Why Do These Pentecostals Keep Growing?

Many evangelical churches and denominations are in a state of plateau or decline. Why aren’t Pentecostals? |

Ed Stetzer

There are parts of the globe where the greatest church growth is happening through the Pentecostal movement. One of the most asked questions is, “In a world where the church seems to be declining in many areas, how they are bucking the trend?”

There is never one reason why a movement succeeds. But some factors rise to the surface. Pentecostals will say they are growing because the Spirit is moving in a powerful way. I get that, and actually would affirm that as part of the reason, but from a sociological perspective, other things are happening and worth exploring.

was recently asked (by Pentecostal leaders) what some sociological reasons might be. So, following that meeting, and in this brief post, I want to explore how the beliefs of Pentecostals actually promote and produce growth, compared to other, more “mainstream” groups.

Pentecostals Value Their Shared Experience

From a statistical perspective, Pentecostals tend to be less “nominal” than other believers. The reason is often obvious—the Baptism in the Holy Spirit.

In almost all Pentecostalism (as contrasted to other continualist streams) speaking in tongues follows the Holy Spirit’s baptism. After that experience, it’s hard to say, “Oh I don’t take this whole thing serious, I don’t even know if it’s real.”

When you believe you’re speaking in another language, that belief reshapes the way you think about faith!

Being a nominal Presbyterian, Methodist, or Baptist is easier; though there are some outward expectations like baptism (among credobaptists) that can mark a spiritual commitment. But Pentecostal believers and churches constantly emphasize spiritual practice and engagement.

That helps make a more robust faith.

So, more often than not, stagnation is not as compatible with a real Spirit-filled experience. The end result—it’s harder to be a nominal Pentecostal—the beliefs of the movement tend to weed out nominalism. Because of what is happening in church and the community of faith, people tend not to just hang around as casual observers.

Either you join in it, or you move on. Many join. Movements populated by nominals are usually in decline. Nominals don’t populate Pentecostalism, so it grows.

Pentecostals Want to Share Their Values

Not only does a valued distinctive encourage participation and growth in the local body, but it also provides an imperative for growth 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.

When I meet with Pentecostal leaders, they’re strategizing about where to plant a church. They break out the maps and determine where they need to focus their attention.

Never mind there are already six churches in a 10-block community. To them, there’s not a Spirit-filled church in that community until they plant one. So they are often avid planters, not just in their own area, but also around the world.

Worth Sharing The Spirit-Filled Experience

Pentecostals believe in their approach. Their Christian walk has benefited, and they think everyone should have access. While others are figuring out what to do now to achieve growth, Pentecostals are focusing on who they are and are achieving growth.

When you think your expression is worth sharing (be it Pentecostal, Calvinist, or Anabaptist) you are more likely to share it with others, start new churches, and more.

So, What Does It Mean for the Rest of Us?

One key to growth is for you actually to believe what you have is so important that propagation to other contexts in its current version is necessary. The Vineyard Church movement exploded in growth in the 1980s for this reason. They thought that people needed to experience what the Vineyard had to offer.

Baptists thought that way in the 50s. Methodists thought that way in the Second Great Awakening.

Pentecostal believe they have something worth propagating. And that’s worth learning from.

Odd Distinctives

Of course, to non-Pentecostals, all this seems odd. Sometimes for younger or dissatisfied Pentecostals, they want to de-emphasize the supernatural.

Well, I’d have some theological nuances I’d like to bring in, but from a sociological perspective my response is, “I wouldn’t downplay what is in the engine.” You don’t care for some of their expression? That’s fine. But Pentecostals are trying to reach the lost and grow the Kingdom.

Their distinctives apparently aren’t hindering their growth—their distinctives are propelling growth globally.

People Want a Faith With Flavor

One of the dangers today is “bland evangelicalism.” Many evangelical churches and denominations are in a state of plateau or decline. Some groups are trying to downplay their distinctives to be more acceptable. Who wants to duplicate that? Nobody.

Sometimes the difference between an expanding movement and one that is retracting is how they deal with their distinctives. Some are in protection mode. They feel like they have to preserve their specialness by locking it down and guarding it. Ironically, they end up smothering the mission by covering the light that would shine through their specially designed glass.

Others embrace and celebrate their unique values and expression. In doing so, they attract people who are seeking something more than bland.

For example, I recently reviewed the stats for the 25 largest faith groups in the United States. In the year I reviewed, the only two orthodox Christian groups growing on the list were the Assemblies of God and Church of God (Cleveland). So, what do all of the declining denominations have in common?

Most are mainline, a few are evangelical, but most simply are not as excited about what they believe—and don’t think it needs to be propagated as much—as the Pentecostals.

_________________________________________________________________________________

I commented a few times, but was finally blocked. I dared question the idea that church growth is not just numbers. I also suggested that ‘Pentecostal’ church growth has a lot to do with ‘experience(s)’ since I spent several years in what he would call an ‘Orthodox’ Pentecostal church. That sentiment was echoed by another commenter who suggested that true church growth is tied more to the 5 Solas than anything else. He was warned also concerning the ‘rules’. It was clear to me that Ed Stetzer was not interested in discussing the issues that the very subject of his article invited. If a mark of a ‘growing’ church is being excited about what they believe, one can find any number of non-pentecostal, evangelical churches that have thousands of members excited about Jesus having died for their ‘best lives now’. Having said all that, I found the article lacking any real theological depth and lacking in intellectual integrity.

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3 responses to “Why Do These Pentecostals Keep Growing?

  1. Comment on Ed Stetzer’s blog for the above article:

    Audrey Ruth:

    “God’s Word says, “The letter of the law kills, but the Spirit gives life.” Many churches emphasize the Word of God — nothing wrong with that in itself – but the Holy Spirit is absent from church services. He is not invited in. His presence is not valued. He is even feared, in a negative way. So He is quenched. Many churches have never – not even once – experienced the moving of the Holy Spirit in their midst.”

    One might think that comment violates the ‘rules’. Not only is the passage of scripture ripped out of context, it makes generalizations about non-pentecostals based on…..something….but I know not what. Unless, it just substantiates the point made by the ‘blocked’ one that experience seems to have priority over other more important matters. It’s just this sort of comment that angers me. Is she saying that if there isn’t ‘excitment/emotionalism’ the Holy Spirit isn’t present? that’s just wrong on several levels.

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  2. “One key to growth is for you actually to believe what you have is so important that propagation to other contexts in its current version is necessary. The Vineyard Church movement exploded in growth in the 1980s for this reason. They thought that people needed to experience what the Vineyard had to offer.

    Baptists thought that way in the 50s. Methodists thought that way in the Second Great Awakening.

    Pentecostal believe they have something worth propagating. And that’s worth learning from.”

    Didn’t the Vinyard Church give us The Toronto Blessing, a supposed outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the people of the Toronto Airport Christian Fellowship Church, formerly the Toronto Airport Vineyard Church. On January 20, 1994, a Pentecostal pastor named Randy Clark spoke at the church and gave his testimony of how he would get “drunk” in the Spirit and laugh uncontrollably. In response to this testimony, the congregation erupted in pandemonium with people laughing, growling, dancing, shaking, barking like dogs, and even being stuck in positions of paralysis. These experiences were attributed to the Holy Spirit entering people’s bodies. The pastor of the church, John Arnott, referred to it as a big Holy Spirit party.1

    The Second Great Awakening was a religious revival movement during the early 19th century in the United States, which expressed Arminian theology by which every person could be saved through revivals. It enrolled millions of new members, and led to the formation of new denominations. Many converts believed that the Awakening heralded a new millennial age. The Second Great Awakening stimulated the establishment of many reform movements designed to remedy the evils of society before the Second Coming of Jesus Christ.2

    It also gave us renouned Pelagian Charles Finney (still a hero to many evangelicals), who believed that revival was the right use of means and could be generated through human effort.

    The intimation above that non-pentecostals somehow don’t believe they have something worth propagating is an intellectually vacous statement, if not a blatant lie..
    1. http://www.gotquestions.org/Toronto-blessing.html
    2. http://www.princeton.edu/~achaney/tmve/wiki100k/docs/Second_Great_Awakening.html

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  3. Pingback: Why Do These Pentecostals Keep Growing? – Part 2 | The Battle Cry

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