Written by: Lloyd Jarrison; 0083985 MSA

Global School of Theology



The principal objective of this paper is to demonstrate the ability, success, and penetrative principles that have seen a tremendous growth in African Pentecostal Christianity. In modern-day Christianity, Pentecostalism has become a major force to reckon with, indicating a sharp growth by adapting to local cultures that stresses strong spirit world beliefs especially in African atmosphere. It should be noted that “Pentecostalism in Africa derived its coloring from the texture of the African soil and from the interior of its idiom, nurture, and growth; its fruits serve more adequately the challenges and problems of the African ecosystem than the earlier missionary fruits did” (Kalu 2008, 178).

Taking a deep forensic audit into African Pentecostalism, results can show that, “Pentecostalism has produced a culture of continuity by mining primal and world view, reproducing and identifiable character, and regaining a pneumatic and charismatic religiosity that existed in traditional society” (Kalu 2008, 186). Therefore the achievement of Pentecostalism in Africa lies largely on the innovative response it embeds on the challenges found in Africa, and this include, “an African style of worship and liturgy and a holistic Christianity that offers tangible help in this world as well as in the next, form a uniquely African contextualization of Christianity” (Anderson 2004, 122). In addition, success of Pentecostal Christianity in Africa relies much on African Traditional Religion which gives the religious background of African people whom Pentecostals seek to evangelize today. These beliefs and practices are dominant in African cultures and are easily assimilated into ideologies by families and communities with modifications suitable to historical situations needs (Mbiti 1999, 3).

Therefore to explore the trends in the growth of Pentecostalism in Africa, this paper analyses some available published resources, with a quantitative analysis of data, case studies, by providing Pentecostal practises, beliefs, doctrines, and the value of African Traditional Religion in an African perspective. This paper challenges the argument that Pentecostalism in Africa is inconsequential, and presents a comprehensive and authoritative reference work bringing together the expertise of dozens of Pentecostal authors from around the globe.


The rise of Pentecostalism has become so popular such that it is difficult to travel from one nation to another without hearing the question, “are you pentecostal?”. This question has sparked curiosity within the religious atmosphere such that an explanation is needed to possibly give an accurate answer to the proposed question. This rapid growth of Pentecostalism has taken the world by storm, and this includes especially the continent of Africa. This tide of power and transformation has not only gripped one corner, but all parts of Africa including the north, south, east, west, and central Africa. In all this suspense, the most notably unanswered question is that of the secret behind, the rapid and tremendous growth of Pentecostalism in Africa.Therefore, understanding the term “ African Pentecostalism” will help in defining the broad aspect it carries. Its significance carries with it the aspect of the Pentecostal mission churches that were started by missionaries in early twentieth centuries. It also carries with it the founded independent churches by blacks and “’indigenous Pentecostal-type churches’, numerically the most significant, referring to those African indigenous churches who have historical, theological and liturgical links with the Pentecostal movement” (Anderson 1992a:28-31), and who, like the Pentecostals, emphasize the power and manifestations of the Holy Spirit in the church. This tremendous growth however does not happen in a vacuum, but is surrounded by contributing factors that are historical and cultural in an African atmosphere.

Origins of Pentecostalism

The roots of “Pentecostals” in the modern sense can be traced back to the year 1901in the city of Topeka, Kansas at a Bible school conducted by Charles Fox Parham, a holiness teacher and a former Methodist pastor. “Parham, greatly influenced by the Holiness movement (an American nineteenth century religious movement that emphasized post conversion spiritual experiences), encouraged disciples to seek God through prayer, fasting and studying the Bible, and then to wait for His blessings of the Spirit” (The Rising Tide of Pentecostalism 2014, 12: V). The first person to be baptized in the Holy Spirit accompanied by speaking in tongues was Agnes Ozman, one of Parham’s Bible School students, who spoke in tongues on the very first day of the new century, January 1, 1901. According to J. Roswell Flower, the founding Secretary of the Assemblies of God, Ozman’s experience was the “touch felt round the world,” an event which “made the Pentecostal Movement of the Twentieth Century.”

The movement grew rapidly and new congregations were established. “Even when elements of the Pentecostal experience such as speaking in tongues, healings and exuberant worship services became routine, the denomination continued to expand. This led to another revival, and with it, a new church”(The Rising Tide of Pentecostalism 2014, 12: V). In 1906, Pentecostalism achieved worldwide attention through the Azusa Street revival in Los Angeles led by the African-American preacher William Joseph Seymour. He opened the historic meeting in April, 1906 in a former African Methodist Episcopal church building at 312 Azusa Street in downtown Los Angeles. The revival that took place at Azuza Street introduced another dimension of Pentecostalism. A headline in the paper’s first issue (September 1906) proclaimed:“Los Angeles Being Visited by a Revival of Bible Salvation and Pentecost as Recorded in the Book of Acts “(The Apostolic Faith 1906, 1: 1) Therefore, the local revival sown on Azusa Street became the seed-bed of an international Christian movement. From Azusa Street Pentecostalism spread rapidly around the world and began its advance toward becoming a major force in Christendom. Moreover, it is well to note that Seymour, along with Charles Parham, could well be called the “co-founders” of world Pentecostalism. Today “the Pentecostal movement includes a large number of denominations, independent churches, and Para-church organizations that emphasize the work of the Holy Spirit in the lives of Christian believer”(World Council of Churches 2014, May 3).

African Pentecostalism owed its origins to the work of John Graham Lake (1870-1935), a Methodist preacher who later prospered in the business world as an insurance executive. His wife was miraculously healed of tuberculosis in 1898. In 1907 he received his Pentecostal experience and spoke in tongues under the ministry of Charles Parham. After his Pentecostal experience, Lake abandoned the insurance business and honored to fulfill God’s call to minister in South Africa. In April 1908, he led a large missionary party to Johannesburg, where he began to spread the Pentecostal message throughout the nation.

This first wave of Pentecostal pioneer missionaries produced what has become known as the “Classical Pentecostal Movement” with over 11,000 Pentecostal denominations throughout the world. These continued to proliferate at an amazing rate as the century came to an end. In retrospect, the pattern established in South Africa was repeated in many other nations as the movement spread around the world. That is, an enterprising Pentecostal pioneer such as Lake broke the ground for a new movement which was initially despised and rejected by the existing churches. This phase was followed by organized Pentecostal denominational missions’ efforts which produced fast-growing missions and indigenous churches. The final phase was the penetration of Pentecostalism into the mainline Protestant and Catholic churches as “charismatic renewal” movements with the aim of renewing and reviving the historic churches. Throughout the rest of the century, Pentecostal denominational missionaries from many nations spread the movement to all parts of Africa.

African Traditional Religion

The beliefs and practices of ATR are based upon the faith of the ancient indigenous people (ancestors). This is why it is qualified as traditional, in comparison to the other religions, e.g. Christianity and Islam, which are considered as foreign since their doctrines and practices came from outside of Africa. Due to many misconceptions and ignorance, ATR was considered as the direct opposite of Christianity, which needed to be eradicated. This was at a time when human societies judged from a Western perspective which was the yardstick of normality. Therefore, Africans were widely considered as people with inferior forms of religion and logic as compared to the Western culture. The African Traditional Religion is very holistic since it impacts every area of the African traditional life, whether in the city or village, in the office or in the farm, in the building of a structure or in marriage. Mbiti talking about the African religious heritage says, “Religion is part of the cultural heritage… It has dominated the thinking of African people to such an extent that it has shaped their cultures, their social life, their political organizations and economic activities” (Mbiti 1996, 10).


It is good to note that,

“ATR, on the other hand, is inseparably linked to African cultures and worldviews. That is why, due to the emphasis on inculturation of the Christian faith, the importance of ATR has been rediscovered. Even if, especially in East Africa, ATR practices are not very visible, it remains a fact, that the thinking of the people, especially in times of crises, especially death, is very much linked to ethnic culture and religious traditions. Without their knowledge a missionary is unable to understand their thinking” (Karibu 2013, January 28 ).

The African traditionalist is therefore influenced by several forces including God, the ancestors, the lesser gods, spirits and others like witches, sorcerers and magic. According to Opoku, “Religion therefore becomes the root of the African culture and it is the determining principle of the African life. It is no exaggeration, therefore to say that in traditional Africa, religion is life and life, religion. Africans are engaged in religion in whatever they do-whether it be farming, fishing or hunting; or simply eating, drinking or traveling, Religion gives meaning and significance to their lives, both in this world and the next.” (Opoku 1978, 1)

Therefore, it is of paramount importance to have a positive approach to ATR because it serves as an indispensable tool for enculturation that strengthens African identity. ATR should not only be seen as “stepping stones” to Christianity, “but should be appreciated as genuine experiences of the Divine. Only then should they be evaluated in the light of the Gospel. Therefore, the traditional religions of Africa are human in the deepest sense, because they focus on people and their everyday problems” (Karibu 2013, January 28). With an estimated African population of 760 million people in the continent, around 20% is estimated to be of the ATR followers. The arrival of Islam and especially of Christianity at beginning of the 20th century has caused a significance decline in the percentage.


Below are statistics and geographical distribution of the followers of ATR

From 50% onwards: Benin, Botswana, Burkina Faso, Central African Republic, Guinea-Bissau, Ivory Coast, Kenya, Liberia, Mauritius, Mozambique, Swaziland, Togo, Zambia, Zimbabwe.

From 30% to 49%: Burundi, Cameroon, Chad, Congo Brazzaville, Congo-Kinshasa, Gabon, Ghana, Madagascar, Malawi, Mali, Namibia, Rwanda, Sierra Leone, South Africa, Tanzania and Uganda.

From 10% to 29%: Angola, Gambia, Guinea, Lesotho, Niger, Nigeria, Sao-Tome and Sudan.

Less than 10%: Cape Verde, Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Equatorial Guinea, Senegal, Seychelles and Somalia (Adapted from Comboni Missionary Magazine, New Africa – Leadership. Special Issue of January 2000.).

Inspite of the declining numbers of the followers of ATR mentioned here above, the influence of ATR goes well beyond these statistics. ATR beliefs and moral values continue to influence, consciously or unconsciously, many Christians. African culture and tradition cannot be understood and appreciated without looking at the world view reflected in the religious beliefs of the people. The world view of a people not only informs what they see, but also it determines the type of societies and nations they build. African Traditional Religion is associated with fatalism, rooted in animism and ancestor veneration. According to Mbiti, “animism is the system of belief and practices based on the idea that objects and natural phenomena are inhabited by spirits or souls” (Mbiti 1996, 18). In ATR, people believe in multiple gods which are capricious and unpredictable. For the animist, drought, famine, poverty and hunger are caused by unseen irrational forces. For them the physical world is overshadowed by spiritual realities. To the animist, problems originate from outside, such as lack of rain for growing crops, and therefore to solve the problems of society, the gods, spirits and ancestors must be consulted and appeased.

In African continent, ATR continues to be the source of meaning, direction and security of the lives of many Africans, including followers of other well established religious traditions. Today, as the spirit of religious intolerance and exclusivism is being replaced slowly by the spirit of inter-religious tolerance, dialogue and mutual respect, ATR is also slowly finding its place in the orchestra of the world religions. This tolerant and respectful atmosphere has given confidence and self-esteem to the followers of ATR. Many are no longer ashamed of their religious heritage, as they had been in the past. They are proud of being its heirs and consider it their duty and right to pass it on to the next generations (Nyombi, Missionaries of Africa). Therefore the emergence of the African Initiated Churches and Pentecostalism has brought to light the realization among Africans that it is possible for Africans to express themselves as Christians without losing their African identity. This has enabled Christianity to sink its roots deep in African soil.

Effectiveness of Pentecostalism in Africa

Africa has witnessed tremendous Pentecostal growth at a rapid speed. The contributing factors being mostly beliefs, practices, and doctrines that are relevant to African society. Pentecostals in Africa do not reject the past wholesome but engage with it, refurnishing the history and domesticating it. They use the Bible as a resource for explaining the past and critiquing the present .Pentecostal “approach to the African map of the universe comes out in response to the current legitimacy and economic collapse” (Kalu:2008,183). Therefore,

“the explosion of neo-Pentecostalism that has occurred since the 1970s is due to a combination of socio-religious factors, including the emergence of younger, university evangelical Christian leadership, rapid urbanisation and the collapse of African economies. This growth has also been fuelled by aggressive evangelism, church planting, lay mobilisation, lively music and the celebratory nature of worship” (Gyadu 2007:389).

A further feature of modern Pentecostalism is its openness to modernity. Many Pentecostal churches have embraced modernity and are thoroughly modern in their outlook. Asamoah-Gyadu observes that these churches display “an ardent desire to appear successful, reflecting a modern outlook and portraying an international image”. He further notes that, “the new Pentecostal churches have a special attraction for Africa’s upward mobile youth, a lay-oriented leadership, ecclesiastical office based on a person’s charismatic gifting, innovative use of modern media technologies, particular concern with congregational enlargements, and a relaxed fashion code for members” (2007:392). Togarasei adds that “the youth in these churches are privileged to have access to these forms of modernity (because of the level of literacy in the country). Young elites, potential elites and frustrated graduates therefore find that these churches address their needs in a way that other institutions and bodies cannot ” (2006:21). Some of the main methods employed by the new churches are very similar to those used by most Pentecostals including door-to-door evangelism, meetings held in homes of interested people, preaching in buses, on street corners and at places of public concourse, and ‘tent crusades’ held all over the continent. For example crusades by Nicholas Bhengu and Richard Ngidi, Nigerian Benson Idahosa and German evangelist Reinhard Bonnke. (Anderson2000, Evangelism and Pentecostal Growth In Africa).

Meyer asserts that Pentecostalism is “pre-eminently a global religion” that “has been increasing in popularity all over Africa since the late 1980s” (1998:752).In “Mediating the Global and Local in Nigerian Pentecostalism,” Ruth Marshall-Fratani notes that the “success of Pentecostalism in converting massive numbers” of Africans is due in part to the fact that African “nation-states and nationalism no longer necessarily constitute the primary physical and ideological contexts in which identity and community are imagined and political allegiance expressed”(Fratani 1998:278).

Against an African backdrop frequently characterized by poverty, famine, violence and disease,

“Pentecostalism has been able to meet the needs of many on the margins of society and church. It has been effective in bringing people into a personal relationship with God through Jesus Christ, in the power of the Holy Spirit. It encourages its members to share their personal testimonies with others, to live their lives with an eye to “holiness”, to embrace good works as part of the “Spirit-filled” life, to be open to the sovereign movement of the Holy Spirit through charisms, signs and wonders, and to support the work of the church through regular tithing” (World Council of Churches 2014,May 3).

Pentecostals believe that a “baptism of the Holy Spirit” should be sought. This is when, after conversion, a baptism of the “Holy Ghost” takes place and a believer acquires gifts such as the ability to prophesy or heal. This “baptism” is supposedly accompanied by the manifestation of speaking in tongues (The Rising Tide of Pentecostalism 2014, 12: V).They “believe that the coming of the Spirit brings the ability to perform ‘signs and wonders’ in the name of Jesus Christ to accompany and authenticate their evangelism. African Pentecostals focus on corporate worship, singing together, and Christian education. The Churches are mostly churches of a Pentecostal type that have contextualized and indigenized Christianity in Africa. They are ‘the African expression of the worldwide Pentecostal movement’ because of both their Pentecostal style and flavor.

Theologically, the African Pentecostal churches are Christocentric, and share an emphasis on the power of the Spirit. A particular focus on personal encounter with Christ (being ‘born again’), long periods of individual and communal prayer, prayer for healing and problems like unemployment and poverty, deliverance from demons and ‘the occult’ , the use of spiritual gifts like speaking in tongues and prophecy (Anderson 2000, Evangelism and Pentecostal Growth In Africa ). Preaching of messages that promise solutions for present felt needs like sickness and the fear of evil spirits appeals much more, to ordinary African people because they tend to quench their spiritual thirsty. People’s curiosity surrounding the mystery of tongues draws much attention .Those that have not seen or experienced it are invariably fascinated, leading some attending to see.

In many cultures of the world, and especially in Africa, a major attraction for Pentecostalism has been its emphasis on healing. In these cultures, the man of God has power to heal the sick and ward off evil spirits and sorcery. This holistic function, which does not separate the ‘physical’ from the ‘spiritual’, is restored in Pentecostalism, and indigenous peoples see it as a ‘powerful’ religion to meet human needs. For some Pentecostals, faith in God’s power to heal directly through prayer resulted in a rejection of other methods of healing. This emphasis on healing is so much part of Pentecostal evangelism, especially in Africa, that large public campaigns and tent crusades preceded by great publicity are frequently used in order to reach as many ‘unevangelised’ people as possible.

With reference to what is now possibly the largest non-Catholic denomination in Zimbabwe, the Zimbabwe Assemblies of God Africa of Ezekiel Guti (ZAOGA) , David Maxwell says that “this movement’s ‘own dominant prosperity teachings have arisen from predominantly southern African sources and are shaped by Zimbabwean concerns’. He says that the ‘prosperity gospel’ is best explained ‘not in terms of false consciousness or right wing conspiracy but as a means to enable Pentecostals to make the best of rapid social change’. ZAOGA’s teaching of the ‘Spirit of Poverty’, for instance, ‘resonates with ideas of self-reliance, indigenous business and black empowerment propounded by the ruling party and state controlled media’, while at the same time it ‘successfully explains and exploits popular insecurities” (Maxwell:1998,358-9). Pentecostalism does more than just make sense of poverty and deprivation – it provides a way of grappling with them, both literally and figuratively. A major component of Pentecostal doctrine is the “binding” and “casting out” of demons. These spoken acts provide believers with a sense of agency and the illusion of control, regardless of actual results. This sense of agency, of course, speaks to the issue of power. Such activity produces “a feeling of great potency amongst otherwise powerless people” (Maxwell 2005:23). If the macro-economic issue for Pentecostals is demonic, the micro-economic issue is personal. There is no doubt that Pentecostalism engages individuals economically and exhorts them to take actions consistent with work, discipline, thrift, and accumulation.

Another obvious appeal is the movement’s doctrine of wealth. Energetic preachers urge people to trust God to bless them. Adherents are taught that if one has enough faith, God will bless him with a new car, bigger house or a raise at work. The church’s “prosperity gospel” teaches that whether one is healed is connected to the size of their contributions to the church. Of course, this teaching would attract anyone, religious or not. Everyone desires prosperity and success.. After donating large sums of money to their Pentecostal church, some members not only remain sick but are left destitute. Even though these promises are not always fulfilled, people are not bothered but still continue contributing hoping for a miracle their way someday. Excitement abounds in African Pentecostal churches. Many are drawn to the entertainment value of a service. A Sunday morning often resembles a powerful and a blessed church service. With large complexes, arena stadiums, bright lights, wealth, expensive cars, underground parking garages, video screens, and wildly popular, energetic preachers, recent decades have seen many flocking to Pentecostal or Pentecostal-flavored churches.

In Africa, “the success of Pentecostalism is the focus on people’s problems in this life. In countries where people are living on the breadline, Pentecostalism gives hope” (Anderson 1992,2-6).With mass “healings,” speaking in tongues, energetic services, emotionally charged messages and a focus on prophecy, many see the fruits of Pentecostal churches and conclude, “God must be here.” The structure of the church also reflects its urban character. Most of the deliverance churches, particularly the mega churches, resemble successful business ventures or enterprises. They are large institutions with various ministries such as TV ministries, transport businesses, schools and colleges, universities, clinics and hospitals. Some observations reveal that some neo-Pentecostal churches or religious networks function in the same way as the new global industries.

There are now several hundred young Pentecostal scholars with doctorates, and that, of course, changes the breadth and depth of Pentecostalism. Most of them have maintained their roots in Pentecostalism. They can now protect and promote their faith scholarly. In considering excerpts from important and influential articles done by some scholars, In “Delivered from the Spirit of Poverty: Pentecostalism, Prosperity and Modernity in Zimbabwe,” Maxwell observes that Zimbabwean Pentecostalism, formalized as The Zimbabwe Assemblies of God, has “mushroomed on a transnational scale, establishing itself in other African countries such as Botswana, Zaire, South Africa, Rwanda, Ghana and Tanzania” (1998:352). In “The Durawall of Faith: Pentecostal Spirituality in Neo-Liberal Zimbabwe,” Maxwell notes that a broader umbrella movement, calling itself Assemblies of God – Africa, has moved not only into the previously mentioned countries, but also has “expanded along migrant labour networks into . . . Mozambique, Malawi and Zambia” (2005:6). In additional articles, Maxwell adds Kenya, South Africa, Burundi, and Botswana to his list. Relying on specifics from each of these countries, he freely discusses the ways in which Pentecostalism affects its “African adherents” (2005: 28). Pentecostalism in Africa attempts not only to survive, but also to thrive in a globalised and modernized world. Pentecostal Christianity achieves this quite easily owing to its apparent flexibility and ability to adapt to changing cultural and social environments. Anderson notes that,

“Pentecostals in Africa proclaim a pragmatic gospel that seeks to address practical needs like sickness, poverty, unemployment, loneliness, evil spirits and sorcery. In varying degrees and in their many and varied forms, and precisely because of their inherent flexibility, these Pentecostals attain an authentically indigenous character which enables them to offer answers to some of the fundamental questions asked in their own context. A sympathetic approach to local culture and the retention of certain cultural practices are undoubtedly major reasons for their attraction, especially for those millions overwhelmed by urbanisation with its transition from a personal rural society to an impersonal urban one. At the same time, Pentecostals confront old views by declaring what they are convinced is a more powerful protection against sorcery and a more effective healing from sickness than either the existing churches or the traditional rituals had offered. Healing, guidance, protection from evil, and success and prosperity are some of the practical benefits offered to faithful members of Pentecostal churches. Although Pentecostals do not have all the right answers or are to be emulated in all respects, the enormous and unparalleled contribution made by Pentecostals to alter the face of African Christianity must be acknowledged” (Anderson 2000,Evangelism and Pentecostal Growth In Africa ).

It is at this juncture, that this observation helps in explaining the unprecedented spread of Pentecostal churches in Africa and that in its entirety Pentecostalism gives hope.


The initial idea for this paper was to attempt to present the role of ATR and the factors contributing to the rapid growth of African Pentecostalism in these contemporary times. Pentecostalism has been characterized as the post-modern religion equivalent, taking full advantage of diffuse networks, divergent ideas, surface plays, and multiple flows. It speaks to all things and does so through all available technologies: “it provides a framework with which to respond to the pressures of modernization. For others it offers guidelines for material success. For those living on the margins of poverty Pentecostalism’s emphasis on renewing the family and protecting it from alcohol, drugs and sexual promiscuity at least stops them from slipping over the edge” (Maxwell 1998:369-70). As is obvious, this is not religion as mere opiate, anesthetizing the ache.  It is religion full of life, stirring, explaining, and inspiring.

Therefore the African Church must be proud of itself of having realized its potential to change the world through God’s grace and power endorsed upon it by God. This accounts for every born again believer despite denominational affiliation to swim into this great wave of great awakening sweeping across the African continent. Indeed God is honoring Africa, and Africa will never be the same. Its transformation and growth will rapidly be for God’s cause.








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