Some feel the movement has peaked, while others say it is merely gaining wider acceptance.

In 1977, some 45,000 Christians met for several days of praise and celebration in Kansas City, Missouri. The event was the largest ecumenical gathering to date of Christians committed to charismatic renewal.

Nine years later, the movement’s leaders are taking stock of where charismatic renewal is headed. They are planning another mass conference—scheduled for next year in New Orleans—which is expected to attract 70,000 to 100,000 participants.

At its root, charismatic renewal is the introduction of elements of Pentecostalism into mainline churches. Essential to the movement is belief in the validity of all spiritual gifts and an understanding of the baptism in the Holy Spirit as an experience distinct from conversion.

Charismatic renewal has changed greatly since the 1977 conference, although observers disagree on what those changes mean. By the early 1980s, charismatic magazines were asking whether the movement had peaked. Some concluded that charismatics were no longer exercising spiritual gifts. A 1979 Gallup poll indicated that only one-sixth of the respondents who called themselves charismatic spoke in tongues.

Interest in the charismatic movement within the Catholic church also waned in the early 1980s. A split developed between Catholic charismatic leaders over differences in ideology and philosophy. Meanwhile, prayer groups were dwindling and attendance at the annual Catholic charismatic conference at the University of Notre Dame dropped from more than 30,000 in the early 1970s to about 10,000 today. In response, the National Service Committee for the Catholic Charismatic Renewal began a “back to the basics” program by sending four ...

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