Amid Religious Decline, This Charismatic Christian Movement Is Growing
In August of 2011, more than 30,000 people cheered wildly as the then U.S. presidential candidate and Texas Governor Rick Perry – now secretary of energy in the Trump administration – came to the center stage at “The Response: A Call to Prayer for a Nation in Crisis” at Reliant Stadium in Houston. Perry quoted from the Bible and preached about the need for salvation that comes from Jesus. He concluded with a prayer for a country he believed to be overwhelmed by problems:
“We see discord at home. We see fear in the marketplace. We see anger in the halls of government.”
He then proceeded to ask God for forgiveness for forgetting “who made us, who protects us, and who blesses us.” In response, the crowd exploded into cheers and praise to God.
Five years later, on April 9, 2016, and 1,500 miles away at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, tens of thousands of people gathered to pray for the supernatural transformation of America. The event consisted of more than 16 hours of healing sessions, worship music and prophecy from some of the most popular Charismatic Christian leaders in the world.
While not directly affiliated, these two events and the leaders who organized them are central players in a movement that we call “Independent Network Charismatic,” or INC, Christianity in our recently released book, “The Rise of Network Christianity.”
Based on our research, we believe that INC Christianity is significantly changing the religious landscape in America – and its politics.
Here is what we found about INC
INC Christianity is led by a network of popular independent religious entrepreneurs, often referred to as “apostles.” They have close ties, we found, to conservative U.S. politicians, including Sarah Palin, Newt Gingrich, Bobby Jindal, Rick Perry and more recently President Donald Trump.
Charismatic Christians emphasize supernatural miracles and divine interventions, but INC Christianity is different from other charismatics – and other Christian denominations in general – in the following ways:
- It is not focused primarily on building congregations but rather on spreading beliefs and practices through media, conferences and ministry schools.
- It is not so much about proselytizing to unbelievers as it is about transforming society through placing Christian believers in powerful positions in all sectors of society.
- It is organized as a network of independent leaders rather than as formally organized denominations.
INC Christianity is the fastest-growing Christian group in America and possibly around the world. Over the 40 years from 1970 to 2010, the number of regular attenders of Protestant churches as a whole shrunk by an average of .05 percent per year, while independent neo-charismatic congregations (a category in which INC groups reside) grew by an average of 3.24 percent per year.
Its impact, however, is much greater than can be measured in church attendance. This is because INC Christianity is not centrally concerned with building congregations, but spreading beliefs and practices.
The influence of INC Christianity can be seen in the millions of hits on many of their web-based media sites, large turnouts at stadium rallies and conferences, and millions of dollars in media sales. In our interviews with leaders, we found that Bethel, an INC ministry based in Redding, California, for example, in 2013 had an income of US$8.4 million in media sales (music, books, DVDs, web-based content) and $7 million in tuition to their Bethel School of Supernatural Ministry.
According to the director of media services at the Kansas City-based International House of Prayer (IHOP), their website receives over 25 million hits every year from all over the world and is one of the top 50 websites in the world in terms of viewed video content (a million hours of watched video content per month).
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