loren Eric Swanson: Megachurches Growing in Number and Size

Sunday, February 05, 2006

Megachurches Growing in Number and Size

Thought I'd put in this good summary by AP writer....

By ABE LEVY, Associated Press Writer Fri Feb 3, 7:35 PM ET

A new survey on U.S. Protestant megachurches shows they are among the nation's fastest-growing faith groups, drawing younger people and families with contemporary programming and conservative values.
The number of megachurches, defined as having a weekly attendance of at least 2,000, has doubled in five years to 1,210. The megachurches have an estimated combined income of $7.2 billion and draw nearly 4.4 million people to weekly services, according to "Megachurches Today 2005."
The study, released Friday, based its findings on 406 surveys from megachurches. It was written by Leadership Network, a nonprofit church-growth consulting firm in Dallas, and the Hartford Institute for Religion Research, which did a similar survey in 2000.
Leadership Network's clients are large churches in the U.S. and Canada looking to grow or maintain growth with new ideas and methods. The Hartford Institute for Religion Research is part of the nondenominational Hartford Seminary in Connecticut.
"When you add up all that megachurches are doing from books to video to the networks of connection across the nation, you can't say this phenomena of more than 1,200 megachurches is anything but really one of the most influential factors of American religion at this point in time," said Scott Thumma, researcher for the study and sociology professor at Hartford Seminary.
The South has the most share with 49 percent, including Texas with 13 percent. California led the nation with 14 percent but is part of a declining western region with 25 percent, seven percentage points lower than five years ago.
While large churches have flourished throughout history, early records show that the U.S. had about six large churches in the early part of the 20th century. That number grew to 16 by 1960 and then in the 1970s, they began to proliferate and draw public attention.
Megachurches founded since 1990 have more growth from year to year than any others and have the highest median attendance at about 3,400.
Oak Hills Church in San Antonio draws up to 5,200 weekly. Visitors have a special parking lot, are greeted there and inside the church by volunteers and invited to sip coffee at its "Connection Cafe" where video and print materials are presented about church programs.
"The main thing we work really hard at is having a good program for every age group," said Jim Dye, executive minister at Oak Hills. "We want the affluent to feel welcome and the hardworking, labor person, living payday to payday, to feel as welcome as anyone else."
The growth of megachurches in recent decades has come about because of a common historic cycle in U.S. religion: faith institutions reinventing themselves to meet the consumerlike demands of worshippers, said Paul Harvey, American history professor at the University of Colorado who specializes in U.S. religious history.
"We have a market economy of religion," he said. "Megachurches just show the instant adaptability of religious institutions. They reflect how Americans have morphed their religious institutions into the way they want them to be. Religious institutions have to respond to that."
Well-stated goals for growth, including orientation classes for new members, and a slew of programming for many demographics were a pattern for megachurches in the study. They also commonly have contemporary worship services with electric guitars and drums and frequent use of overhead projectors during multiple services throughout the week.
Their emphasis on evangelism, propelled mostly by word of mouth from enthused members, has been a constant, said researcher Dave Travis with Leadership Network.
"These large churches have figured out how to address the needs of people in a relevant, engaging way that is actually making a difference in their lives," he said.
The study also provides information about the age of megachurches, specifically that one-third reported they were founded 60 years ago or more. It also countered the notion that they are all independent congregations: 66 percent report belonging to a denomination — although most downplay this aspect in their church names and programming.
Other findings:
- 56 percent of megachurches said they have tried to be more multiethnic and 19 percent of their attendance is not from the majority race of the congregation.
- The average yearly income of megachurches is $6 million, while they spend on average $5.6 million each year.
- The states with highest concentrations of megachurches are California (14 percent), Texas (13 percent), Florida (7 percent) and Georgia (6 percent).
- The average megachurch has 3,585 in attendance, a 57 percent increase compared to five years ago


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