Overview: Pentecostalism in Asia

Source Organization: Pew Research Center

12/20/2006 - Pentecostals represent a very small proportion of Asia's population of nearly 4 billion people. This contrasts sharply with pentecostalism's share of the population in parts of Africa and Latin America, which often exceeds 10-20 percent. According to 2005 figures from the World Christian Database, pentecostals represent 3.5% of Asia's population, or about 138 million people. This total includes individuals belonging to classical pentecostal denominations such as the Assemblies of God that were founded in the early 20th century, as well as those belonging to neo-pentecostal denominations or churches that were formed more recently, such as the Jesus is Lord Church in the Philippines. Charismatic members of non-pentecostal denominations number 25 million, or less than 1% of the population. As recently as 1970, pentecostals and charismatics combined represented no more than 0.5% of the region's population.

Christians in general are a small, and sometimes embattled, minority in many Asian nations. In most countries – including China, India, Malaysia, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Vietnam – Christians comprise no more than 10% of the population and face varying degrees of political and societal pressures. The two major exceptions to this pattern are the Philippines, where the population is overwhelmingly Roman Catholic, and South Korea, where Christians represent about 26% of the population, according to the 1995 census.

While still a relatively small fraction of the population, the number of Christians in Asia has grown significantly in the 20th century, outpacing Asia's rapid population growth. According to the World Christian Database, the number of Christians in Asia increased from approximately 22 million adherents in 1900 to 101 million in 1970. Today, according to these estimates, Christians comprise 9% of the continent's population, or nearly 351 million people. Protestants, including Anglicans and independents, made up 0.5% of Asia's population in 1900, but grew to 6% by 2005. Some experts believe that the World Christian Database estimates for Christian and Protestant adherence in Asia may be too high, due to overestimates in China, India and Indonesia (Jenkins 2001: 223-224; Hsu, et al. 2006: 22-23). But even if these estimates were reduced by half, they would still yield a Protestant population of more than 100 million.

Pentecostals and charismatics are a minority among Asia's Protestants. While many of Korea's Protestant churches have adopted pentecostal beliefs and worship styles, charismatic influences have been minimal in some major Protestant churches in Asia, such as the 2-million-member Church of South India (Bergunder forthcoming; Satyavrata 1999: 207). Still, pentecostal and charismatic movements are gaining ground. According to one expert on global pentecostalism, "at least a third" of Asia's Christian population is now charismatic or pentecostal, and the proportion is 'steadily rising" (Anderson 2004: 123).

Although Asia's pentecostal growth has been modest in comparison with pentecostal growth in Africa or Latin America, the continent played a crucial role in pentecostalism's beginnings. Influential pentecostal revivals began in Asia before the Azusa Street Revival took off in Los Angeles in April 1906.

Read the full overview Pentecostalism in Asia on the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life Web site.

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