Thursday, February 09, 2006

Myths About Megachurches

New Research Debunks 11 Myths About Megachurches (Read the comments on this Post) 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 Network’s 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 megachurches—and it isn’t 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 both html and PDF versions) are available at both organizations’ web sites: and A 15-minute podcast discussion of key survey findings is archived on both sites. For more information or to schedule media interviews of the principals behind the Megachurches Today 2005 study, contact:



Trey said...

One of my concerns about "mega" churches is an over-emphasis on the pastor(s). I agree with these myth-busters, but why is it that our culture continues to slide away from Christ even as these churches blossom? I think a large part of it is that members in these churches feel that they have little role beyond volunteering at a mega (or normal) church ministry. That is, pastors on stage or in pulpit seem to be so influencial that ordinary people are not inspired or empowered to do something radical for Jesus (unless, again, it's a church ministry).

I don't think this is a new problem which just came up because of mega churches. Rather, it's been brewing as a problem in American Christianity for a long time and has become more pronouced with the brighter lights and larger stages of mega-churches.

Laurel Audrey Taylor said...

That is a good point about an over-emphasis on the pastor(s). There is something extraordinarily disturbing about a church with a website like this:

One can “Watch Joel Now,” “Stay in Touch with Joel,” have “An Evening with Joel,” and, with Joel’s help, “discover the champion in you” and have “Your Best Life Now,” but the only place God Almighty is mentioned is down at the bottom of the page where they are asking for money. Furthermore, like Trey, I question how a church like this could genuinely engage a culture in which people are disillusioned with and skeptical of a Christianity with simplistic answers, sentimentality, and trite optimism.

I know, not all “mega” churches are like this, and though we shouldn’t ridicule them all and ignore the positive things they offer, neither should we refrain from being critical where criticism is clearly due. The difficult part is to be critical graciously, as from sister to sister, because as we all claim Christ’s name, we are, whether we like it or not, part of one Body.

Gautam said...

Three Church Growth Myths

by guest columnist John C. LaRue, Jr.
February 21, 2001

Do you need alarming statistics to motivate your church into being more evangelistic? I hope not. There's already plenty of evidence to indicate that many people still need to be evangelized without exaggerating. That's why I'd like to dispel a number of myths currently being circulated.

Myth #1: The percentage of adults in the United States who attend church is decreasing. (See statistics below.)

The fact is churchgoing in America has been very stable for 60 years. True, according to the Gallup Poll, church attendance surged in the 1950s and trailed off in the 1960s to an average of between 40 to 43 percent. And it's true that in 1996 only 37 percent of those surveyed by Gallup said they attend church weekly — the lowest percentage ever recorded. But in 1999 — the last year for which statistics are available — 43 percent of Americans said they had attended church in the past week. So church attendance actually increased by 16 percent in just 3 years.

Myth #2: More churches are closing than opening every year.

Actually, there are more churches in the United States now than there were 20 or even 100 years ago. According to yellow pages statistics there are currently more than 350,000 listings for churches in this country compared to about 300,000 twenty years ago. This growth in the number of churches reflects the growth in the U.S. population during the twentieth century.

Perhaps this misperception arose because there has been a dramatic decline in the church-to-population ratio in the past century. According to the "1993-1994 Almanac of the Christian World" there were 27 churches per 10,000 people in 1900 compared to just 12 churches per 10,000 people in 1990. However, churches are getting larger. Church growth expert Lyle Schaller reports that various denominational records indicate the average church size has tripled in the past century. So even though there aren't as many churches per capita, many people are attending larger, mega-churches.

Myth #3: Conversions to other religions and dropouts from Christianity are escalating. (See statistics below.)

The truth is, according to Gallup research, the number of Americans who describe themselves as born-again or evangelical Christians has grown dramatically in the past quarter century — especially in the 1990s. In 1976, 34 percent of Americans were classified as evangelicals. Twenty-five years later, in 1999, this number was up 12 percentage points to 46 percent.

In conclusion, be cautious with reports that cast church growth statistics negatively. Try to step back and get the whole picture before using statistics to prod congregants into action. After all, we already have adequate motivation — a biblical mandate to go into all the world with the gospel until Christ returns. And the fact is regardless of upward or downward trends there are plenty of people left that need the good news.

About the Research

Gallup statistics in this report come from Emerging Trends, a monthly publication of the Princeton Religion Research Center utilizing the research facilities of Gallup International. Most studies from which these statistics were generated consisted of nationwide random samples of 1000 adults in the United States between 1939 and 1999.

Year %
1939 41
1950 39
1955 49
1962 46
1967 43
1972 40
1977 41
1980 40
1985 42
1990 40
1996 37
1999 43

Year %
1976 34
1981 38
1992 36
1995 41
1999 46

John C. LaRue, Jr., is Vice President of Internet Research and Development for Christianity Today International, and Your Church Special Report columnist. To reply, write:

Gautam said...

The last comment was from

Christianity Today

Gautam said...

The Success of Evangelicalism

Let's begin with the phrase in the title, "A Mind in Love with God." You need to know that I was assigned my titles. I didn't choose them, though I love them, and submitted gladly to the leaders of the conference. You need to know this so that you are aware of some driving convictions behind this event. When David Wells, who has written a book called No Place for Truth, and Os Guinness, who has written a book called Fit Bodies, Fat Minds, and the subtitle of the one is Whatever Happened to Evangelical Theology? and the subtitle of the other is Why Evangelicals Don't Think - when those two men are asked to come speak at a conference under the theme, "A Passion for Truth: Evangelicalism in the Modern World," you know that there is an agenda, a cluster of convictions and passions that are driving this event.

I will be disappointed if David Wells and Os Guinness do not say, in one form or another, that evangelicalism today is basking briefly in the sunlight of hollow success. Evangelical industries of television and radio and publishing and music recordings as well as hundreds of growing mega-churches and some highly visible public figures and political movements give outward impressions of vitality and strength. But both Wells and Guinness in their own ways, have called attention to the hollowing out of evangelicalism from within. That is, the strong timber of the tree of evangelicalism has historically been the great doctrines of the Bible - God's glorious perfections. . . man's fallen nature . . . the wonders of Biblical history . . the magnificent work of redemption in Christ . . . the saving and sanctifying work of grace in the soul . . . the great mission of the church in conflict with the world, the flesh, and the devil . . . the greatness of our hope of everlasting joy at God's right hand. These things once defined us and were the strong fiber and timber beneath the fragile leaves and fruit of our religious experiences. But this is the case less and less, it seems. And that is why the waving leaves of success and the sweet fruit of prosperity are not as auspicious to David Wells and Os Guinness as tkey is to many. It is a hollow triumph, and the tree is getting weaker and weaker while the branches are waving in the sun.

But right at this point Edwards comes to our aid. The first thing he would say is this: Beware lest, even in your description of the problem, your diagnosis fall prey to the very categories of pragmatism that constitute the problem. In other words, don't bemoan the condition of evangelicalism because it is hollow and therefore weakening - as if the real goal is lasting prominence rather than temporary prominence. Instead, bemoan the condition of evangelicalism because it minimizes the supremacy and centrality of God.

John Piper

Gautam said...

Joel Osteen

WE BELIEVE…the entire Bible is inspired by God, without error and the authority on which we base our faith, conduct and doctrine.

WE BELIEVE…in one God who exists in three distinct persons: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. We believe Jesus Christ is the Son of God who came to this earth as Savior of the world.

WE BELIEVE…Jesus died on the cross and shed His blood for our sins. We believe Jesus rose from the dead and is coming again. We believe that eternal salvation is found only by placing our faith in Jesus Christ and what he did for us on the cross.

WE BELIEVE…water baptism is a symbol of the cleansing power of the blood of Christ and an outward testimony to our faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.

WE BELIEVE…in the regular taking of Communion as an act of remembering what the Lord Jesus did for us on the cross.

WE BELIEVE…every believer should be in a growing relationship with Jesus by obeying God’s Word, yielding to the Holy Spirit and by being conformed to the image of Christ.

WE BELIEVE…as children of God, we are overcomers and more than conquerors and God intends for each of us to experience the abundant life He has in store for us

Laurel Audrey Taylor said...

Like I said, I admit that churches like Osteen's are part of the Body of Christ and should be loved as such, but I question some things about their technique and what seems to be emphasized in their ministry. I am concerned, in Piper's terms, that many churches "minimize the supremacy and centrality [and I might add mystery!} of God." I am also concerned that some minimize the importance of the history and tradition of the Church universal, being influenced more by secular contemporaries than ancestors of faith.

Laurel Audrey Taylor said...


Ok, maybe this isn't the most gracious way to criticize, but they may have a point.