NEWS and NOTES
Vol. VI, No.3
New Research Debunks 11 Myths About Megachurches
According to a groundbreaking research study just released by Leadership Network and Hartford Seminary's Hartford Institute for Religion Research, many of the most widely held beliefs about megachurches could not be farther from the truth.
The Megachurches Today 2005 survey is the most thoroughly researched study of the Protestant megachurch movement in the United States. Since June 2005, more than 1,800 churches were contacted by e-mail, phone and mail, with complete data for more than 400 qualifying congregations received, tabulated and analyzed.
According to Warren Bird, Leadership Networks Director of Research, Based on the results of this survey, we are able to conclude that there are at least 1,210 Protestant churches in the United States today with average weekly attendance of over 2,000. That is nearly double the number of megachurches that existed five years ago.
While tremendously significant as a cultural study and as a how to guide for large churches, the survey also is instructive for churches that are anything but mega. Scott Thumma, Professor of Sociology of Religion at Hartford Seminary and primary architect of the survey, said, I am absolutely convinced that megachurches have blossomed, at least in part, because they have responded creatively to the new needs and interests of people in a new cultural reality. There is much to learn from megachurchesand it isnt all about being big.
As Dave Travis, Executive Vice President of Leadership Network, also noted, Not a week passes without megachurches figuring prominently in one or more national news stories. During 2005 alone, four megachurch pastors had books on The New York Times bestseller lists. And megachurch pastors always dominate the lists of the most influential religious leaders in the country. The Megachurches Today 2005 survey provides the perspective that to date has been missing from most reporting on this movement.
The wide-ranging survey includes data on the many attributes that together define the nature and impact of megachurches in our society. Collectively, the results debunk 11 of the most common beliefs about megachurches, namely:
MYTH #1: All megachurches are alike.
REALITY: They differ in growth rates, size and emphasis.
MYTH #2: All megachurches are equally good at being big.
REALITY: Some clearly understand how to function as a large institution, but others flounder.
MYTH #3: There is an over-emphasis on money in the megachurches.
REALITY: The data disputes this.
MYTH #4: Megachurches exist for spectator worship and are not serious about Christianity.
REALITY: Megachurches generally have high spiritual expectations and serious orthodox beliefs.
MYTH #5: Megachurches are not deeply involved in social ministry.
REALITY: Considerable ministry is taking place at and through these churches.
MYTH #6: All megachurches are pawns of or powerbrokers to George Bush and the Republican Party.
REALITY: The vast majority of megachurches are not politically active.
MYTH #7: All megachurches have huge sanctuaries and enormous campuses.
REALITY: Megachurches make widespread use of multiple worship services over several days, multiple venues, and even multiple campuses.
MYTH #8: All megachurches are nondenominational.
REALITY: The vast majority belong to some denomination.
MYTH #9: All megachurches are homogeneous congregations with little diversity.
REALITY: A large and growing number are multi-ethnic and intentionally so.
MYTH #10: Megachurches grow primarily because of great programming.
REALITY: Megachurches grow because excited attendees tell their friends.
MYTH #11: The megachurch phenomenon is on the decline.
REALITY: The data suggests that many more megachurches are on the way.
In terms of affiliation, the greatest number of megachurches are nondenominational (34 percent), Southern Baptist (16 percent) or Baptist, unspecified (10 percent). The remainder are scattered among Assemblies of God, United Methodist, Calvary Chapel, Christian, and other Protestant denominations.
The regions with the greatest concentrations of churches are south Atlantic, Pacific and western Central. Every region of the United States has some megachurches. The phenomenon is spreading outside the Sunbelt states.
Downloadable copies of the complete Megachurches 2005 Today survey (in PDF version) are available at both organizations web sites: www.leadnet.org and http://hirr.hartsem.edu. A 15-minute podcast discussion of key survey findings is archived