Once regarded as a fringe sector, they outnumber Methodists, although it is not strictly fair to compare the two. Methodists belong to one church while Pentecostals tend to gather in independent churches or groups of churches.
Pentecostals are so called because they practise the charisms, the “gifts of the Spirit” listed by St Paul in chapter 12 of his first letter to the Corinthians. The name is derived from the Feast of Pentecost, when the Disciples were gathered in Jerusalem and were inspired by the Holy Spirit to speak in many languages, enabling them to preach the gospel to the nations. Speaking in tongues, along with prophecy, healing and leadership, are among the charisms practised in Pentecostal churches today.
The research was funded by the Economic and Social Research Council. David Voas, a senior researcher at the Manchester University School of Social Sciences who specialises in examining religious change in modern society, said: “Methodism, a branch of Christianity that originated in England and spread around the world, is dying in Britain. By contrast, immigration from Africa and elsewhere has lead to growth in Pentecostal churches, where the style is more flamboyant.”
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His research is based on an analysis of the recent English Church Census, carried out by the charity Christian Research, which showed Sunday attendance at Methodist churches falling from 289,400 in 2005 to 278,700 in 2006. It comes as Methodists prepare next year to celebrate the 300th anniversary of the birth of Charles Wesley, credited with writing 9,000 hymns. Dr Voas said: “Pentecostal worship is vibrant, often involving healing and exorcism, shouting and clapping, fainting and speaking in tongues, and impromptu praying and prophesying.”
Figures show that worshippers in half of the Pentecostal churches in England are predominantly black. In addition, half of all Pentecostal churches in Britain are in London. But many evangelical, predominantly white churches also have Pentecostal elements to their worship, in particular prophecy and speaking in tongues.
The Methodist Church closed 264 churches between 1998 and 2005, more than any other denomination, as attendance declined by a quarter. By contrast, Pentecostal numbers grew by a third and many new churches have opened. The Pentecostal movement includes many separate organisations and autonomous churches, the Assemblies of God and Elim being the largest denominations in this category.
Methodists recently agreed a covenant with the Church of England and many churches share ministers and services. Dr Voas said: “It seems inevit-able that the Methodist Church will be reabsorbed into the Church of England. The Pentecostals have appeared out of nowhere in the last couple of decades, but it remains to be seen whether they can make significant inroads into the white population.”
Figures released by the Church of England yesterday also show a massive rise in people going to church at Christmas. Nearly three quarters of a million people, for example, attend cathedral services. The Bishop of Manchester, the Right Rev Nigel McCulloch, said: “These increases continue to show that the Church of England is uniquely placed to welcome people back to church. There is clearly a desire to consider the spiritual aspects of life at key times throughout the year, times like Harvest, Remembrance Sunday and Christmas.” A third of dioceses across the North and South, in both urban and rural areas, had increases of 10 per cent or greater in attendance over the 24 hours of Christmas last year. Cathedrals are putting on extra services to cope with even more worshippers this Christmas.
2.78m people went to church over Christmas last year
6% increase in the Church of England’s overall Christmas Eve and Christmas Day congregations last year
2.85m attended millennium celebrations in 2000
28% increase in cathedral congregations for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day since 2000
Source: Church of England
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