(Photo: Assemblies of God)
The head of one of the largest Pentecostal denominations in North America has denied a news report that the practice of speaking in tongues has been declining among Pentecostal churches.
Dr. George O. Wood, general superintendent of the Assemblies of God, told The Christian Post that a recent Associated Press story on the decline of speaking in tongues was "totally inaccurate." "The practice of speaking in tongues is very integral to who we are. It was one of the generating factors 99 years ago in our being formed and it's still the encouragement for every believer to speak in tongues," said Wood.<
"Of course not everyone who is attending Assemblies of God church does speak in tongues, but this is who we are."
Wood also said that while statistics reported by member churches of the Assemblies of God "showed a slight decline," but regarding trends, there was no "diminishing at all."
The AG leader was commenting on an article written by Sarah Parvini of the Associated Press that was published last week and widely distributed on multiple news sites. In her article, Parvini noted that some Pentecostal churches, including the small Three Crosses Church of California, were no longer having the practice of speaking in tongues at worship. Parvini also mentioned a statistic from the Assemblies of God that appeared to note a concern among leadership that the practice was in decline.
"Assemblies officials worried about the decline in messages in tongues – or spirit baptism – at a general council meeting this month," wrote Parvini. "The practice decreased by about 3 percent to fewer than 82,000, the lowest total since 1995, according to statistics released by the Assemblies of God."
Wood told CP that while member churches did report a slight decline, this number did not account for spirit baptisms at other Assemblies-sponsored events.
"What those figures represent is just the collection of data from our churches. But we have literally tens of thousands of our young people in youth camps and children's camps during the summer and those figures are not tabulated in the church figures," said Wood.
"We know from our experience that in children's camps and in youth camps there is a tremendous emphasis on spirit baptism in young people and children receiving the baptism of the Holy Spirit speaking in other tongues."
Wood explained that there were cultural changes in the Pentecostal movement, with many individuals experiencing spirit baptism at other events instead of church services; these numbers are not factored into the church statistics.
"We don't believe there is an overall decline if you include youth camps and children's camps, and retreats," said Wood.
According to Wood, while the occasional small congregation may halt the practice, globally and in the United States there is still a strong emphasis on speaking in tongues.