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Back in 1973, missiologist C. Peter Wagner wrote a book by the title, Look Out! The Pentecostals Are Coming! In it he chronicled some of the rise of the Pentecostals/Charismatic movement within the global Church.

Some forty years later, we can say that they have come and they are here to stay. The growth of the Pentecostal/Charismatic wing of the church has eclipsed all other segments of Christianity in the last 100 years.

Some have called the last century the “Century of the Holy Spirit.” If you ask a Pentecostal why this is the case, she would probably tell you that it is God’s doing; a fulfillment of the prophecy of Joel when God says in the last days He would pour out his Spirit on all flesh (Joel 2:28-29).

Rev. William J. Seymour and the early leaders of the Azusa Street Revival.

Rev. William J. Seymour and the early leaders of the Azusa Street Revival.

Whereas evangelical Christians have emphasized “obedience to the Great Commission” (Matt 28:18-20) as the standard motivation for global mission, the Pentecostal is more likely to frame the same mission as the natural result of a supernatural Holy Spirit outpouring and empowerment (Acts 1:8-9).

When some in the Western world think of Pentecostals, they may have an odd mix of ideas that may or may not include things like hair buns, snakes, sweaty televangelists, and camp meetings. These are all caricatures of only a very small minority of what is represented in this massive movement.

The reality is that the Pentecostal movement is now a global phenomenon that has shifted Christianity from Europe and the West as the center point of the faith to the middle of Africa. The rise of what many call “the Global South” (Latin America, Africa, and Asia) has come in large part on the Pentecostal movement of the last century.

The average Christian in the world is now said to be a non-white, poor, village woman from either Africa or Brazil. And most likely they are Pentecostal/Charismatic in their expression of Christian faith.

In other parts of the world, the Pentecostals/Charismatics are running the world’s largest mega churches. Their leaders usually carry great influence within society as evidenced by their ability to build these types of buildings in a city in the first place. They are using these buildings as bases of outreach, training, and mission both locally and globally.

What is the common denominator of all of these Pentecostal/Charismatic believers? Is it a certain theology or doctrine? While the vast majority hold to a standard evangelical creed, more than anything, what binds them together is a present day experience of the baptism in the Holy Spirit with the initial evidence of speaking in tongues. They don’t simply believe in John 3:16, but also in Luke 3:16. Pentecostals and Charismatics also hold an unshakeable belief that God is at work supernaturally in the world today.

Pentecostals & Charismatics believe that the Christian faith is a supernatural faith and that the third person of the Godhead, the Holy Spirit, is alive and well. Traditionally, this view has thrust believers out of their comfort zones into a life of active witness and mission.

And boy, have they been busy!

The Calvary Church and Conference Centre in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia- Site of the 23rd World Pentecostal Conference.

The Calvary Church and Conference Centre in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia- Site of the 23rd World Pentecostal Conference 2013.

At the turn of the century there were only a handful of marginalized believers in the present day gifts and operation of the Holy Spirit. Through the ministry of a one eyed black preacher from Louisiana, William Seymour, God would raise up a movement that would touch the world beginning from Los Angeles, CA.

In 1906 the Azusa Street Revival was born. It is said to be the birthplace of the Pentecostal movement. Out of that move of God, the global Pentecostal/Charismatic movement has blossomed to nearly 600 million adherents and growing.

According to a Pew Forum analysis of estimates from the Center for the Study of Global Christianity (CSGC) at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, there are about 279 million Pentecostal Christians and 305 million Charismatic Christians in the world.

From Azusa Street, many new Christian denominations were formed including the Assemblies of God, Church of God, and the Church of God in Christ.

The Assemblies of God is celebrating their 100th anniversary in 2014. From just 300 believers gathered together in Hot Springs, Arkansas in 1914, a church planting and missions movement steadily gained momentum.

According to AGWM Executive Director, Greg Mundis, in 1921 their purpose was to “seek out neglected regions.”

Since then they have grown to…

  • 66 million adherents globally
  • 362,000 churches globally
  • 2000 Bible Schools
  • 120k Bible School Students
  • 2740 U.S. workers sent
  • 7000 international workers
  • 83 countries sending workers
  • 190 countries
  • 250 territories and provinces
  • 233k prayer intercessors
  • 171 countries with an AG church

Compare this with only 3 million adherents in the United States and you can easily see where that the majority of the fruit has come from global missions work.

This is an example of the growth within one segment of the Pentecostal movement. Starting in the sixties and seventies, the Charismatic revival began to cross denominational lines and break out in within many main line denominations including the Presbyterians, Baptists, Methodists, Anglicans, and others. Many were forced out of their denominations because of the experience of the Baptism in the Holy Spirit. They began their own churches and networks, both of which also sent out missionaries.

One of notable personal example was Pastor Ken Sumrall of Liberty Church in Pensacola, FL. Sumrall founded the church after being rejected by his denomination because of the issue of the Baptism in the Holy Spirit and speaking in tongues. He later went on to found a large church, Bible college and a missions sending organization, Globe International, that is still sending workers globally some forty years later.

Beyond the Charismatics, there has been a massive rise of new Independent churches and networks that have formed around the move of the Spirit. Many of these groups, like the Vineyard movement, formed out the “Jesus People” revival of the seventies when God moved powerfully upon the counter cultural world of the “hippies.” Many of their leaders have gone on to found new churches and missions networks.

The Pentecostal/Charismatic movement is now a global phenomenon. It’s heart has been evangelistic and mission zeal tied to a strong belief that we are living in the “last days.” (Matt 24:14) God has promised to pour out his Spirit on all flesh (Joel 2:28-29). The purpose of this outpouring is to be his witnesses, starting locally and moving out even to the “uttermost ends of the Earth.” (Acts 1:8-9)

My hope is that this movement will not forget its core belief that the Holy Spirit is a missionary Spirit sent to glorify Jesus and exalt him among all the peoples of the Earth. May we work with him to accomplish Heaven’s agenda.

This week I am attending the 23rd Pentecostal World Conference in Kuala Lumpur Malaysia as a representative of the Frontier Mission Fellowship (FMF) and the U.S. Center for World Mission. This is our first year connecting with this conference which is being held at the brand new Calvary Church and Convention Centre.

I hope to share more insights into the conversations and topics coming out of this year’s event in the coming posts. Stay tuned!

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