October 5, 2006

Spirit and Power – A 10-Country Survey of Pentecostals

Executive Summary

By all accounts, pentecostalism and related charismatic movements represent one of the fastest-growing segments of global Christianity. According to the World Christian Database, at least a quarter of the world’s 2 billion Christians are thought to be members of these lively, highly personal faiths, which emphasize such spiritually renewing “gifts of the Holy Spirit” as speaking in tongues, divine healing and prophesying.

Even more than other Christians, pentecostals and other renewalists believe that God, acting through the Holy Spirit, continues to play a direct, active role in everyday life.

Despite the rapid growth of the renewalist movement in the last few decades, there are few quantitative studies on the religious, political and civic views of individuals involved in these groups.

Historical Overviews of Pentecostalism in:

Latin America
Africa
Asia

To address this shortcoming, the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life, with generous support from the Templeton Foundation, recently conducted surveys in 10 countries with sizeable renewalist populations: the United States; Brazil, Chile and Guatemala in Latin America; Kenya, Nigeria and South Africa in Africa; and India, the Philippines and South Korea in Asia. In each country, surveys were conducted among a random sample of the public at large, as well as among oversamples of pentecostals and charismatics.

Figure 1In this report, the term pentecostal is used to describe individuals who belong to classical pentecostal denominations, such as the Assemblies of God or the Church of God in Christ, that were founded shortly after the famous Azusa Street Revival in the early 20th century, as well as those who belong to pentecostal denominations or churches that have formed more recently, such as the Brazil-based Universal Church of the Kingdom of God.

Charismatics, by contrast, are a much more loosely defined group. The term generally refers to Christians who have experienced the “in-filling” of the Holy Spirit but who are not members of pentecostal denominations. Indeed, most charismatics are members of mainstream Protestant, Catholic and Orthodox denominations. In the surveys, respondents were categorized as charismatic if they met one of three criteria: (1) they describe themselves as “charismatic Christians”; or (2) they describe themselves as “pentecostal Christians” but do not belong to pentecostal denominations; or (3) they say they speak in tongues at least several times a year but they do not belong to pentecostal denominations.

“Renewalist” is used as an umbrella term throughout the report to refer to pentecostals and charismatics as a group.

How Many Renewalists?

The surveys find that the size and composition of the renewalist population varies substantially from country to country, ranging from a low of 5% in the areas of India surveyed to a high of 60% in Guatemala. In every nation surveyed except India, at least 10% of the population can be described as renewalist; in three countries (Brazil, Guatemala and Kenya) membership in the renewalist movement approaches or exceeds 50%. In two countries (Kenya and Nigeria), pentecostals outnumber charismatics. In every other country, by contrast, the renewalist movement is primarily charismatic in character, with charismatics outnumbering pentecostals by a margin of at least twoto-one. Pentecostals are more concentrated in Latin America and Africa (where they range from 9% of the population in Chile to 33% in Kenya) than they are in the United States or Asia (where they range from 1% of the population in the areas of India surveyed to 5% in the U.S.).

Figure 3The largest charismatic populations are in Brazil (34% of the population), Guatemala (40%) and the Philippines (40%). In several other countries, including the U.S., Chile, Kenya and South Africa, approximately one-in-five people are charismatic. Taken together, these findings confirm that members of renewalist movements can be found in sizeable numbers throughout the world.

In six of the 10 countries, the surveys find that renewalists account for a majority of the overall Protestant population. Indeed, in five nations (Brazil, Chile, Guatemala, Kenya and the Philippines) more than two-thirds of Protestants are either pentecostal or charismatic. In Nigeria, renewalists account for six-in-ten Protestants.

Renewalist Distinctives

The surveys find that there are certain religious experiences and practices that differentiate pentecostals, and, to a lesser degree, charismatics, from other Christians. In seven of the 10 countries surveyed, for instance, at least half of pentecostals say that the church services they attend frequently include people practicing the gifts of the Holy Spirit, such as speaking in tongues, prophesying or praying for miraculous healing. These types of services are less common, but still relatively prevalent, among charismatics. By contrast, in most of the countries surveyed, only small numbers of non-renewalist Christians report attending religious services where these sorts of religious experiences occur.

While many renewalists say they attend religious services where speaking in tongues is a common practice, fewer tend to say that they themselves regularly speak or pray in tongues. In fact, in six of the 10 countries surveyed, more than four-in-ten pentecostals say they never speak or pray in tongues.

In all 10 countries surveyed, large majorities of pentecostals (ranging from 56% in South Korea to 87% in Kenya) say that they have personally experienced or witnessed the divine healing of an illness or injury. In eight of the countries (India and South Korea are the exceptions) majorities of pentecostals say that they have received a direct revelation from God.

Pentecostals around the world also are quite familiar with exorcisms; majorities in seven of the 10 countries say that they personally have experienced or witnessed the devil or evil spirits being driven out of a person. Generally, fewer charismatics, and even fewer other Christians, report witnessing these types of experiences.
Figure 4

Intensity of Belief

Figure 5In addition to their distinctive religious experiences, renewalists also stand out for the intensity of their belief in traditional Christian doctrines and practices. For instance, in eight of the 10 countries surveyed (all except the U.S. and Chile), majorities of nonrenewalist Christians believe that the Bible is the word of God and is to be taken literally, word for word; but this view is even more common among pentecostals than among non-renewalist Christians. Similarly, large majorities of all Christians, renewalists and nonrenewalists alike, believe that miracles still occur today as in ancient times. But this belief tends to be even more intense among pentecostals and, to a lesser extent, charismatics than among nonrenewalist Christians.

Pentecostals also stand out, especially compared with nonrenewalist Christians, for their views on eschatology, or “the end times.” In six countries, at least half of pentecostals believe that Jesus will return to earth during their lifetime. And the vast majority of pentecostals (more than 80% in each country) believe in “the rapture of the Church,” the teaching that before the world comes to an end the faithful will be rescued and taken up to heaven. This belief is less common (though still widely shared) among charismatics, who in turn tend to express higher levels of belief in the rapture than do other Christians.

Pentecostals also make a concerted effort to share their faith with non-believers. In eight of the 10 countries surveyed, majorities of pentecostals say they share their faith with non-believers at least once a week. And relatively few pentecostals say this is something they never do. Charismatics tend to be somewhat less likely than pentecostals to share their faith on a weekly basis.

Pentecostals’ frequent attempts to spread the faith are consistent with their widespread belief that faith in Jesus Christ represents the exclusive path to eternal salvation; in every country surveyed except South Korea, at least 70% of pentecostals completely agree that belief in Jesus is the only way to be saved from eternal damnation.

Renewalists and Politics

Renewalist Christians’ strong focus on the supernatural has led to the widespread perception that the movement is largely apolitical in outlook. Although renewalists are focused on spiritual matters, many also say there is a role for religion in politics and public life. In nine of the 10 countries surveyed, for instance, at least half of pentecostals say that religious groups should express their views on day-to-day social and political questions; support for this position is equally widespread among charismatics. In every country surveyed, furthermore, renewalists are at least as likely as others to express this view.

Majorities of renewalists in every country surveyed say that it is important to them that their political leaders have strong Christian beliefs. In six of the 10 countries, at least three-quarters of pentecostals share this view; in the other four countries, at least two-thirds of pentecostals agree with this position. Charismatics, as well, share the conviction that political leaders should have strong Christian beliefs.

In seven of the 10 countries surveyed, majorities or pluralities of pentecostals say there should be a separation between church and state. But in each of these countries, sizeable minorities of pentecostals say that their government should take special steps to make their country a Christian country. And in three countries, including the U.S., pentecostals who favor separation of church and state are at least slightly outnumbered by pentecostals who say that the government should take special steps to make their nation a Christian country.

Figure 7Regionally, support for this position is particularly strong among pentecostals in Africa, where 48% of Kenyan pentecostals. 58% of Nigerian pentecostals and 45% of South African pentecostals say the government should take steps to make their nation a Christian nation. In every country, fewer than half of charismatics express support for the idea that their government should take steps to make their country a Christian nation.

In many of the 10 countries surveyed, large majorities of the general population hold quite conservative positions on several social and moral issues. But even in these generally conservative countries, pentecostals often stand out for their traditional views on a wide range of social and moral issues, from homosexuality to extra-marital sex to alcohol consumption. Majorities of pentecostals in nine countries (all except the U.S.), for example, say that drinking alcohol can never be justified. In six of the 10 countries, majorities of pentecostals say the same thing about divorce.

In most of the countries surveyed (all except the U.S. and South Korea), large majorities of the general population say that abortion can never be justified, and renewalists tend to share this view. The percentage of pentecostals who say that abortion can never be justified ranges from 64% in the U.S. to 97% in the Philippines. Similarly, the percentage of charismatics who say that abortion is never justified ranges from 57% in the U.S. to 96% in the Philippines.

Renewalists in the U.S.

The patterns of religious belief and practice that set renewalists apart from other Christians around the world also apply to pentecostals and charismatics in the United States. In the U.S., for instance, roughly two-thirds of pentecostals and charismatics report attending church at least weekly, compared with less than half for the population as a whole. And the religious services attended by U.S. renewalists tend to be quite different from the ones attended by others; more than half of U.S. pentecostals who report attending church say that the services they attend frequently include people speaking in tongues and manifesting other signs of the Spirit; the same is true for roughly three-in-ten charismatic church attenders in the U.S. Other U.S. Christians are much less familiar with this type of church service.

U.S. renewalists, like renewalists around the world, also often stand out for their moral conservatism. Eight-in-ten U.S. pentecostals say that homosexuality is never justified, for instance, and nearly six-in-ten charismatics share this view. Among the public as a whole, by contrast, roughly half say homosexuality can never be justified. Renewalists in the U.S. also are more likely than others to oppose drinking alcohol.

And just as renewalists around the world favor a role for religion in public life, the same holds true for renewalists in the U.S. For instance, nearly eight-in-ten American pentecostals (79%) say that religious groups should express their views on day-to-day social and political questions, compared with 61% of the public as a whole. And more than half (52%) of American pentecostals say that the government should take special steps to make the U.S. a Christian country, compared with only 25% among Christians overall.

Other Findings

In addition to these results, the 10-nation survey also finds:

  • In most countries, pentecostals tend to be somewhat more hopeful than nonrenewalist Christians about their future financial prospects.
  • Pentecostals are divided on the question of whether or not AIDS is a punishment from God; majorities in three of the countries surveyed (Guatemala, Kenya and South Korea) believe that AIDS is a punishment from God for immoral sexual behavior, but majorities of pentecostals in five other countries explicitly reject this point of view.
  • In most countries, pentecostals are somewhat more likely than nonrenewalist Christians to sympathize more with Israel than with the Palestinians.
  • Pentecostals in six of the countries surveyed are more willing than the public overall to allow women to serve as pastors or church leaders. This pattern, however, does not generally extend to other gender issues, where there is no consistent pattern differentiating pentecostals from others.
  • Majorities of pentecostals in all 10 countries surveyed agree that God will grant good health and relief from sickness to believers who have enough faith, and in nine of the countries most pentecostals say that God will grant material prosperity to all believers who have enough faith.
  • Opinions about the U.S.-led war on terror vary substantially from country to country. In South Korea, for instance, only 16% of pentecostals and 10% of charismatics say they favor U.S.-led efforts to fight terrorism. In the U.S. and the Philippines, by contrast, at least seven-in-ten pentecostals (and nearly as many U.S. and Filipino charismatics) support U.S. efforts to fight terrorism.

Roadmap to the Report

These and many more findings are presented and discussed in more detail below. This report is divided into four main sections. Section I describes the religious experiences and beliefs of renewalists. The moral values and social attitudes of renewalists are presented and analyzed in Section II. Section III reports on their personal and social outlooks. Finally, Section IV describes the political views of renewalists, comparing them with the views held by other Christians in each of the 10 countries surveyed.

Cite this publication: Joseph Liu. “Spirit and Power – A 10-Country Survey of Pentecostals.” Pew Research Center, Washington, D.C. (October 5, 2006) http://www.pewforum.org/2006/10/05/spirit-and-power/, accessed on July 22, 2014.