The number of Pentecostal and charismatic Christian believers in the world is impossible to accurately assess. Analysts estimate that two-thirds of the approximately 100-plus million Christians in China are Pentecostal. Brazil alone has over 21 million Assemblies of God believers, and South Korea has more than 3.6 million. Worldwide the Assemblies of God has more than 69 million adherents, making it the world’s fourth largest Christian organization.
Such huge numbers of Spirit-filled believers in the world today are the result of aggressive missions and evangelism, as Pentecostals obey Jesus’ commands to proclaim the gospel, make disciples, and establish the Church in all the world.
To try to assess the reasons such an incredible increase has occurred through the years is challenging. But I believe the root reasons are because of what Pentecostals prioritize and how they practice those priorities.
WHAT THEY PRIORITIZE
What is the secret to the exponential growth of the Pentecostal Movement in the world? The following are four of the most noticeable factors I believe are evident among Pentecostal groups that have experienced the greatest blessing and growth:
1. Passionate evangelism
Jesus clearly stated that the essential purpose of the Spirit’s empowerment is to be His witnesses. And while Holy Spirit baptism is a gift promised to all believers, receiving the gift is not a guarantee that the promised power will be used for its intended purpose.
In Brazil, where tremendous church growth has occurred, Pentecostal church members are taught that every believer is an evangelist. A similar commitment is found in Tanzania. Many years ago, Mike McClaflin, former director for the Africa region of Assemblies of God World Missions, asked Immanuel Lazaro, then-general superintendent of the Tanzania AG, why believers there were so fervent in evangelism. Lazaro replied, “We have never forgotten the desperate state of our lostness — and we have never forgotten the price Jesus paid to save us.”
Evangelism is not merely human persuasion intended to convince people to join our church. Evangelism is entering into the work of the Holy Spirit, who convinces of sin, illumines minds to the truth of the preached Word, and opens hearts to believe on the Savior.
2. Focused Bible training
Pentecostals are people of both the Spirit and the Word. At the earliest stages of establishing national churches throughout the world, missionaries founded Bible schools. Today, in 252 countries and territories, AG missionaries and national churches have established 3,037 Bible schools and extension programs, with more than 162,000 students.
Trained national leaders are crucial to the development of strong national churches that propagate the gospel, multiply believers, and are now sending missionaries themselves to the unreached of other nations.
3. Intentionally seeking Holy Spirit baptism
I once interviewed Pastor David Mohan, who leads New Life Assembly in Chennai, India, a congregation of 50,000 people, and is acting chairman of the World Assemblies of God Fellowship. As Pastor Mohan described the growth of the church, he expressed how essential Holy Spirit baptism is for a congregation committed to evangelism. I asked how he provided opportunities for people to be baptized in the Spirit, especially with multiple services and a tight time schedule.
He explained that each month his church has a “Holy Spirit Sunday.” At the beginning of the service, he gives brief instruction to those who have not yet received Holy Spirit baptism. Then they are ushered out to a large prayer room. During the remainder of the service, Spirit-filled altar workers who have fasted and prayed in preparation pray with seekers to receive. Pastor Mohan reported that, as a result, 200 people on average are filled with the Spirit each time.
4. Fervent and faithful prayer
Possibly because Pentecostal churches in other countries typically have few financial resources, believers are more fervent and faithful in prayer as they depend on and expect God to work in their circumstances
When asked how his church had experienced such great growth, Pastor Mohan’s reply was simple: “We pray.” An awkward pause followed this two-word answer, so he expanded his response slightly. “Always we pray,” he said.
Several years ago I interviewed Pastor Jean Pawentaoré, former superintendent of the Burkina Faso Assemblies of God, which now has more than 1.1 million members. Burkina Faso is one of the poorest countries in Africa.
Pastor Pawentaoré said: “We don’t have much money, but we have something more valuable. We have time. We have time to pray — and we see miracles.”
In Tanzania, another poor country in Africa, the Assemblies of God Fellowship has planted 7,367 churches and increased by more than 1,100,000 members in the past ten years. Barnabas Mtokambali, general superintendent, attributes this growth to prayer. I heard him speak to a Bible college chapel service in America.
“I have noticed your very large library,” he said, “and I’m sure you have many books on prayer in your bookstore. I know you have many videos and other resources on prayer. But I need to tell you that all of those books and videos and resources are useless — unless you actually pray!”
Effective evangelism starts with prayer and is maintained by prayer. No shortcuts. No alternatives.
HOW THEY PRACTICE THOSE PRIORITIES
In unity of spirit, mind and purpose
The Greek word homothumadon is used just 12 times in the New Testament, and 11 of those references are in the Book of Acts. Often translated “in one accord,” the word refers to a group that is united in spirit, mind or purpose. When Jesus’ followers were in this kind of unity on the Day of Pentecost, the Spirit was outpoured.
Like the first Christians, our Assemblies of God founders were united in spirit, mind and purpose. In the minutes of their first two formative General Councils, the word “cooperation” was especially prominent.
In the first Council, they resolved to “seek to bring about a more perfect cooperation …in the sending out of missionaries.” In the second Council, they made this dramatic declaration:
“We commit ourselves and the Movement to Him for the greatest evangelism the world has ever seen. We pledge our hearty cooperation, prayers and help to this end.”
“More perfect cooperation” related to efficiency. “Hearty cooperation” related to effectiveness. The spread of the gospel during the 108 years since that second resolution was made has almost certainly far exceeded those early leaders’ hopes and expectations.
A group of believers, united in a common cause and committed to cooperation, can accomplish much more in Christ’s kingdom than their best efforts can possibly produce individually.
With dependent and expectant faith
As the first Assemblies of God missionaries scattered throughout the world, they carried with them this conviction: The same Spirit that empowered and gifted them to win the lost would do the same among the people to whom they were sent to proclaim the gospel and establish the Church. This was not an egalitarian commitment to social, political and economic human equality, but a firm faith in God’s promised empowerment. It was dependent and expectant faith in God and His promises.
The empowerment of the Spirit equips believers to serve the Lord in ministry beyond their natural capabilities. Being Pentecostal essentially means being dependent on the Spirit’s equipping and divine intervention. If we minister without God’s divine activity, what we do may be good, but it won’t be Pentecostal. As Pentecostals, we depend on, count on and expect God to act beyond our actions.
Historian Everett Wilson states in his book The Strategy of the Spirit that Pentecostals “cannot attribute their successes to extensive material resources, profound theological insight, exemplary piety, superior administrative skills, or outstandingly wise or charismatic leaders.”
The growth of the Pentecostal Movement is attributable to the Spirit himself. The Spirit unifies, motivates, equips and sends God’s messengers to accomplish His purposes in the world. The divinely blessed efforts of ordinary people who are united by Him and who depend on and expect His blessing and empowerment will continue to accomplish God’s mission in the world because of “Him who is able to do far more abundantly beyond all that we ask or think, according to the power that works within us” (Ephesians 3:20, NASB).