5 Pentecostal Churches: From Historical Roots to Modern Practices

5 Pentecostal Churches: From Historical Roots to Modern Practices

Are you interested in checking out a Pentecostal church?  Are there a few in your area and you wonder how they compare?  Do you know someone that attends this type of church?  Would you like to improve your understanding of this denomination?  

This article explains Pentecostalism and five of their bigger churches.  You will learn about origins, beliefs, and what to expect at a Sunday service. If you are considering visiting a Pentecostal church, or you’re just curious about the denomination, this comparison guide will help you gain a better understanding of some options.

Related:  Which Christian Denomination is Right for Me? An Easy Comparison Guide

As you consider the similarities and differences between churches, you would do well to remember a quote attributed to various authors: “in essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty; in all things, charity.”  As Christians, we are all a part of one universal Church and are charged with the responsibility of unity and love amid diversity.

Related:  3 Essential Beliefs all Christian Churches Share

Curiously, I do not consider myself Pentecostal; however, my church is.   Members of this denomination* tend to be more in touch with their feelings than I have learned to be.  Their outward demonstration of the emotional impact God is making in their lives is inspiring for me since I tend to be too reserved.  And though I may have a different perspective on a point or two, for me, being part of my church has helped me get more connected with my heart; and for that, I am very grateful.

What is Pentecostalism?

Pentecost is an annual Jewish holiday  that began when the Israelites entered the Promised Land.  Centuries later, during a Pentecost celebration in Jerusalem, the Holy Spirit was sent to indwell Christ followers.  Jews from many regions were gathered in Jerusalem for the holy festival when God made His Spirit visible to everyone in the form of a pillar of fire above the head of each believer.  Filled with the Spirit, Christ-followers began speaking in every language of every people group at the festival of Pentecost.  The term “speaking in tongues” refers to this historical event.

Pentecostalism is a Christian denomination that focuses on the experience of the Holy Spirit’s indwelling and believes that the evidence of the Spirit’s presence is “speaking in tongues.”  The way speaking in tongues occurs can vary from church to church and even among people within the same congregation.  Sometimes, it is a quiet, private practice, and people in attendance at a church service may not realize someone next to them is speaking in tongues.

While Pentecostals believe, as do other Christian denominations, that a person becomes a Christian by receiving forgiveness of sins and reconciliation with God through Jesus Christ’s sacrifice on the cross, Pentecostals also believe that some, if not most or all, do not receive the Spirit’s indwelling until they are “baptized in the Holy Spirit” - which they believe is a separate experience than receiving Christ and that it may happen at a later date than salvation.

Related:  How to Become a Christian in 2 Life-Saving Steps

 

5 of the Biggest Pentecostal Churches

(in historical order)

 

Church of God (COG)

Origin:  The COG began in 1886 under the leadership of R.G. Spurling, who was formerly a Baptist.  Reportedly, a decade later, at a 10-day revival (Shearer Schoolhouse Revival), many in attendance spoke in tongues upon receiving the baptism of the Holy Ghost.  This event contributed to the emergence of the Pentecostal movement.

Main Distinctions:  They ascribe to the Wesleyan teaching of entire sanctification, which is the belief that Christians can live sinless in this world.  They have a strong focus on evangelism and benevolent ministries - providing care for widows, orphans, at-risk youth, service men and women, and those who are  incarcerated or hospitalized.  

Demographics:  The COG website [accessed 2 Sept. 2023] states there are 8 million members across 189 countries.

Age Race Education Political Affiliation

69% Age 30-64

13% Age 18-29

66% White 

27% Latino

17% Less than High School

11% College Degree

58% Conservative

11% Liberal

[Pew Research Center. Accessed 29 Aug. 2023]

Organizational Framework:  They are governed by a General Assembly to ensure uniformity, accountability, and commitment to growth through evangelism and membership.  They have an internal process of calling, educating, and credentialing their ministers.

Factors affecting the General Feel:  Modest apparel is expected - they explain that congregants should “avoid dressing in a manner that encourages immoral thoughts.”  They teach that Christians must abstain from all alcohol and any other addictive substances.

 

Church of God in Christ (COGIC)

Origin:  Unlike the other churches listed in this article who all sprung up out of revivals, the COGIC originated from the Baptist denomination.  It was founded in 1897 by Bishop Charles Harrison Mason (and Charles Price Jones, who later left due to doctrinal disagreements), a sharecropper working alongside his parents, who were former slaves.  He began the church after being expelled by the Baptist Convention due to his preaching on entire sanctification.

Main Distinctions:  They believe that speaking in tongues, as the physical proof of the indwelling of the Holy Ghost, is necessary for all Christians.  They also believe that healing will be received whenever it is prayed for in faith.  Prayer and fasting are regularly practiced.  They actively work together with churches of other denominations to advance the Gospel and work for social justice.

Demographics:  The COGIC website [Accessed 29 Aug. 2023] states there are 6.5 million members over 87 countries.

Age Race Education Annual Household Income Political Affiliation

68% Age 30-64

14% Age 18-29

85% Black

About 5% each for White, Latino, and Other/Mixed

17% Less than High School

13% College Degree

43% Less than $30,000

10% $100,000 or More

81% Democrat

10% Republican

[Pew Research Center. Accessed 29 Aug. 2023]

Organizational Framework:  They are hierarchical with a Judicial, Executive, and Legislative Branch led by bishops, boards, pastors, and elders.  Churches are grouped geographically into jurisdictions that report to an assigned bishop; and jurisdictions are broken into districts that report to an assigned superintendent. 

Factors affecting the General Feel:  Vestments are often worn by those leading the services while members wear formal attire (suits and dresses).  Dancing and choir singing are common. 

 

Assemblies of God (AG)

Origin:  The AG church began soon after the 1906 revival on Azusa Street in Los Angeles led by William J. Seymour, son of former slaves Simon and Phillis Seymour.  It was notably multiethnic during the ugly era of segregation.  Later, after a split resulting in the birth of the Apostolic Faith Church (see below), Seymour’s congregation became a small black church. 

Main Distinctions:  They have a particular focus on the message in Joel 2:23-29; Joel prophesied to God’s people that they are to repent and pray, and that God would save them from evil, give them His Spirit, and fill them with hope for the future.  [You can read more about their beliefs here.]

Demographics:  The AG website [accessed 2 Sept. 2023] states there are more than 85 million adherents throughout the world.

Age Race Education Annual Household Income Political Affiliation

63% Age 30-64

14% Age 18-29

66% White

25% White

15% College Degree

15% Less than High School

43% Less than $30,000

10% $100,000 or More

57% Republican

27% Democrat

[Pew Research Center. Accessed 29 Aug. 2023]

Organizational Framework:  Congregations with adequate infrastructure are independent, while those needing management or financial support have a “parent church” until they are able to be autonomous.  Women make up about one quarter of the pastorate.  Each congregation elects their leaders.

Factors affecting the General Feel:  The order of service is less predictable than most other churches within  Protestantism.  It is free-flowing, especially during the music part of the service, when it is common to see people raising their hands in worship of God.  

 

Apostolic Faith Church 

Origin:  Like the AG, the Apostolic Faith Church sprung out of the 1906 Azusa Street revival.  Florence Crawford took her experiences at the revival and began a church in Portland, Oregon.

Main Distinctions:  Their motto is Jude 3, which teaches the importance of contending for the faith by guarding against false teachings and the evil in this world.  They have seventeen core doctrines, including the belief that being filled with the Holy Ghost occurs by following a 3-step process: receiving forgiveness from sin through Jesus (salvation), being entirely sanctified, and being baptized in the Holy Spirit evidenced by speaking in tongues.  Offering plates are never passed and money is almost never mentioned from the pulpit.   They make printed resources available to the public, which they consider an important part of their ministry.

Demographics:  The Apostolic Faith Church website [accessed 29 Aug. 2023] states there are hundreds of churches over six continents.

As of now, demographic information was not located on their website or via Pew Research Center’s website.  It may be helpful to note that when Florence Crawford split off from the diverse church led by William J. Seymour, it was heavily motivated by racial issues - at that time, Crawford’s congregation, sadly, was open to whites only. 

Organizational Framework:  Ministers are not formally educated or trained; rather, they are prayerfully chosen by church elders.  Church membership is not practiced.  The denomination has a governing body headed by a Superintendent accompanied by a board of trustees and followed by a board of elders.  From there, branches according to geographical regions have district superintendents and, finally, each congregation has staff - including a minister.

Factors affecting the General Feel:  Services are simple and traditional - especially during the music part of the service when they sing hymns accompanied by the organ; orchestras and choirs are also common.  A regular part of the order of service is that spontaneous testimonies are shared by anyone in attendance.  Every service ends with an altar call for people wanting prayer to come forward so they can be prayed over by leaders.

 

Foursquare Church

Origin:  The Foursquare Church was founded in 1923 by evangelist Aimee Semple McPherson who taught the four essential facets of Jesus - that He is Savior, Healer, Baptizer with the Holy Spirit, and Soon-Coming King.  Even when criticized, she intentionally preached to anyone regardless of race during an era of widespread ethnic discrimination; and she prioritized making her messages available in multiple languages.  Modeled by her mother who served with the Salvation Army, McPherson led the church in serving the needs of others.  She drew large crowds at tent revivals and she was often covered in the media in stories about the crowds, healings, her romantic relationships with famous people, and her kidnapping. 

Main Distinctions:  They have a four-stage model for growth: Make Disciples, Train Leaders, Multiply Churches, and Create Movements so the Gospel can be spread throughout the world.  They are actively involved in serving the needs of people that are often marginalized, including those in foster care, immigrants, victims of human trafficking, people with disabilities, and individuals in prison.

Demographics:  Their website [Accessed 2 Sept. 2023] states there are 8.8 million members over 150 countries. 

As of now, demographic information was not located on their website or via Pew Research Center’s website, but it would be good to note that they are proactive in developing ethnic diversity and immigration support.  

Organizational Framework:  Their governance is hierarchical.  Decisions are made by the Foursquare Convention, a voting body made up of officers, ministers, and delegates throughout the world.  Management is carried out by a board of directors.  There are a few categories of churches: “Charter member churches” are full members of the international body - who own the churches’ property and bear all legal responsibility.  “Pioneer churches” are church plants.  “Covenant member churches” are those that have joined the international church but may still retain ownership of their property.  And, “Community member churches” are affiliates of the international church; since they are not members, they have their own legal identity and property ownership.

Factors affecting the General Feel:  From its beginnings, media and arts have been utilized to help communicate the Gospel.

 

Takeaway

Finding the right church for you is important and there are many options!  As you proceed in your search, always ensure the church adheres to the core beliefs of Christianity:  

  1. There is only One God and He is three-in-one: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
  2. We are saved by grace, not works, only through the death (for the penalty for our sins) and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
  3. The Bible is the inspired Word of God.   [Read more about this:  3 Essential Beliefs all Christian Churches Share]

If you are interested in finding a church where it is common to see open expression, speaking in tongues (outwardly or inwardly), and regular prayers for healing, a Pentecostal church may be a good fit for you.

 

Do you want to learn more about what it means to be a Christian and how to find a church?

Check out these articles:

  1. How to Become a Christian in 2 Life-Saving Steps
  2. 3 Essential Beliefs all Christian Churches Share
  3. 4 Sects Mistaken as Christian & How they're Unsound
  4. 6 Tips for Choosing the Right Church For You
  5. 4 Reasons to Become a Church Member

 If you live in the Greater Concord, NH area, we’d love for you to come visit us!  Check out service times and where to find us here.  

Or, join us during a livestream from anywhere in the world.

 

Do you have questions?  Comment below or reach out to us.

 

Some of the topics in this article are debated within the Christian faith.  It's okay if you're unsure what you believe about these issues.  If, you want to learn more for your personal growth, here are some articles that may help:  

  1. What is the Baptism of the Holy Spirit? - John Piper
  2. What is Prophecy Today? - John Piper
  3. What is the Gift of Speaking in Tongues? - Got Questions.org

*Note: Not all groups of churches use the word denomination (i.e., another term used is “cooperative fellowships”).  Because “denomination” is a more widely understood title, I am using it to avoid confusion for anyone unfamiliar with the specific vocabulary a particular church uses to label themselves.  

Also in this Series

  1. Which Christian Denomination is Right for Me? An Easy Comparison Guide

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