Drawing Christians from cities as far apart as Seattle and San Diego, the West Coast Believers' Convention in Anaheim this week is a testament to the phenomenal growth of the so-called charismatic movement, once viewed skeptically as a fringe element.
The weeklong event at the Anaheim Convention Center has more than 2,000 registered participants and drew more than 5,000 Tuesday night for a sermon by Texas-based minister Kenneth Copeland.
High-profile preachers like Copeland and his wife, Gloria, who lead Eagle Mountain International Church in Fort Worth, have spent decades appealing to mainstream Christians.
With their emphasis on direct divine inspiration--directly from God--healing powers and speaking in tongues, they have made many mainstream Christians uncomfortable. They also emphasize God's benevolence, the power of forgiveness and benefits of optimism.
"It's the segment of Christianity that is growing fastest around the world right now," said Lee Grady, editor of Florida-based Charisma magazine, with a circulation of 250,000. "While the mainline churches are declining, charismatic and Pentecostal churches are growing and are healthy. It's where the action is."
Part of the reason, Grady said, is the movement's acceptance of women as leaders.
"A lot of evangelicals are still arguing about whether women can minister today," he said. "And here's Gloria Copeland already doing it and doing it well."
Dressed in a bright pink suit, Gloria Copeland stood at the podium Wednesday morning to tell how to teach the Bible to children and keep them interested in Sunday school.
"Going to church ought to be fun," she said. "If you go to church and it's a drag, you're going to the wrong church."
Indeed, her Bible lessons are the main draw for many participants at this year's convention.
"Gloria keeps you grounded, and Kenneth gives you new insights," said Stephen Rodriguez, 20, clutching his Bible under his arm as he left the Wednesday morning session. "They preach that God is a good God. I love that. We have enough trouble in this world as human beings. It's good to know that God's on your side."
Rodriguez, who used his vacation for the trip, said Gloria Copeland is known for her teaching, while Kenneth Copeland is known for his fiery oratory and speaking in tongues.
Whereas charismatic Christians historically have been members of Pentecostal congregations--fundamentalist Protestant churches--high-profile leaders like the Copelands have a much broader appeal.
Global Evangelization Movement Research, an organization based in Richmond, Va., estimates that charismatic Christians now number more than 523 million worldwide.
The convention is a chance for believers to meet and worship with thousands of others and serves as a spiritual pep rally. Some of those attending are pastors seeking inspiration for their own sermons.
Some said the movement's emphasis on positive thinking is a big attraction because it can be difficult to live by Christian ideals in a secular world.
Firefighter Brian Coney of Yorba Linda said he is attending to renew his faith. "I came here to keep my spiritual acumen sharp," said Coney, 42. "It has the tendency to get dull because the things you encounter every day can make you feel like there's not a God."
Coney, who attends a charismatic church in Walnut, said he has been following the Copelands' ministry and reading their books for 25 years.
Fighting fires as a profession became a symbol for his internal battle to keep the devil at bay, he said.
Kim Warf, 37, of Mesa, Ariz., said becoming a Christian is easy.
"The key is to stay on track and not get distracted by the devil," she said.