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Pentecostals are people who have undergone a “baptism of the Holy Spirit,” which is usually accompanied by speaking in tongues and sometimes by dancing or “holy laughter.” While there is no official count of Pentecostals, the movement is spreading quickly in America and even faster worldwide, where they may account for a quarter of all Christians. Pentecostalism began with a local revival on Azusa Street in Los Angeles in 1906. Now there are at least 60 Pentecostal denominations, though many Pentecostal churches are nondenominational as well. Charismatics are related but distinct from the Pentecostal tradition. Like Pentecostals, they believe in the “gifts of the Holy Spirit,” but charismatics generally encourage people to stay within their church communities, be they Roman Catholic, Protestant or others. Unlike Pentecostals, charismatics believe a person can receive the Holy Spirit without gaining the ability to speak in tongues.



  • Pentecostalism began as a multicultural gathering at Azusa Street that was also diverse economically. Today, while Sunday morning is still considered the most segregated time of the week, the multiculturalism of Pentecostal churches is an enviable example to churches that have had trouble diversifying.
  • Pentecostalism is known for spawning grassroots revivals that end up drawing people from across the nation. Two relatively recent and large revivals are the Toronto Blessing and the Brownsville Revival or Pensacola Outpouring.
  • Though Pentecostals tend to be socially and politically conservative, the movement’s practices and beliefs are not accepted by many other conservative Christians. The Southern Baptist Convention’s International Mission Board issued rules in 2006 barring candidates using“private prayer language”or “charismatic manifestations,” for example.
  • Women have long held leadership positions in Pentecostal churches, a departure from many conservative traditions, some of which have been increasing restrictions on women’s roles.
  • Pentecostalismhas an unfortunate history of scandals involving sex,money and false promises by the likes of Jimmy Swaggart and Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker.


  • One of the primary challenges of covering Pentecostals is its supernatural aspects, which include faith healings and speaking in tongues. Reporters will want to know: Is this real? In fact, Pentecostalism has been haunted by scandals—financial and otherwise —since its beginnings, and reporters have reason to be wary. Reporters should become familiar with the tradition so they know where the people and congregations they’re covering fit in.They should describe what they see and what people say they experience, but seek verification when possible of faith healings. See “It’s a miracle!” for tips on covering services.
  • Speaking in tongues is usually either “glossolalia” (speaking in extra-human, mystical language that requires an interpreter who is also in a state of ecstasy) or “xenoglossia,” also known as “zenolalia” (speaking in a foreign language that the convert never knew before). Pentecostals and charismatics know the distinction, and journalists should, too.