these people Pentecostalism offers a way to break with the elders and the spiritual system that underwrites their power, ancestor sacrifice.[19]

The often combustible interaction of resurgent religion and the developing world's unstable politics constitutes breeding ground for rapid expansion of revival churches. Evangelical churches are gaining ground in unstable political environments. Protestantism is increasingly challenging the Catholic and Presbyterian hegemony in the religious sphere. Established churches are facing stiff opposition or competition from emerging revival churches producing an "adversarial" style of Protestantism.

“Early Pentecostalism” preached an ascetic doctrine, which stressed perfection, strict moral ethics and biblical inerrancy. The ways of the world were considered the ways of sin and believers exhorted to shun all unnecessary material and carnal pleasures. "Modern Pentecostalism", on the other hand embraces a gospel of accumulation as the ways of the world, not as the ways of sin. It encourages believers to accumulate while on earth. While early Pentecostal churches embraced the ascetic doctrine of classical Pentecostalism, the new wave of these churches strongly emphasize a gospel of accumulation.[21]


The Italian Canadian Pentecostal movement began in 1913 among a group of Presbyterian converts in Hamilton, Ontario. From here missionary work spread the movement to other Italian communities in Canada, including Toronto and Montreal. These Italian Pentecostals emphasized biblical fundamentalism, personal conversion, and an independent organizational structure but differed from other Pentecostals in their commitment to Italian identity and tradition. The emphasis on Italian language and community and missionary efforts directed toward other Italians combined with the sometimes unconscious incorporation of Old World traditions set the Italian Canadian Pentecostals apart from both other Italians and the Pentecostal movement in general.[22]


Pentecostalism in Australia was an import from the U.S., although John Alexander Dowie conducted healing missions in Australia in the 1880s before becoming a factor in the USA. Women played a significant founding role. The Good News Hall, founded by an ex-Methodist, Janet Lancaster, in North Melbourne in 1909, was the first organised Pentecostal church in Australia. Aimée Semple McPherson tour in 1922 led to the formation of the Pentecostal Church, the forerunner of the Assemblies of God, which now claim approximately half of Australia's Pentecostals. The visit of the American evangelist Oral Roberts in 1956 spurred public controversy but paved the way for the more recent explosion of Pentecostal churches, especially in Queensland and Western Australia.[23]

Sociologist Peter Berger on Pentecostalism and Europe

Peter L. Berger recently said that he previously thought that Pentecostalism did not have a significant future in Europe, but he recently saw signs that it could see significant growth in Europe.[24] In addition, Pentecostalism often grows fast in areas undergoing economic distress.[25][26] Post 2007 there are concerns that Western economies which have high sovereign debt loads could see some significant economic turmoil in coming years - especially the European countries with aging populations that have been struggling in terms of economic growth.

Phillip Jenkins on future growth of pentecostalism

Phillip Jenkins published the book The Next Christendom: The Coming of Global Christianity.

Chuck Colson, citing the work of Jenkins, writes:

As Penn State professor Philip Jenkins writes in The Next Christendom: The Coming of Global Christianity, predictions like Huntingtons betray an ignorance of the explosive growth of Christianity outside of the West.

According to Jenkins, the percentage of the worlds population that is, at least by name, Christian will be roughly the same in 2050 as it was in 1900. By the middle of this century, there will be three billion Christians in the world -- one and a half times the number of Muslims. In fact, by 2050 there will be nearly as many Pentecostal Christians in the world as there are Muslims today.[27]

See also


United States and Canada

  • Anderson, Robert Mapes. Vision of the Disinherited: The Making of American Pentecostalism (1979).
  • Blumhofer, Edith L. Restoring the Faith: The Assemblies of God, Pentecostalism, and American Culture. (1993). 281 pp. A major scholarly study.
  • Cerillo, Jr., Augustus. "The Beginnings of American Pentecostalism: A Historiographical Overview," in Pentecostal Currents in American Protestantism, ed. by Edith L. Blumhofer, Russell P. Spittler, and Grant A. Wacker (1999).
  • Cox, Harvey. Fire from Heaven: The Rise of Pentecostal Spirituality and the Reshaping of Religion in the Twenty-First Century (1995) online edition
  • Crowe, Terrence Robert. Pentecostal Unity: Recurring Frustration and Enduring Hopes. (1993). 282 pp.
  • DuPree, Sherry Sherrod. African-American Holiness Pentecostal Movements: An Annotated Bibliography. (1996). 650 pp.
  • Harrell, David Edwin. All Things Are Possible: The Healing and Charismatic Revivals in Modern America (1975), a major scholarly history excerpt and text search* Harrell, David Edwin. Oral Roberts: An American Life (1985) online edition
  • Poloma, Margaret M. The Assemblies of God at the Crossroads: Charisma and Institutional Dilemmas. (1989). 309 pp. scholarly study
  • Sanders, Cheryl J. Saints in Exile: The Holiness-Pentecostal Experience in African American Religion and Culture. (1996). 177 pp.
  • Stephens, Randall J. "The Convergence of Populism, Religion, and the Holiness-Pentecostal Movements: A Review of the Historical Literature." Fides Et Historia 2000 32(1): 51-64.
  • Stephens, Michael S. Who Healeth All Thy Diseases: Health, Healing, and Holiness in the Church of God Reformation Movement. (2008) online review
  • Synan, Vinson, ed. The Century of the Holy Spirit: 100 Years of Pentecostal and Charismatic Renewal, 1901-2001, (2001)
  • Synan, Vinson. The Holiness-Pentecostal Tradition: Charismatic Movements in the Twentieth Century. (1997). 340 pp.
  • Wacker, Grant. Heaven Below: Early Pentecostals and American Culture. (2001) 380pp
  • Walsh, Arlene Sanchez. Latino Pentecostal Identity: Evangelical Faith, Self, and Society (2003)
  • Wilkinson, Michael. Canadian Pentecostalism: Transition and Transformation (2009)

Specialized topics

  • Baer, Jonathan R. "Redeemed Bodies: The Functions Of Divine Healing In Incipient Pentecostalism." Church History 2001 70(4): 735-771. in JSTOR
  • Goff, Jr. James R. Fields White unto Harvest: Charles F. Parham and the Missionary Origins of Pentecostalism (University of Arkansas Press, 1988)
  • Medhurst, Martin J. Filled with the Spirit: Rhetorical Invention and the Pentecostal Tradition," Rhetoric & Public Affairs v7 #4 (2004) 555-572 in Project MUSE
  • Mills, Gene. Faith Cure: Divine Healing in the Holiness and Pentecostal Movements (2003).
  • Opp, James. The Lord for the Body: Religion, Medicine, and Protestant Faith Healing in Canada, 1880-1930 (2007)

Missions and International

  • Akoko, Robert Mbe. "Ask and You Shall Be Given": Pentecostalism and the Economic Crisis in Cameroon (2007. 239 pp. online review
  • Brouwer, Steve, Paul Gifford, and Susan D. Rose. Exporting the American Gospel: Global Christian Fundamentalism (1996), examines the spread of Pentecostalism and the market revolution, as well as the connection between these phenomena, in Guatemala, the Philippines, South Korea, and Liberia. It says these trends are examples of "Americanization"
  • Cleary, Edward L. and Hannah W. Stewart-Gambino, eds. Power, Politics, and Pentecostals in Latin America, (1997) online edition
  • Freston, Paul. Evangelical Christianity and Democracy in Latin America (2008)
  • Kalu, Ogbu. African Pentecostalism: An Introduction [2008])
  • Kircher-Allen, Eamon. "Ghana's New Christianity: Pentecostalism in a Globalizing African Economy," Journal of International Affairs, Vol. 61, 2007 online edition
  • Martin, David. Pentecostalism: the world their parish (2001) 215pp
  • McGee, Gary B. 'This Gospel . . . Shall Be Preached': A History and Theology of Assemblies of God Foreign Missions since 1959. Springfield, Mo.: Gospel, 1990. 358 pp.
  • Westmeier, Karl-Wilhelm. Protestant Pentecostalism in Latin America: A Study in the Dynamics of Missions (1999) online edition


  • John Sherrill, They Speak with Other Tongues (Old Tappan, N.J.: Chosen Books, 2004)
  • Gary B. McGee, Initial Evidence: Historical and Biblical Perspectives on the Pentecostal Doctrine of Spirit Baptism (Peabody, Mass.: Henrickson, 1991)
  • Wade H. Horton, Glossolalia Phenomenon (Cleveland, Tenn.: Pathway Press, 1996)
  • Watson E. Mills, Glossolalia: A Bibliography (New York: Edwin Mellen Press, 1985)
  • Speaking in Tongues: A Guide to Research on Glossolalia (Eerdmans, 1986).

External links


  1. Harrell (1975)
  2. Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life (December 19, 2011,), Global Christianity: A Report on the Size and Distribution of the World's Christian Population, p. 67.
  3. Journal of Church and State, Desecularization: A Conceptual Framework by Vyacheslav Karpov, 2010
  4. Peter L. Berger, “The Desecularization of the World: A Global Overview,” in The Desecularization of the World: Resurgent Religion and World Politics, ed. Peter L. Berger (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1999)
  5. Pentecostalism – Protestant Ethic or Cargo Cult?, Peter Berger, July 29, 2010
  6. Atheist author and advocate is absolutely TERRIFIED about the future growth of pentecostal Christianity, Examining Atheism, March 2019
  7. Cox, Fire from Heaven (1995) p 6, also p 9-10
  8. For a listing of the websites of these and other Pentecostal churches, go to
  9. Charles Edwin Jones, "Beulah Land and the Upper Room: Reclaiming the Text in Turn-of-the-century Holiness and Pentecostal Spirituality." Methodist History 1994 32(4): 250-259
  10. Edward J. Gitre, "The 1904-05 Welsh Revival: Modernization, Technologies, and Techniques of the Self," Church History 2004 73(4): 792-827. see also Wales.
  11. Joe Creech, "Visions of Glory: The Place of the Azusa Street Revival in Pentecostal History," Church History, Vol. 65, No. 3 (Sep., 1996), pp. 405-424 in JSTOR
  12. Janice Dickin, "'Take Up Thy Bed And Walk': Aimee Semple Mcpherson and Faith-Healing." Canadian Bulletin of Medical History 2000 17(1-2): 137-153. 0823-2105
  13. Richard N. Ostling, Barbara Dolan and Michael P. Harris. "Raising Eyebrows And The Dead," Time Jul. 13, 1987
  14. Arlene Sanchez Walsh, Latino Pentecostal Identity: Evangelical Faith, Self, and Society (2003)
  15. Cox, Fire from Heaven (1995) p 15
  16. Grant Wacker, "Travail of a Broken Family: Evangelical Responses to Pentecostalism in America, 1906-1916." Journal Of Ecclesiastical History 1996 47(3): 505-528. 0022-0469
  17. Ronald L. Numbers, "Creation, Evolution, and Holy Ghost Religion: Holiness and Pentecostal Responses to Darwinism." Religion And American Culture 1992 2(2): 127-158. 1052-1151
  18. Why has Pentecostalism grown so dramatically in Latin America?
  19. 19.0 19.1 See Martin (2001)
  20. Overview: Pentecostalism in Africa
  21. see Robert Mbe Akoko, "Ask and You Shall Be Given" Pentecostalism and the Economic Crisis in Cameroon. (2007).
  22. Cumbo, Enrico Carlson. "Your Old Men Will Dream Dreams": The Italian Pentecostal Experience in Canada, 1912-1945. Journal of American Ethnic History 2000 19(3): 35-81. 0278-5927 in JSTOR
  23. See Barry Chant, Heart of Fire: The Story of Australian Pentecostalism (1973)
  24. Pentecostalism Invades Lambeth Palace by Peter Berger, December 18, 2013
  25. The rise of biblical creationism in Mexico and its effect on American creationism
  26. Economics and Darwinism/atheism
  27. How Christianity is Growing Around the World by Chuck Colson