Pentecostalism is seen as one the most dynamic expressions of religion in the contemporary world, but this general impression should be qualified by a variety of contrasting developments from one country to another, as attested by several papers presented at the INFORM/CESNUR conference on new religious movements in London (April 16–19), which RW attended.
In Latin America, Pentecostals now make up 10 percent of the population (not including Catholic Charismatics), reported Paul Freston (Calvin College, Grand Rapids). This makes it part of mainstream Latin American Protestantism and contributes significantly to a process of religious pluralization of the whole area and to a decline of the percentage of Roman Catholics. In a country such as Brazil, Protestants may now make up 18 percent of the population, but the percentage of non-religious people is growing as well (7–8 percent).
Both Pentecostals and the non-religious are located in urban peripheries and rural frontiers: a Pentecostal group is established much quicker than a Catholic parish. Catholic responses are primarily aimed at halting losses in the middle classes. Pentecostalism is much more successful among indigenous populations. Freston remarks that it is too early to assess what new ecclesiastical or theological forms will emerge from this development, or its impact on politics and civil society.
The process of fragmentation of Pentecostal denominations goes on. A possible prospect for the future religious landscape of Latin America would be a highly fragmented Protestantism (20 to 25 percent of the population), a slimmer but dynamic Roman Catholic Church, and adherents to a variety of other religions. In Finland, where 81.7 percent of the five million inhabitants are Lutherans, but only 3.1 percent go to church regularly, Pentecostalism in all its shades gathers some 45,000 faithful in 270 congregations.
While it has been present in the country since 1911, explained Tuija Hovi (Church Research Institute, Tampere), traditional Pentecostalism used to be agrarian, while a more recent, neo-Charismatic wave mostly attracts young adults born between the mid-60s and the mid-1980s (Generation X). They tend to gather in small congregations (20 to 50 members), with half of them founded during the present decade.
It is a fluid and changing environment, and not all congregations prove stable or lasting, but it is also a very flexible milieu. Independent congregations form a network in a dynamic environment, with high mobility (inside the neo-Charismatic field), but it is far from sure that it will grow strongly, according to Hovi. Statistical research suggests that there are better prospects in Finland for alternative forms of spirituality, including New Age.
The growth of the number of members of neo-Charismatic communities remains modest. A symposium on the Pentecostal movement in Italy also took place during the London conference. The Assemblies of God represent the third largest organized religious group in Italy, with 140,000 members (after the Roman Catholic Church and the Jehovah’s Witnesses). The second largest Pentecostal denomination is the Federation of Pentecostal Churches. Despite internal divisions, there is, however, no doubt that the number of Pentecostals will continue to grow in Italy, stated Alessandro Iovino (University of Federico II, Naples).
The origins of the Pentecostal movement in Italy are humble ones, but its members can no longer be identified only with the metropolitan proletariat, stressed Ivan D’Alessandro (University of LUISS—Guido Carli, Rome): a vast majority of third- and fourthgeneration young Pentecostals gain academic degrees and become successful professionals.