Most Evangelicals don't identify as Charismatic or Pentecostal, but 25% say they've spoken in tongues: survey

Parishioners of Lakewood Church led by Pastor Joel Osteen pray together during a service at the church in Houston, Texas. | Joe Raedle/Getty Images

About a quarter of American Evangelicals say they have spoken in tongues at some point in their life, even though a majority don't identify as either Pentacostal or Charismatic Christians, according to a new study.

These and other findings were revealed in a study of over 1,000 American Evangelicals titled “The Renewalists: Pentecostal and Charismatic Evangelicals,” released last week by Infinity Concepts and Grey Matter Research.  

While six in 10 respondents who say they have spoken in tongues do not call themselves either Pentecostal or Charismatic, more than half (53%) of those who self-identify as Pentecostal or Charismatic do not attend a clearly Pentecostal church or denomination, such as the Assemblies of God or Foursquare, the study found.

For the purposes of the study, Mark Dreistadt, founder and president of Infinity Concepts, said it was critical to first define what he calls a “Renewalist (Pentecostal or Charismatic) Evangelical.”

“Three main ways of defining Renewalists traditionally have been people who consider themselves to be Pentecostal or Charismatic, attend a Pentecostal or Charismatic church, or speak in tongues,” says Mark Dreistadt, founder and president of Infinity Concepts. “The challenge is that there is relatively little overlap among these three definitions.”

The study found that while 36% of American Evangelical Protestants qualify as Renewalists, according to at least one of these definitions, only 6% qualify through all three.  

But it’s not a one-size-fits-all: among those attending a clearly Pentecostal church, 45% have never personally spoken in tongues, according to the study.

Renewalists tend to be somewhat younger than other Evangelicals, more likely to be raising children, more ethnically diverse, and more likely to live in less traditionally Christian parts of the country, like the Northeast and West, the study found.

They also tend to have a higher level of spiritual engagement than other Evangelical groups: Renewalists show higher levels of Bible readership, small group participation and church attendance.

While the study didn’t offer a denomination definition for Renewalists, noting that “there is no true standard for what these beliefs and practices are or should be,” it described the central tenet of Renewalist Christianity as the baptism or empowering of the Holy Spirit.

According to the study, at least 13% of Evangelicals attend a clearly Pentecostal or Charismatic church or denomination, which includes Apostolic, Assemblies of God, Church of God in Christ, Foursquare Gospel, and Vineyard, along with people who identify their church as “Pentecostal, Charismatic, Word, or Full Gospel.”

But even in that case, researchers acknowledged differences amongst those individual movements. 

“A challenge in looking at Renewalist beliefs and practices is that there is no true standard for what these beliefs and practices are or should be,” the study said. “One’s experience in a Foursquare church will likely be very different from one’s experience in a United Pentecostal church.”

Lastly, the study found Renewalists are as likely as other Evangelicals to give to church or charity, but the proportion of their household income that is given away tends to be lower. 

On average, Renewalists give about 20% less compared to other Evangelicals, while for charities and ministries outside of church, it is 28% lower.

Despite those giving habits, researchers said members of Renewalist churches, while giving less, hold higher expectations for their churches to focus on community outreach and social issues.

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