Doctor of Leadership in Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

Pentecostal Growth: Good or Bad?

Written by: on October 31, 2015

In their book, Global Pentecostalism: The New Face of Christian Social Engagement[1], author’s Miller and Yamamori discuss the rapid growth of Pentecostalism in the developing world. Global Pentecostalism is one of the fastest growing religious movements in the world today.  My exposure to the Pentecostal church thus far has been negative, so I approached this book with skepticism. As I’ve broadened my worldview, I realize that the greater Pentecostal movement looks vastly different from what I’d experienced in the local Pentecostal church here in my small town in the U.S..

Miller and Yamamori describe Pentecostals as feeling ‘called’ by the Holy Spirit, and acting from the leading of the Spirit is central to their beliefs. According to Pew Research, Pentecostalism has nearly 300 million followers worldwide and it is becoming a global phenomenon.[2] Pentecostals are deeply concerned with social justice, and believe that the Holy Spirit is moving among people and directing them to make a difference in their communities. Miller and Yamamori give many examples of Progressive Pentecostals, such as those who are working to confront the AIDs pandemic in Africa. Although Pentecostalism has roots in America, most of the growth is occurring in non-western parts of the word. The movement attracts the poor, as there is a message of hope and empowerment.

Last year, my son was invited to play drums at a church that we were unfamiliar with. When we got there, it was a Pentecostal church in a struggling community. That evening, the church was filled with women who had come for a conference. They gave testimonies of deep struggles. This was not a wealthy church. The message preached had subtle ‘name it claim it’ tones throughout. At one point, the speaker alluded to the fact that a spirit filled life might one day bring that ‘new car’ blessing. There were three offerings collected, and at one point it was announced that the credit card machine was available to collect tithes. I know that this story doesn’t reflect the situation at all Pentecostal churches, but it is a common enough scenario to warrant a bit of skepticism of the growing number of people claiming to be Pentecostal.

This summer, I visited an amazing Pentecostal ministry in Hong Kong. Many lives have been changed through the organization. However, I became concerned when they explained that clients are welcomed to the organization after they accept an infilling of the Holy Spirit, as evidenced by speaking in tongues. This made me wonder how many people were faking ‘tongues’ so that they can benefit from the services of the organization. In high school, my family began attending a charismatic church. I saw first hand that ‘spirituality’ demonstrated in church could also be used as a way to control others by making them feel unworthy. When I grew up, I wanted nothing to do with this type of religion. I saw it breed much hurt and hypocrisy.

Miller and Yamamori identified that many of the Pentecostal movements are lead by charismatic leaders. They are visionary and confident. But, they are also authoritarian. People follow when they say, ‘this is what the Lord is telling us to do’. This opens the door to much abuse of power and control of people. Although Pentecostalism is a large and growing movement, Miller and Yamamori claim it is unruly.[3] The future is still uncertain. I have to wonder if the movement is growing so rapidly because of social services and the false sense of hope that is propagated. What happens when people’s life and economic issues don’t disappear solely because they’ve asked Jesus into their heart? Miller and Yamamori point out that most movements are addressing problems at their doorstep, in contrast to seeking systemic change and fixing the root cause of issues.

I don’t deny the power of the Holy Spirit to work in people’s life. In fact, I believe that the Pentecostal movement may be sparking a much-needed revival in the church. Sometimes we are so logical and academic in our approach to religion, that we neglect the leading of the Holy Spirit. We lack emphasis on the spiritual dimension of worship. Many mainstream churches neglect to emphasize the work of the Spirit, and fail to engage with people in a meaningful way. There is much to learn from this Pentecostal movement. People expect the church to care those in need and to do meaningful work in their community. There is a hunger for change and to find meaning in this fast moving world.

[1] Donald E. Miller and Tetsunao Yamamori, Global Pentecostalism: The New Face of Christian Social Engagement (University of California Press: Berkeley, CA, 2007).

[2] http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2014/11/14/why-has-pentecostalism-grown-so-dramatically-in-latin-america/

[3] Donald E. Miller and Tetsunao Yamamori, Global Pentecostalism: The New Face of Christian Social Engagement (University of California Press: Berkeley, CA, 2007) 213.

About the Author

Dawnel Volzke

Christ follower, wife, mom, teacher, student, professional...my passion is to serve Christ and my calling is to help organizations become great at fulfilling their mission.

5 responses to “Pentecostal Growth: Good or Bad?”

  1. Phillip Struckmeyer says:

    Dawnel, I love the skepticism. You are a great critical thinker. There is much to get swept into from Miller and Yamamori’s writing and accounts of how God is powerfully moving through Progressive Pentecostalism. But it is more than fare to evaluate that on personal experience and other accounts of Pentecostalism historically. I think your concluding paragraph is great. It summarizes the tension yet acknowledge’s it is the Holy Spirit that is ultimately what we believe in and hopefully is what we are all really after in the end. Again, great post!

  2. Travis Biglow says:

    Dawnel, i think many Pentecostal movements or churhces are into one extreme or another. I think its important to be Holy Ghost lead and Holy Ghost inspired. How God wants to use us is never up to us its up to him and he does it through his Spirit. I preached this morning on Jesus came that we might have life and have it abundantly. That is the word. Now some people can to take the abundant life for granted and not aspire to live it. Also some people are too spiritual and some are to material. I think that we should be abundantly living in the Spirit and naturally!

  3. Nick Martineau says:

    Dawned, Thanks for bringing your personal stories into the conversation. Your stories reflect many of the stereotypes I have but have never actually experienced myself. It’s hard to paint anything but a wide brushstroke when describing a movement as large as pentecostalism and you help add to the reality of what Miller and Yamamori share. You ask good questions and I would bet the answers are both, good and bad…but the big takeaway for us lies in our need to focus on the Spirit. Thanks Dawnel!

  4. Jon Spellman says:

    The authors’ perspective of Pentecostals being “unruly” is another example of a sweeping generalization drawn from an “outside-in” method of research. What one calls “unruly” another calls “reckless abandon,” one man’s “crazy” is another man’s “obedient.” I agree that some Pentecostals are unruly but many are not and the movement should not be characterized by that. Some would say that those Episcopalians who barred Dennis Bennett from his church leveling accusations of “wild-eyed hillbillies” were “unruly…”

    Also, as for card swipers, check this out… We have card swipers available at all of our community gatherings, an offering basket, envelopes, online giving, and many of our people send in their tithes and offerings by way of their own banks’ online bill pay feature or use direct deposit from their payroll. People drop by the community center mid-week to drop off their tithes and offerings… But we never pass a plate or tell people to give so they can get. We simply make disciples… Tithing is a spiritual discipline right up there alongside contemplative spirituality and helping the poor so it follow that people will be tithers and generous givers.

    Does that make us “prosperity preachers?” Hardly. it just means we’re culturally sensitive to peoples’ financial rhythms of life.

    Here’s my point. I would argue that WE are Pentecostal and those others aren’t. Yet they have coopted the term and as a result WE have to zig and zag and back away from the terminology. Frustrating…


Leave a Reply