Trends among mega-churches: Success, characteristics and direction

Published: Friday, Oct. 5 2012 5:00 a.m. MDT

Sheila Schuller Coleman poses for a picture at the Crystal Cathedral church in Garden Grove, Calif., Wednesday, June 17, 2009.

Chris Carlson, AP

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Fog machines, strobe lights, leather-jacketed pastors. This is not your father’s church. With what at times appears to be equal parts Bible, Hollywood and Fortune 500, mega-churches are rapidly spreading not only nationally but also across the world.

Christian Post recently identified seven trends, listed below, to watch regarding these large, fast-growing congregations. A mega-church is a church that maintains average weekly attendance of at least 2,000 people.

Consolidation

Many members of small churches are migrating to larger churches that offer more groups and more activities. Ten percent of all churchgoers attend a mega-church, yet mega-churches make up just one-half of 1 percent of all churches in America.

Proliferation

In 1970, there were just 50. By 1990, there were 300. Today, there are 1,600.

Retention

Historically, mega-churches have had a difficult time retaining members. Not one of the 10 largest mega-churches in 1969 is in the top 10 today. Many are watching to see if the contemporary mega-church model will reverse that trend.

Age of pastors

Pastors traditionally worked their way up from smaller churches to larger ones. This is less and less the case today. Currently, there are 25 mega-church pastors under the age of 38.

Multiple venues

Dozens of mega-churches average more than 10,000 people in weekly attendance, and their worship centers have come to resemble small colleges with multiple facilities and satellite campuses.

Groups

Small groups are essential to meeting members' needs and creating a sense of cohesion. The proliferation of groups extends beyond Sunday School and Bible classes to include life groups, home groups and numerous other groups.

Source of growth

Some critics argue that mega-churches are more social than theological in nature. One question observers are asking is whether evangelizing efforts or community demographics are more responsible for the growth of these churches.

A specific example of some of these trends can be found in a New York Times profile of the Second Baptist Church in Houston. Second Baptist has five campuses and 58,000 members, 23,000 of whom attend on any given week.

This past summer, pastor Ed Young drew upon contemporary mega-church practices to overhaul the church's staid summer Bible school. Called “trickle-up evangelism” by one Second Baptist staff member, the program employs Christian rock, humorous skits and Bible musicals to try to win the hearts and minds of Houston’s youths.

The mega-church model is also finding mega-success in Asia. According to a Bloomberg story, leather-and-denim-clad leaders of mega-churches in Singapore employ PowerPoint presentations, magic shows and the language of mass consumption to win mostly young, middle-class converts. Research shows that mega-churches are flourishing particularly in the urban areas of emerging economies.

David Ward is a writer living in Salt Lake City. Contact him at davidbward@gmail.com

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