A survey of Pentecostal and charismatic Christians in 10 countries in Asia, Africa and the Americas shows they are gaining converts and are more politically engaged than experts had thought.
Only 100 years since the birth of Pentecostalism in a street revival in Los Angeles, the movement has grown to include one in four Christians worldwide - or about half a billion people, according to the study. It was released Thursday by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, a research group in Washington.
Pentecostals are Christians who belong to denominations that practice what they call "the gifts of the Holy Spirit," like speaking in tongues, prophesying and praying for divine healings. Charismatics have adopted some Pentecostal practices, but belong to other churches, mostly Roman Catholic and Protestant. The Pew survey used the word "Renewalists" as an umbrella term to describe Pentecostals and Charismatics.
The survey (available online at pewforum.org/surveys/pentecostal) found that in Brazil, Guatemala and Kenya, about half the population or more were renewalist Christians. In many of the countries studied, a majority of the Protestants were renewalists, and in Latin American countries, many left Roman Catholic churches for Pentecostal ones. Change has happened quickly, in part because Pentecostals and charismatics are far more likely than other Christians to say they share their faith at least once a week with nonbelievers, the survey shows.
"Pentecostal beliefs and practices are literally reshaping the face of Christianity throughout the developing world," said Luis Lugo, director of the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, in a telephone news conference on Thursday.
Renewalists and evangelicals are often political allies, and share some beliefs, like the authority of the Bible and that Jesus is the only way to salvation. But renewalists and evangelicals are not synonymous. Many evangelicals are critical of Pentecostal religious practices, and their missionaries often regard one another as rivals.
The survey looked at 10 countries where renewalists are numerous: the United States, where it found 23 percent of the population were renewalists; Brazil had 49 percent; Chile, 30 percent; Guatemala, 60 percent; Kenya, 56 percent; Nigeria, 26 percent; South Africa, 34 percent; the Philippines, 44 percent; South Korea, 11 percent; and India, 5 percent.
The data was based on national samples except in Brazil, South Africa and South Korea, where the survey group was disproportionately urban, and in India, where surveys were conducted in districts of three states with large Christian populations.
In many of the 10 nations, majorities of the overall population are conservative on issues like homosexuality, divorce and alcohol consumption, but the survey showed that renewalists were even more likely than their countrymen to hold conservative views on those issues.
In the past, Pentecostals had been known as rather apolitical, being more inclined toward "supernatural" and "other worldly" solutions to their problems, Mr. Lugo said. But the survey found that Pentecostals and charismatics were likely to say that religious groups should be involved in politics, and that it was important for political leaders to be religious. They are also highly concerned about what they see as moral decline.
John C. Green, senior fellow in religion and American politics at the Pew Forum, said, "This is a group much more interested in politics and public affairs than we anticipated."
Renewalist Christianity has won converts because of its exuberant and joyous worship, its adaptability to local cultures and its creation of communal networks that provide social and economic support for new urban migrants in these developing countries.
But its decentralization and diversity means it will probably not move in lockstep politically or theologically, said Harvey G. Cox Jr., professor of divinity at Harvard Divinity School, after reading the Pew report.
"Part of this enormous growth pattern is enormous fragmentation," said Professor Cox, the author of "Fire from Heaven: The Rise of Pentecostal Spirituality and the Reshaping of Religion in the Twenty-First Century."
"The authority system is very decentralized," he said. "Even in the big denominations like the Assemblies of God, they have precious little control over what the congregations do."