Megachurches

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I want to fend off some of the potential critics and those who think I am bashing megachurches. I’m not.

In fact, there is an excellent recently published study that helps replace lots of myths about the megachurch in North America with some solid research. Beyond Megachurch Myths is a good book. Before anyone hurls critical missiles at the mega-church, I would recommend they absorb this volume.

I believe the megachurch is a fixture solidly established in the diverse mosaic of the American religious landscape. While it may struggle and slowly morph to adapt to a rapidly changing culture around it, the form itself is not going to disappear in my lifetime or for several generations to come. While there are hoards of people who are disillusioned and fleeing the traditional structures, there are still plenty of sons and daughters of the boomers who are stepping into their parent’s shoes to inherit the religious institutions they have created and/or embellished.

Whether it is Robert Schuller’s Crystal Cathedral which appealed to my grandparent’s and parent’s generation, Saddleback and Willow Creek which are boomer focused, or Mosaic, Rock Harbor and Hillsong whose demographic is gen-x and millennials, the mega-structure is an enduring phenomena on the North American scene. As Peter Druker commented in 1998,

“Consider the pastoral megachurches that have been growing so very fast in the U.S. since 1980 and are surely the most important social phenomenon in American society in the last 30 years.”

Megachurches have great strengths. They can do things that are simply out of reach for a house church or a group of 100, and megachurches exert leverage that can shape the entire Christian movement in their locale and beyond, sometimes positively and sometimes negatively. The influence they and their leadership exert is far out of proportion to the numbers of attendees, particularly as megachurches are held up as the model for other local church expressions to emulate.

Best estimates are that there are 1250 megachurches in the U.S. (out of approximately 320,000 Christian congregations) with 4.5 million attendees on a weekly basis. These churches account for one-half of 1 percent of all the religious congregations in the nation and yet the largest 1% of American churches contain at least 15% of the total worshipers.

Be we also have to be honest about megachurch limitations. I would agree with Alan Hirsch’s observation that only about 30% of the North American population is within reach of the institutional/traditional/attractional church and an even smaller percentage of that would ever meaningfully connect with a megachurch. While megachurches may represent a significant slice of the religious population, their influence on the general culture may not be much to crow about. Bigger may be by some criteria better, but it may not be always best.

The bottom line is that the American religious mosaic is incredibly diverse and complex. In the Protestant realm, it is distinguished by ethnic and socio-economic diversity, urban vs. suburban, the emerging church (which mainline evangelicals are going after like a mother eating her young …a whole other topic), organic/simple church, the missional/incarnational models, third-place groups, neo-monatistic movements, liturgical models, old-school evangelicals, mainliners, megachurches, etc ….

Put that all in a blender and add the presence of the supernatural and what swirls around is a remarkable cacophony that reflects the creativity, diversity and the accommodating graciousness of the triune God.

2 Responses to “Megachurches”

  1. Dave Travis Says:

    Thanks for blogging on my book! Good comments.
    I think some of the facts in the book are also relevant to your readers such as the high percentage of megachurches that support church planting.
    AND not just the planting of other megachurches as many are also helping to catalyze simple church movements.

    Keep on blogging. I read it every day.

    Dave Travis
    Managing Partner
    Leadership Network

  2. Mega-hindrance? « Corey Paxton Says:

    [...] were very insightful.  The mega-church is not necessarily the problem (I completely agree with Sam’s most recent post).   Let me be to the point– I don’t think there is a right way “to do” [...]

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