What started as a small, ridiculed but exuberant religious experience in America around the beginning of the century has swelled into a worldwide Christian phenomenon.
Called the Pentecostal or charismatic movement, it is one of the fastest growing forces in modern church life, spawning young denominations and stimulating old ones."There is no question but that it is revitalizing Christianity across the world, particularly the older forms of Christianity," said the Rev. David B. Barrett, a top authority on religious demographics.
A large, influential branch of that movement in America, the Assemblies of God, marks its 75th anniversary at its convention Aug. 8-13 in Indianapolis, bustling and confident.
"God has been very good to us and we're grateful for it," said the Rev. G. Raymond Carlson of Springfield, Mo., the denomination's general superintendent.
"There is enthusiasm, growth, awakening everywhere," he added in a telephone interview. "We feel the future is very bright. And that's not just puff."
Barrett, a British Anglican, editor of the World Christian Encyclopedia, now working for the Southern Baptist Foreign Missions Board in Richmond, Va., said the world's Pentecostals-charismatics total 353 million.
That includes 184 million Pentecostal church members, 23 million of them in North America; 133 million "charismatics" in mainline churches, 44 million in the U.S., and 30 million "third wave" renewalists, 12 million in the U.S.
"It's happening on a vast scale," Barrett said in a telephone interview. "The movement has a strong moral and ethical side. From every point of view, it's a major and positive development."
The Assemblies of God, with more than 2.1 million U.S. adherents, has grown 66 percent in the last decade from just under 1.3 million, putting it among the nation's 10 largest Protestant denominations.
Its missionaries have planted overseas branches, totaling an additional 16.2 million.