NCLS Research

The Charismatic Movement

NB.  This discussion is based on NCLS 1996 data.

One of the most far-reaching developments across Australian churches in the latter part of the twentieth century has been the growing impact of the charismatic movement. This is associated with the growth of Pentecostal churches who, forty years ago, accounted for only a small fraction of Australian church attenders. By 1996 over 10% of attenders in an average week are in Pentecostal churches. As a combined grouping, there are now more attenders at Pentecostal congregations than at Anglican congregations; only Catholic parishes have a greater number of attenders (see Source: Build My Church, 1999, Chapter 2).

As a very simple indicator of attender attitudes to the charismatic movement, a question on speaking in tongues was included in the survey. Speaking in tongues is endorsed by 27% of attenders and opposed by 21%. About half (52%) are neutral or do not have a view on the matter.

Not surprisingly, there are clear denominational differences in attitudes to speaking in tongues. Apart from Pentecostals (over 90% approval), Baptists and Churches of Christ have the highest levels of approval (37% and 34%), while the Seventh-day Adventist (4%), Lutheran (17%) and Presbyterian (17%) denominations have the lowest approval levels. Overall, 14% of attenders speak in tongues. Approximately 10% of attenders in the Catholic, Anglican, Uniting and other larger non-Pentecostal denominations speak in tongues, revealing the broad impact of the charismatic movement.

Half of all attenders have no opinion on speaking in tongues. Many attenders, particularly Catholics (62%), are either neutral or do not know what they think.

There is little difference in speaking in tongues across age groups in the Catholic Church. In Anglican and Protestant churches, younger adults are much more likely to do so: nearly 30% of 20 and 30 year olds do so, compared to 12% of 60 year olds and 7% of those over 70 years of age.

Such an age pattern is replicated in most denominations. A comparison of NCLS96 with results from 1991 shows that within Anglican and Protestant churches there has been little change in the proportion of attenders who speak in tongues. Small changes in the question used in the 1996 survey make it difficult to evaluate changes in approval/disapproval.

A phenomenon that occurred in some Australian churches in the 1990s was the Toronto Blessing (or ‘laughing revival´). In NCLS96 a sample of Aglican and Protestant attenders were asked about their feelings in regard to the Toronto Blessing. Some 21% approved, including 10% who had had an experience of the Toronto Blessing. More attenders (43%) were neutral and 36% disapproved.

Pentecostal attenders were most likely to have had such an experience (41%). Of the larger denominations 7% of Baptists had had the experience, although high percentages of Baptists (47%) disapprove. Few Anglican or Uniting Church attenders have experienced the Toronto Blessing (5% and 3%) and the majority have no opinion on the matter. Catholic attenders were not asked this question.

Source: Taking Stock, 1999.

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