|How Different Generations View and Engage with Charismatic and Pentecostal Christianity|
March 29, 2010
Charismatic and Pentecostal expressions of Christianity have been part of the American spiritual landscape for more than a century. How much staying power does that set of beliefs and behaviors have among the youngest generations of Christians? A research study conducted by the Barna Group explored the degree to which four different generations of American adults identified themselves as charismatic or Pentecostal believers. The research also examined generational gaps in terms of beliefs about the Holy Spirit, speaking in tongues, and spiritual gifts.
Generations Are Distinct
Those fitting the Pentecostal/charismatic criteria stated that they considered themselves to be in that category of believers, said they believe that they “have been filled with the Holy Spirit,” and that God has given them at least one of the charismatic gifts, such as tongues, prophecy, or healing. Overall, that group represents 21% of all American adults and 25% of those who describe themselves as Christian.
Matters of Scope
While the four generations often exhibit divergent views about Pentecostal/charismatic Christianity, these differences do not diminish the significant size of the group. To put it in perspective, the Pentecostal/charismatic contingent represents one of the larger categories of believers in the nation. For instance, while there are twice as many self-described Protestants as Pentecostal/charismatics, and nearly twice as many born again Christians, the group is equivalent in size to the number of Catholics, and larger than the pools of adults who attend Baptist, Methodist, Presbyterian, Lutheran, Episcopal or non-denominational churches. The number of Pentecostal/charismatics is triple the number of evangelicals.
Reflecting on the findings, David Kinnaman, president of the Barna Group, suggests that “the charismatic and Pentecostal community in the U.S. has reached a conflicting social status – its numbers have established the group as a significant social and spiritual force, yet generational changes and the diffusion of Pentecostalism across many denominations have made its beliefs, behaviors and identities much less focused. For millions of the youngest Christians, the charismatic, Pentecostal and Spirit-filled labels are not as divisive as they were to their parents’ generation. The Mosaic generation in particular is removed from many of the long-standing debates about the validity of spiritual gifts, the role of expressive forms of worship, and about the need for receiving personal direction from the Holy Spirit. As a consequence, the next generation of charismatic and Pentecostal Christians spends less time defending their views to others, but also seems much less certain what they believe or how to put their faith into action.
“It raises the question of what will define the next generation of young charismatics and Pentecostal believers in the U.S. Facing less criticism from within the ranks of Christians, they must focus on being grounded theologically and finding a way to live faithfully within the broader culture of arts, media, technology, science, and business,” commented Kinnaman.
Kinnaman also pointed out that because younger Christians are open to the Holy Spirit and to spiritual gifts but hold contradictory beliefs and behaviors, there will be a premium on the theological and spiritual development of the next generation. “Just like young Christians of various traditions, young charismatics are less likely to adopt their beliefs and practices based on deep, considered theological reflection. The future vitality of this portion of the Christian community will depend in part on connecting young charismatic and Pentecostal believers to better training on theology and doctrine.”
About the Research
This Barna Update is based upon a nationwide tracking study, called OmniPollSM, conducted by the Barna Group. The telephone interviews were derived from a random sample of 1,005 adults selected from across the continental United States, age 18 and older, from February 7 through February 10, 2010. Interviews were conducted with respondents on landline telephones and cellular phones. The maximum margin of sampling error associated with the aggregate sample is ±3.2 percentage points at the 95% confidence level. The total sample of self-identified Christians was 857 respondents, with a sampling error rate of ±3.5 percentage points. Minimal statistical weighting was used to calibrate the aggregate sample to known population percentages in relation to several key demographic variables.
The charismatic and Pentecostal segment was defined as those who consider themselves to be “a Pentecostal or charismatic Christian, meaning you have been filled with the Holy Spirit and that God has given you at least one of the charismatic gifts, such as tongues, prophecy or healing.”
Additional research data were drawn from recent nationwide OmniPollSM studies, conducted in 2008 and 2009, also relying on large-scale random, representative samples of self-identified Christians.
The Barna Group (which includes its research division, The Barna Research Group) is a private, non-partisan, for-profit organization that conducts primary research on a wide range of issues and products, produces resources pertaining to cultural change, leadership and spiritual development, and facilitates the healthy spiritual growth of leaders, children, families and Christian ministries. Located in Ventura, California, Barna Group has been conducting and analyzing primary research to understand cultural trends related to values, beliefs, attitudes and behaviors since 1984. If you would like to receive free e-mail notification of the release of each new, bi-monthly update on the latest research findings from the Barna Group, you may subscribe to this free service at the Barna website (www.barna.org). Additional research-based resources, both free and at discounted prices, are also available through that website.
© Barna Group 2010.
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