A continued rise in megachurches?

Megachurches continue to grow in the United States and around the world:

Even with a growing share of the American population who say they do not identify with any religion, megachurch domination continues to rise. In all, 10% of worshipers attend churches that draw in more than 2,000 people, totaling nearly six million megachurch attendees nationwide each weekend.

And it’s not just the U.S. that catching onto super-sized congregations. According to the Hartford Institute for Religion Research, a single church in Korea says more than 250,000 people attend services there. By comparison, Hartford researchers say America’s largest megachurch has an average of 45,000 attendees…

A major driver behind the rapid expansion are often the leaders themselves. As congregations slowly began to swell in numbers, so too did the star-status of the leaders at the church’s helm. Church leaders and televangelists like Joel Osteen and Pat Robertson paved the path in becoming household names marketing themselves in the big business of bringing faith to the masses…

Churches built a franchise out of the success, setting up satellite branches just to keep up with the demand. In what critics have called the “Wal-Mart effect,” megachurches are expanding in suburban areas, absorbing congregants from small-town churches and running them dry. To keep up with the demand, megachurches lead multiple services held throughout the entire weekend. For church campuses hosting guest speakers or church leaders from out of town, live video monitors bring services to congregations sometimes held hundreds of miles away.

“Clearly the majority of the people who came to a megachurch were coming from a congregation nearby. Then there’s also a sizable number of folks that say they came to that congregation and they hadn’t really gone to any for a long time,” Thumma said. “If you’re moving to a suburb, the megachurch allows you an almost instant community of people who think like you.”

I’m not sure this article says much new about megachurches. It hits some of the key points: lots of Americans attend, it has spread to some other countries, charismatic leaders often lead the way, and they are typically suburban and draw from across a metropolitan region.

Alas, this article could go a lot further to actually discuss megachurches beyond having a catchy headline. For example:

1. The average size of American churches is actually quite smaller. According to the National Congregations Study, the average church was 75 people in 2006-2007. See wave three of the NCS data here.

2. Just how common are megachurches around the world? The article cites one church – a really big one in South Korea – but doesn’t say anything else.

3. It is easy to focus on superstar pastors like Rick Warren or Joel Osteen or T.D. Jakes. But, is this the primary reason people attend megachurches? Are they primarily drawn by the big name or do the churches offer key features?

4. The satellite church phenomenon is relatively new for a lot of big churches. How effective is this model?

Overall, this is the sort of media piece that rehashes information for readers who don’t know much about megachurches but misses an opportunity to go deeper.

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