News / USA

Global Study: Growing Pentecostal Churches Have Social Mission


Mike O'Sullivan
Religion scholars say the fastest-growing form of Christianity is Pentecostalism, with its exuberant worship and belief in the so-called gifts of the Spirit, including speaking in tongues and divine healing. Researchers say Pentecostals and charismatics - Catholics and others who share in Pentecostal practices - make up one-quarter of the world’s Christians, with the greatest numbers in the developing world. A new study finds the fastest-growing Pentecostal churches are tackling social problems in their communities.

In Los Angeles, members of the Angelus Temple are rebuilding a community that has fallen on hard times. This Pentecostal church was founded by evangelist Aimee Semple McPherson nearly 90 years ago.

Today, a mobile clinic provides health care, and food and clothing are distributed in two of the many social projects at the church’s Dream Center, which is housed in a former Catholic hospital. The church bought the property for almost $4 million and has spent another $28 million refurbishing it. The center houses homeless families, counsels victims of sexual trafficking, and helps people with drug addiction problems.

At Sunday worship at Angelus Temple, a youthful crowd is on its feet, dancing and praying.

Professor Donald Miller of the University of Southern California’s Center for Religion and Civic Culture said churches like this are booming around the world. He has visited many, from a Catholic charismatic congregation in India to a Pentecostal assembly in Singapore.

"They believe that God is powerful and that miracles happen in the present, just as they did 2,000 years ago," said Miller. "They also believe in the possibility of prophecy and of the gift of tongues, speaking in tongues. And they believe in a supernatural God that can do anything.”

This Catholic charismatic congregation in Brazil is part of a huge movement in the country, where the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life says half of the population may be charismatic or Pentecostal.

Charismatic Episcopalians in Brazil work with impoverished people who scrape out a living in garbage dumps. In Egypt, charismatic Coptic Christian Maggie Gobran works with children in Cairo’s garbage dump, providing support and training.

A church-sponsored center in South Africa provides care for young children.  

A Hong Kong ministry works with drug addicts, and helped this former gang member set up his own business.

Miller is coordinating the study of Pentecostal and charismatic Christianity in Africa, Asia, Latin America and the former Soviet Union.  Grants totaling $3.5 million are going to regional centers and individual scholars to study the movement.

He said the findings so far are preliminary, but striking. He said scholars are finding a shift in emphasis in Pentecostal churches. Once, most of them focused only on individual spiritual needs, but now many have expanded into community service. He said they provide a sense of belonging for people with little support in modern cities.

In Los Angeles, Angelus Temple Senior Pastor Matthew Barnett said he welcomes those who are not conventional church-goers.

“That means we will sometimes have a drunk yelling out in the middle of the service, something that is maybe is kind of strange or different, or maybe someone will come to church that was in a nightclub the night before and they partied until three o’clock in the morning. But the concept is this: you belong first in order that you may believe.”

A former gang member, Kory Barmore, works with other troubled young men to find a new direction. He said this way of life is grounded in his religious experience and community worship at Angelus Temple.

“When I close my eyes, all my worries just go away," said Barmore. "I mean, all my problems just go away. I just feel the Spirit there.”

Miller said the new churches often are built by entrepreneurial pastors, but they enlist the help of members in running their growing ministries and social outreach programs.

“And if someone is sick, they are helped," he said. "And if someone is poor, they are assisted with a job or food, and they really become like extended families.”

He said the more involved lay leaders become in the church, the more likely they are to develop skills that are useful in the workplace. He said that is one of the ways the churches are spurring social changes.

Researchers say religions compete with each other, and many Pentecostal congregations are thriving because they are addressing the social, as well as religious needs, of their communities.


You May Like

Video Egyptian Journalists Call for Freedom of Press

Despite release of al-Jazeera journalists and others, Egyptian Journalist Syndicate says some remain imprisoned More

Turkey Survey Indicates Traditional Distrusts, Shift to the West

Comprehensive public opinion survey also found a large majority of those interviewed distrust all countries other than country’s neighbor, Azerbaijan More

Pakistan Court Upholds Death Sentence in Blasphemy Killing

Highest court upholds sentence of Mumtaz Qadri convicted of 2011 killing a provincial governor for criticizing country’s controversial blasphemy law More

This forum has been closed.
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Making a Minti
October 07, 2015 4:17 AM
While apples, corn, and cranberries top the list of fall produce in the US, it’s also the time to harvest gum, candy, and toothpaste—or at least the oil that makes them minty fresh. Erika Celeste reports from South Bend, Indiana on the mint harvest.

Video Making a Mint

While apples, corn, and cranberries top the list of fall produce in the US, it’s also the time to harvest gum, candy, and toothpaste—or at least the oil that makes them minty fresh. Erika Celeste reports from South Bend, Indiana on the mint harvest.

Video Activists Decry Lagos Slum Demolition

Acting on a court order, authorities in Nigeria demolished a slum last month in the commercial capital, Lagos. But human rights activists say the order was illegal, and the community was razed to make way for a government housing project. Chris Stein has more from Lagos.

Video Self-Driving Cars Getting Closer

We are at the dawn of the robotic car age and should start getting used to seeing self-driving cars, at least on highways. Car and truck manufacturers are now running a tight race to see who will be the first to hit the street, while some taxicab companies are already planning to upgrade their fleets. VOA’s George Putic has more.

Video TPP Agreed, But Faces Stiff Opposition

President Barack Obama promoted the Trans-Pacific Partnership on Tuesday, one day after 12 Pacific Rim nations reached the free trade deal in Atlanta. The controversial pact that would involve about 40 percent of global trade still needs approval by lawmakers in respective countries. Zlatica Hoke reports Obama is facing strong opposition to the deal, including from members of his own party.

Video Clinton Seeks to Boost Image Before Upcoming Debate

The five announced Democratic party presidential contenders meet in their first debate next Tuesday in Las Vegas, Nevada. Former secretary of state Hillary Clinton continues to lead the Democratic field, but she is getting a stronger-than-expected challenge from Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders. VOA National correspondent Jim Malone has more from Washington.

Video Music Brings Generations Together

When musicians over the age of 50 headline a rock concert, you expect to see baby boomer fans in the audience. Boomer rock stars have boomer fans. Millennial rock stars have millennial fans. But this isn’t always the case. Take the Lockn’ Music festival which took place in mid-September in rural Arrington, Virginia. Here, Jacquelyn de Phillips discovered two generations of people who are considered quite different in the outside world, spending 4 days together in music-loving harmony.

Video Ukranian Artist Portrays Putin in an Unusual Way

As Russian President Vladimir Putin was addressing the United Nations in New York last month, he was also being featured in an art exhibition in Washington. It’s not a flattering exhibit. It’s done by a Ukrainian artist in a unique medium. And its creator says it’s not only a work of art - it’s a political statement. VOA’s Tetiana Kharchenko has more.

Video South Carolina Reels Under Worst-ever Flooding

South Carolina is reeling from the worst flooding in recorded history that forced residents from their homes and left thousands without drinking water and electricity. Parts of the state, including the capital, Columbia, received about 60 centimeters of rain in just a couple of days. Authorities warn that the end of rain does not mean the end of danger, as it will take days for the water to recede. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video Russia’s Syria Involvement Raising Concerns in Europe

European nations are joining the United States in demanding that Russia stop targeting opposition groups other than the Islamic State militants as Russian warplanes continue to conduct raids in Syria. The demand came in a statement from Britain, France, Germany, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the United States Friday. VOA Europe correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.

Video Nano-tech Filter Cleans Dirty Water

Access to clean water is a problem for hundreds of millions of people around the world. Now, a scientist and chemical engineer in Tanzania (in East Africa) is working to change that by creating an innovative water filter that makes dirty water safe. VOA’s Deborah Block has the story.

Video Demand Rising for Organic Produce in Cambodia

In Cambodia, where rice has long been the main cash crop, farmers are being encouraged to turn to vegetables to satisfy the growing demand for locally produced organic farm products. Daniel de Carteret has more from Phnom Penh.

Video Botanists Grow Furniture, with Pruning Shears

For something a bit out of the ordinary to furnish your home, why not consider wooden chairs, crafted by nature, with a little help from some British botanists with an eye for design. VOA’s Jessica Berman reports.

VOA Blogs