To get into the minds of today's Pentecostals, visit a classroom of ministers in training, 20-somethings getting their first taste of practical ministry. Recently I posed several questions to a large group of them in one of my practicum classes: What are the changes going on among North American Pentecostal believers and Pentecostal churches today? In what ways does the new generation of Pentecostals differ from earlier generations? In what ways is it similar?
The first response was immediate. A young student named Emily said, "For years, Pentecostals had an inferiority complex. They felt as if they were the weird uncle of modern Christianity, as if they were not quite accepted by peer denominations. Today it is different. Pentecostal churches have become more accepted and now are part of mainstream Christianity. That may be good—in some ways, not so good."
Indeed, Pentecostalism in North America has come a long way. It has moved from a faith to and of the disenfranchised to one that is recognized if not fully accepted across the board among evangelicals. From the movement's origins among a few adherents in the Azusa Street Revival in Los Angeles (1906), Pentecostalism grew to some 12 million adherents by 1970, and now incorporates some 600 million worldwide in its various expressions, a fourth of all Christendom. David Barrett's monumental World Christian Encyclopedia states that in 1900, only seven-tenths of 1 percent of Christians were Pentecostal; today, approximately 25 percent are.
Another theme emerged in my classroom. As a student named Ross put it, "There is a new Pentecostalism emerging, a more meditative movement, a more social justice movement, more concerned about the outside of the church rather than [what ...