What Is A Megachurch?

Recent events at churches such as Willow Creek and Harvest Bible Chapel, among others, have brought additional attention lately to megachurches. I’ve heard and read comments about the “megachurch mindset” and characterizations about megachurch leaders, and I’ve been guilty of making a few of these myself. But are these generalizations fair? Let’s look at fact and fiction about these mythic beasts.

Fact

(Information from The Hartford Institute for Religion Research.)

  • A megachurch is defined solely by size. According to the Hartford Institute for Religion Research, a megachurch is “a Protestant Christian congregation with a sustained average weekly attendance of 2000 persons or more in its worship services, counting all adults and children at all its worship locations.” This can include multi-site churches, if the total attendance at all locations is 2,000 or more.

  • While the largest megachurches have as many as 30,000 regular attenders, the median number of regular attenders is 3,800, with just under 2,600 in actual weekly attendance.

  • Over 70% of megachurches are located in the southern “sunbelt” region of the United States.

  • A majority of megachurches are located in suburban areas surrounding rapidly growing urban areas.

  • Forty percent of megachurches are nondenominational.

  • Most reach megachurch size in less than ten years, with a median growth rate of 26% over five years.

  • This growth usually occurs under the tenure of one senior pastor, who is usually male.

  • Megachurch worship style tends to be more contemporary.

Fiction

  • While megachurches share many similarities, it is simply not true that there is one broad “megachurch mindset” or archetypal “megachurch pastor.” Many megachurches and their leaders have found connection through several well-known networks (e.g., Leadership Network and Outreach, to name a few). However, not every megachurch shares the perspectives and practices advocated by these organizations or their members.

  • There are megachurches that have developed over time, and through conversion growth. There are megachurches in rural areas, and in post-Christian cities on the East and West coasts and in the Pacific Northwest. There are megachurches that are not led by mega-personalities, or even by a sole senior pastor. There are megachurches that feature more traditional styles of worship. There are megachurches that have multiple smaller worship gatherings.

  • Megachurches are not all uncooperative or antagonistic toward other churches in the area. Their pastors are not all narcissists. They are not all entertainment-driven or shallow, and their attenders are not all mere spectators or uncommitted. I have heard every one of these generalizations at some point. There are certainly megachurches that exhibit some or all of these characteristics, but it is unfair to make sweeping accusations against every large church.

In short, while megachurches certainly have unique challenges, they are not automatically bad, unbiblical, or any other categorical charge that has been leveled against them. They are simply big.

What has been your experience with and view of megachurches?

Angie Ward