Pentecostals: The Sequel
After 100 years of modern renewal history, we Pentecostals and our charismatic cousins have been probed and described from every possible angletheological, sociological, historical, phenomenological, psychological, and more. We've been called a revitalization movement, a movement of social transformation, a millenarian movement, and a movement of racial integration. No doubt a Google search for "Pentecostal" would yield even more labels, thus providing fodder for endless rounds of doctoral dissertations and blog sites.
Pentecostals have endured the anathemas of adversaries ("the tongues movement" being one of the nicer of many unflattering descriptors) and enjoyed the accolades of academics. With our weakness toward self-congratulation and our breakneck pace toward upward mobility and social respectability, Philip Jenkins's words in The Next Christendom could easily become a favorite among us: "Since there were only a handful of Pentecostals in 1900 and several hundred million today, is it not reasonable to identify this as perhaps the most successful social movement of the past century?"
They now talk about us (and even to us!) on CNN and in the halls of Harvard. So it is predictable, especially during this centennial year of the Azusa Street revival, that everyone from theologians to historians to sociologists to the media are seeking to impose their preferred definitions on global charismatic Christianity.
Yet, ultimately, it is up to us to determine for what we will be most known. From the inception of the Pentecostal movement, our mission has always been missions. Indeed, Pentecostalism cannot be understood apart from its self-identity as a missionary movement raised up by God to evangelize the world in the last days. As we prepare to step into our second century, we must decide whether we will continue to be distinguished by missions in the future.
With more than 580 million adherents (growing by 19 million per year and 54,000 per day), the Pentecostal/charismatic movement has become, in just 100 years, the fastest growing and most globally diverse expression of worldwide Christianity. At the current rate of growth, some researchers predict there will be 1 billion Pentecostals by 2025, most located in Asia, Africa, and Latin America.
The mind-boggling research by David Barrett and Todd Johnson reveals some surprising statistics about the movement:
- Pentecostals comprise 3 major streams and 59 diverse categories of worldwide Christianity.
- Pentecostals can be found within all 150 non-charismatic Christian traditions.
- Pentecostals come from 9,000 ethnolinguistic cultures and speak 8,000 languages.
- Pentecostalism is more urban than rural, more female than male, more majority world (66%) than Western world (34%), more poor (87%) than affluent (13%), more family-related than individualist, and more young than old.
- Pentecostals are an active presence in 80% of the world's 3,300 largest metropolises.
Barrett and Johnson conclude that "the sheer magnitude and diversity of the numbers involved beggar the imagination." Given this kind of international diversity, are there any clues about what Pentecostalism's central mission may be in tomorrow's world?
I believe Pentecostal/charismatic believers would do well to remember the words of British historian E. H. Carr, "You cannot look forward intelligently into the future unless you are also prepared to look back attentively into the past."
Although Pentecostalism's roots stretch back into the late 19th century, it was at the prayer meetings on Azusa Street, beginning in April 1906, that the movement blossomed into full-blown revival. Worshipers met daily in a 40- by 60-foot wood-frame structure called a "tumbledown shack" by one Los Angeles newspaper. Led by William Joseph Seymour, the African American son of former slaves from Louisiana, the extended prayer sessions were attended by between 300 and 350 people, with many others forced to stand outside. Observers noted that attendees included immigrants, prostitutes, and the poor.