Survey: 1 in 4 U.S. Christians Identify as Pentecostal

A quarter of American Christians identify as charismatic or Pentecostal, a new survey shows.

Those aged 26 to 44 are most likely to claim the Holy Spirit-filled identity (29 percent) compared to other age groups, the Barna Group found.

Meanwhile, the Baby Boomers (aged 45 to 63) – the generation that introduced America to "Jesus freaks" – are least likely to take up the Pentecostal or charismatic identity (20 percent).

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The Ventura, Calif.-based research group, which conducted the study among 1,005 adults last month, defines charismatic and Pentecostal as those who consider themselves to "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."

According to the Barna Group, the number of Pentecostal/charismatics is triple the number of evangelicals in the U.S and equivalent to the number of adults who attend Baptist, Methodist, Presbyterian, Lutheran, Episcopal or non-denominational churches.

A little over a quarter (26 percent) of Protestants and 20 percent of Catholics identify as part of the charismatic or Pentecostal segment.

While spiritual gifts and whether they exist today are debated among many Christian leaders today, the new survey found that 56 percent of younger Christians, aged 18 to 25, believe that the gifts, including speaking in tongues and healing, are active and valid today. The older the believer, the less likely they are to hold the same belief.

David Kinnaman, president of the Barna Group, points out in the report that "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," he said.

Though young adult Christians embrace spiritual gifts, they are least likely among other age groups to say that they "consistently allow their lives to be guided by the Holy Spirit."

The younger group is also least likely to say they had ever spoken in tongues (7 percent).

Moreover, the youngest believers offer a more existentialist view of the Holy Spirit with 68 percent saying they believe that the third person of the trinity is just "a symbol of God's power or presence, but is not a living entity." Fifty-nine percent of Christians aged 26 to 44 and 55 percent of Boomers agree.

Kinnaman notes that the next generation of charismatic and Pentecostal Christians may be spending less time defending their views to others, but they also seem to be much less certain with 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.," he said. "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."

Young charismatics, he added, 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," he stressed.

Findings were based on telephone interviews conducted on adults, age 18 and older, from Feb. 7 through 10.

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