Millions flocking to spirit-empowered Christianity for personal encounter with God

Dr. George O. Wood, chief executive officer of the Assemblies of God Church and global co-chair of the Empowered21 Spirit-empowered movement (l) and co-chair William Wilson, president of Oral Roberts University (r) lead a prayer session on the Empowered21 Global Congress in Jerusalem, Israel on Wednesday night. | (Photo: The Christian Post/Leonardo Blair)

When the Empowered21 Global Congress convenes in Jerusalem, Israel, in spring 2020, one of the main items on the agenda will be how to get every person on the planet to have an authentic experience with the Holy Spirit.

In the last 113 years, explained Ashley Wilson, assistant director of the global Spirit-filled movement working to connect the generations for blessing, impartation, and a fresh outpouring of the Holy Spirit in the 21st century, spirited-empowered Christians have grown from zero in 1906 to 650 million today.

And he believes a big part of that growth is due to a hunger among people around the world for a personal encounter with God.

Spirit-empowered Christians are generally known as Pentecostals, charismatics, or any other number of groups that emphasize the work of the Holy Spirit and the direct experience of the presence of God by the believer. It is generally accepted by adherents of the Spirit-empowered way that faith must be powerfully experiential, and not something found merely through ritual or thinking. Spirit-empowered churches also stress the importance of conversions that amount to a Baptism in the Spirit. This fills the believer with the Holy Spirit in an encounter revealed through speaking in tongues and other spiritual manifestations.

Dr. George O. Wood, chairman of the Assemblies of God Church and global co-chair of the Assemblies of God Church prays with Spirit-filled participants at the opening night of the Empowered21 Congress at the Jerusalem, Pais Arena in Jerusalem Israel on May 20, 2015. | (Photo: The Christian Post/Leonardo Blair)

And it is this personal encounter that is making believers out of the movement’s growing adherents.

“We found that young people are looking for authenticity. They want an authentic encounter with a real God and I think Spirit-empowered Christianity, with one of its pillars being that God is a personal God and you can encounter him for yourself in a powerful, real and tangible way. The God of the Bible can become the God of your prayer closet. I think that’s appealing to young people who want an authentic encounter with God,” Wilson said in an interview with The Christian Post.

About two years ago, he explained, the movement partnered with Gordon Conwell Theological Seminary and Todd M. Johnson, the Paul E. and Eva B. Toms Distinguished Professor of Mission and Global Christianity who also serves as co-director of the Center for the Study of Global Christianity at the seminary, to study the growth of the movement, which revealed the 650 million global figure.

During the movement’s global gathering in Jerusalem set for May 31 – June 4, 2020, Wilson says they plan to share a lot more details from the study, including the impact of the movement in the United States.

And as American churches grapple to survive in a society that’s increasingly abandoning God, Wilson believes their growth is a credit to the work of the Holy Spirit.

“I think obviously for us, I would say the key ingredient, the secret sauce is the Holy Spirit. Jesus said in Acts 8 that we would receive the power of the Holy Spirit and we would be his witnesses … what we find is Spirit-empowered Christians tend to be focused on the work of the Holy Spirit and the mission of the Holy Spirit is really to help us evangelize the world. And so what we’re seeing globally and I think it would be true here in the United States as well, is that people who embrace the power of the Holy Spirit, who believe that the God of the Bible, the God of the gospels, the book of Acts, is the same God that’s still alive and working today, doing the same things,” he said.

“Those people tend to be focused on and empowered by the Holy Spirit to fulfill the great commission and so that’s what I think part of the reason we’re seeing significant growth among spirit empowered Christianity, especially conversion growths from people who had not been Christians before coming to faith in Jesus,” he explained.

The movement also paid attention to improved communication strategies to help them better engage people with the message of the Holy Spirit.

“One of the primary catalysts for starting Empowered 21 back in 2009, 2010, was a recognition that God had done an amazing thing, over the last 100 years or so, but there was need for some new language, some new strategies, some new ideas to pass the Spirit Empowered torch to the next generation. And so Empowered21 has been very intentional about cultivating next generation leadership, about listening to the voices of young people, the next generation leaders in their college years,” he said.

“The term we use a lot actually came out of some listening sessions we did in 2010 with young people who said ‘Hey, Pentecostal has a lot of baggage, charismatic has a lot of baggage. We need a new way to describe what God is doing in our life and our generation.’ And so that’s where that language came from,” Wilson explained.

Data from 2015 cited by The Washington Post show that the growth of Pentecostalism in places like Latin America is estimated to be at three times the rate of Catholic growth. Non-Catholic believers accounted for two percent of Latin America’s 550 million Christians.

It was noted that Brazil not only has more Catholics than any other country, but also more Pentecostals, reflecting Pentecostalism’s astonishing global growth.

“Tracing its roots to the Azusa Street revival in 1910, and comprising 5 percent of Christians in 1970, today one of four Christians is Pentecostal or charismatic. Or think of it this way: one out of 12 people alive today has a Pentecostal form of Christian faith,” the publication said.

For the Empowered21 Global Congress in Jerusalem next spring, Wilson said they plan to celebrate and strategize with Spirit-empowered people from around the world to introduce to having an authentic experience with God.

“Our goal is to bring together a broad cross-section of the Spirit-empowered movement so everyone from charismatic Catholics to traditional Pentecostals in lots of different groups and streams in between, to bring them together essentially around the focus on the Great Commission. This 2020 gathering in Jerusalem will be very much centered on the Great Commission,” Wilson said.

The four-day event will be held at Pais Arena in Jerusalem with praise and worship celebrations led by Planetshakers and Gateway Worship. Speakers will include Heidi Baker, Jentezen Franklin, Russell Evans, Samuel Rodriguez, Claudio Freidzon, Billy Wilson and Todd White.

Learn more here.

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