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Pentecostals: How Do They Keep Growing While Other Groups Are Declining?

Pentecostals Possess a Missional Faith

Not only does Spirit baptism encourage personal spiritual growth and participation in the local church, but it also provides the framework for an evangelistic conviction outside of the local body. When you appreciate what you have as much as Pentecostals do, you aren’t satisfied to experience it yourself. You think others should have the same opportunity to partake of the movement of the Spirit of God. 

Pentecostal evangelism emphasizes the same Spirit-filled movement that stokes the fires of personal faith, resulting in a marriage between gospel proclamation and demonstration of the Spirit’s power—something John Wimber called “power evangelism.” Writing on the impact of global Pentecostalism in shaping modern globalization, Bryant Myers attributes this deeply personal evangelistic mandate as one of the significant reasons for its current growth.2

Nevertheless, that passion for a Spirit-led mission is not relegated to the individual alone. It has propelled a heart for church planting and multiplication. Among the Assemblies of God, this is clear. Of their 13,000 congregations, “more than a quarter…were formed in the past decade,” according to Burge. 

The AG was founded in 1914. When over 25% of your churches were formed in the last 10% of your history, that’s a good sign. 

Never mind if there are already six churches in a community. To Pentecostals, if there’s not a Spirit-filled church in that community, they must plant one. This is a hallmark of Pentecostal expansion, not only in the United States, but around the world.

Pentecostals Possess a Bottom-Up Faith

A key characteristic of Pentecostal growth is that it is a “bottom-up” movement rather than it is a “top-down” one.3 Meaning, the Spirit-filled movement is just that—a movement. And it is largely a grassroots movement, both in the U.S. and abroad. Its low-control form of expansion is in no small part of its rapid success among young people, as well as populations in Latin America, Africa, and Asia.

At the heart of the Pentecostal ethos is a belief that the advent of the Spirit has brought fulfillment to the prophecy of Joel 2—that the Spirit has been poured out on all flesh: women and men, young and old, regardless of ethnicity or socio-economic standing. 

What’s more, the Spirit-filled movement is exceedingly cross-denominational and post-denominational, sometimes making the task of accurately defining (and counting) Pentecostals and charismatics rather difficult. 

The Spirit-filled movement also extends beyond Pentecostal and charismatic denominations and now extends into other segments of Christianity, including the Roman Catholic Church’s Catholic charismatic renewal—which reports nearly 160 million members worldwide.

I believe the Holy Spirit wants to do a fresh work in each of us, as well as in our churches. In Part 2 of this brief series, I will discuss how evangelicals can apply our learnings from what we have observed in the Pentecostal movement. 

2 Myers, 199.
3 Sunquist, “Unexpected Christian Century,” 31; Myers, Engaging Globalization, 193, 199

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Ed Stetzer, Ph.D., is the Dean of Talbot School of Theology at Biola Univeristy and Scholar in Residence & Teaching Pastor at Mariners Church. He has planted, revitalized, and pastored churches; trained pastors and church planters on six continents; earned two master’s degrees and two doctorates; and has written hundreds of articles and a dozen books. He is Regional Director for Lausanne North America, is the Editor-in-Chief of Outreach Magazine, and regularly writes for news outlets such as USA Today and CNN. Dr. Stetzer is the host of "The Stetzer ChurchLeaders Podcast," and his national radio show, "Ed Stetzer Live," airs Saturdays on Moody Radio and affiliates.