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By Corwin E. Smidt and Lyman A. Kellstedt


How to Count the Spirit-filled

Pentecostalism, the most experiential branch of Christianity, has been described as "a potent mixture of the modern and the postmodern, of the preliterate and the postliterate, of the fiesta and the encounter group."1 According to its chronicler, Harvard's Harvey Cox, it is the "fastest growing Christian movement on earth."2

While such descriptions suggest the growth of Pentecostalism and its breadth of appeal, they leave unanswered questions concerning the exact size and general unity of the Spirit-filled movements.3

Assessing the size of religious movements is difficult. In the case of these Spirit-filled movements it is doubly so, for they often fail to maintain membership statistics systematically. The size problem becomes more complicated as we consider whether to limit the counting only to denominations tied to the Pentecostal movement of the early twentieth century. We decided against such a limit, because we did not want to exclude charismatics scattered throughout non-Pentecostal churches.

If we wish to include those in non-Pentecostal churches, however, what criteria distinguish the "Spirit-filled"? We have chosen two characteristics: the gift of glossolalia, or speaking in tongues,4 and identification with Pentecostalism or the charismatic movement.

In order to count these Spirit-filled Christians, we conducted large-scale national surveys in 1992 and 1993 (along with two colleagues, John Green and James Guth). These surveys measured denominational affiliation precisely, enabling us to distinguish the historic Pentecostal denominations from other religious groups. We find that 2.5 percent of Americans affiliate with white Pentecostal denominations (such as the Assemblies of God), with another 1.1 percent in historic black Pentecostal groups (such as the Church of God in Christ). In addition, within the sizable nondenominational Protestant population, individuals who speak in tongues and identify themselves as either "Pentecostal" or "charismatic" (categorized ...

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