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On Megachurches ….

posted by Scot McKnight

The Hartford Institute for Religion Research has a new study, available as a PDF, about megachurches. Here is the opening suggestive conclusions, and I’m wondering what you see here (or in the article itself)(HT: AR):

A FEW OF THE MOST PROMINENT FINDINGS:

  • Young and single adults are more likely to be in megachurches than in smaller churches.
  • Nearly two-thirds of attenders have been at these churches 5 years or less.
  • Many attenders come from other churches, but nearly a quarter haven’t
    been in any church for a long time before coming to a megachurch.
  • Attenders report a considerable increase in their involvement in
    church, in their spiritual growth, and in their needs being met.
  • Forty-five percent of megachurch attenders never volunteer at the church.
  • New people almost always come to the megachurch because family, friends or co-workers invited them.
  • What first attracted attenders were the worship style, the senior pastor and the church’s reputation.
  • These same factors also influenced long-term attendance, as did the
    music/arts, social and community outreach and adult-oriented programs.
  • Attenders can craft unique, customized spiritual experiences through
    the multitude of ministry choices and diverse avenues for involvement
    that megachurches offer.


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Jim Marks

posted June 16, 2009 at 3:56 pm


Radical individualism wedded at the hip to capitalist consumerism. The Seeker Christian finds the Corporate Church. A “match made in Heaven”?
I would say all this was a very, very good thing except for this:
“45 percent of megachurch attenders never volunteer at the church.”
I think that turns the whole thing on its ear, but I’d have to see comparable numbers for smaller churches to know how to interpret that point correctly.
Does this mean that megachurch people are lazy consumers who don’t feel like being a church going person means they have to do something other than show up on Sunday mornings? Or is the percentage who never volunteer at smaller churches twice as high?



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Kenny Johnson

posted June 16, 2009 at 3:59 pm


I think my church, which is about 400 people has much less than 45% serving rate.



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Carl Holmes

posted June 16, 2009 at 4:53 pm


Me centered all the way. Pretty dangerous. As a former attendee of a Mega Church I can say that it was all about meeting me and my families needs. It has taken much thought, prayer, and ultimately a move to a smaller church (for other reasons) for me to see that.
Mega churches are not all bad. some Mega Churches donating are what keeps my ministry alive at times and I thank them for that… but overall it is not the best place for individual spiritual growth.



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Scott F

posted June 16, 2009 at 5:25 pm


Does “volunteering” includes doing something or other in your Sunday school? Making coffee? I would want to know what their definitions is.



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MikeNZ

posted June 16, 2009 at 6:18 pm


What about Character development?
Its really hard to have a real relationship with the backside of someones head, hence I have an antipathy towards pews.
Hence small groups and ministry serving groups as in the doing you get acquainted.
is Acquainted enough?
personally I don’t think the issue is Mega church but to use Dr David Risers recent email.
“There is no substitute or unconditional, intimate relationship with God. And I mean there is no palatable substitute available to us (take another look at Matthew 7:21-23 sometime). We must choose”.
-Dr. David Ryser.



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Lori

posted June 16, 2009 at 6:50 pm


I attend a church of about 150 parishoners. I would say about 10 – 20
5 are actively serving. Megachurches are not the only ones who have a large percentage of pew sitters. I have attended both small churches and megachurches. The megachurches I have been to became mega due to the fact that the gospel message was delivered without sugar coating, and diluted to touchy feely, tickle my itching ears nonesense. The pastors and staff were extremely biblical and orthodox in the basic Christian tenents. They were doing mighty works of God and harvesting souls for Christ.
I have also attended megachurches that are clearly not teaching or preaching or living out the gospel of Jesus Christ. There are good megachurches and bad ones. I personally have never heard a valid criticsm of them. Just because a church is a megachurch doesn’t mean they are bad churches. God moves just as greatly in a large church as a small or medium sized church.
I have also been in a lot of smaller churches who were serving a watered down gospel with political correctness. My church of 150 is worshiping and serving the Christ of the bible. The people are growing and are challenged. I personally don’t care how big or small a church is. It’s about how the pastor and congregation serve and worship the Lord.



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Julie Clawson

posted June 16, 2009 at 6:56 pm


“# What first attracted attenders were the worship style, the senior pastor and the church’s reputation.
# These same factors also influenced long-term attendance, as did the music/arts, social and community outreach and adult-oriented programs. ”
I’m hoping these were options on a multiple choice list that people had to choose from, because otherwise it’s kinda sad if those are the self-expressed reasons why people choose a church. Worship style? pastor? Really? How far from the point of church can you get? But having to fill in a bubble even if it doesn’t really represent you, might make that result a bit more understandable…



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Jim Martin

posted June 16, 2009 at 8:46 pm


As I read through this list, I was struck by the sentence:
New people almost always come to the megachurch because family, friends or co-workers invited them. So often Christian leaders forget this very basic reality. There continues to be something very powerful about one inviting another to something meaningful. I thought of a time when I wondered how I could possibly encourage a certain person to come to our church. I thought, prayed and tried to figure out some sort of angle. It dawned on me that I had never even invited the person.
I don’t make this statement to affirm the “invitation” as some sort of gimmick that works. Rather, I am just saying that sometimes we may ignore the simple and what even might be obvious.



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Norm

posted June 16, 2009 at 9:21 pm


The church we used to attend is on its way to “mega-church” status. After just four years they have gone from an average of 50 on Sunday mornings to well over 1,000 now in two serves.
My wife and I conducted a new members class for several weeks and the reason we heard for people coming to the church from other churches was it was “friendly” and “they liked the pastor.”
If one were to step back and watch, it is easy to see that there are some massive egos involved. From previous research I had done from the earlier Hartford findings, a heavy dose of pastoral ego is a contributing factor in the churches growth. That does not just mean the senior pastor, although that is predominate.
It also seems that often activity is confused with accomplishment. And family programs are mistaken for discipling. Which I find disappointing.



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pds

posted June 17, 2009 at 11:09 am


peelingdragonskin.wordpress.com
Julie (#7)
I am sympathetic to your overall thrust, but here is my question: how should people pick a church?
My bigger question is: How well is the church teaching people how to pick a church?



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Brian

posted June 17, 2009 at 11:52 am


Low volunteer rates are in part a function of the structure. When the main events are designed to create a large audience for a relatively small number of people, it doesn’t take everyone to keep it running.



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Jim Marks

posted June 17, 2009 at 1:31 pm


Julie:
I go to church for two reasons:
1) to worship corporately
2) to learn
So I would indicate a priest/minister/pastor as a reason, not in some charismatic, cult of personality way, but in that I have been to churches where the pastor didn’t know what he was talking about, and it made learning impossible, or churches were the pastor’s views were so deeply set in one mode that once you learned that mode there was nothing else, and to churches were the sermon every single week was a vibrant, eye opening experience to re-think an aspect of my life and my faith.
That would bring me back to a church. In fact, I’ve been attending a New Life church here in Chicago with my brother that couldn’t be further from what I want out of a church in terms of “worship style” or a “statement of faith” point of view, but the pastor’s words every Sunday make me think, and re-evaluate, and learn, and grow. He challenges my life and my thinking. And that makes it “worth” the nearly 2 hour CTA trip to get there each week.
What do you think is a “valid” reason to choose a church?



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Michael W. Kruse

posted June 17, 2009 at 7:59 pm


#9 Norm
” … the reason we heard for people coming to the church from other churches was it was “friendly” and “they liked the pastor.”
I just returned from a large conference where one of the workshops was on evangelism in the PCUSA (and, no, that is no an oxymoron). Friendliness was the number one factor in people returning to a worship service … especially friendliness by someone other than the pastor. Here is the kicker, first time visitors routinely report that megachurches are more friendly than small ones! Small ones tend to be more parochial and niche. You don’t fit the bill, you don’t belong. (Disclosure: I attend a small church.)
#8 Jim
“It dawned on me that I had never even invited the person.”
The speaker at this conference noted evangelism training done with PCUSAers that encouraged them to identify specific individuals, to pray for them, and invite them to church. Most selected long-time neighbors and friends they had never asked. The predominate response from people who were asked was surprise? They knew the one inviting attended church and had concluded that the reason the person had never invited them was because they weren’t good enough for their church, or would somehow have made them uncomfortable. Ouch!



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Michael W. Kruse

posted June 17, 2009 at 8:04 pm


On the 45% who never volunteer, like others, I’d like to know how that compares with small churches (Having been in them, my guess is big churches compare favorably.)
I’d also like to know why it is that we think everyone in our congregations should be using the church as the primary venue for volunteering. For instance, what about the faithful attender of worship and other events who coaches a youth sports team in a city league, being Christ in the world? I’d want to know more before making to many critical judgments.



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Brian

posted June 17, 2009 at 10:18 pm


Michael,
Yes, yes, yes! I think focus on volunteering in the church because it is what we are often taught, at least implicitly.
Some years ago I realized that following this pattern leaves a great deal of other good undone. And for me, I realized that I had to give this up for the sake of my adopted son. That was the price of getting him out of an orphanage and getting him what he needs.



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Brian

posted June 17, 2009 at 10:19 pm


That should say, “I think we focus…”



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Rick

posted June 18, 2009 at 8:42 am


Michael #14-
“I’d also like to know why it is that we think everyone in our congregations should be using the church as the primary venue for volunteering. For instance, what about the faithful attender of worship and other events who coaches a youth sports team in a city league, being Christ in the world?”
Amen.



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Steve S

posted June 18, 2009 at 3:11 pm


…two critiques I have of Mega churches:
One is the tendency to pile up christians in one spot instead of spreading them out over the earth. This is of course a critique of small churches too. But the mega-church mindset of ‘how many butts can we get in seats’ tends to damper church planting…
Two is the promotion of the idea that numbers is the definition of success. My experience has been that the speakers at every conference, the regional overseers of every denominational area, the authors of every book, are the pastors with the largest churches. We count what we think is important, and I suggest we start counting some other ‘success’ indicators:
Here are a few suggestions, but I imagine that this crowd could easily improve upon it:
1) The number of languages spoken by people in the church
2) The comparison of ethnic mix in the church to the ethnic mix of the community (or socio-economic status, etc.)
3) The number of churches planted out of this church
4) The number of church plants that have subsequently planted new churches!
5) The number of cross cultural church plants sent out
6) The percentage of people participating in ministry
7) The percentage of people participating in some form of intentional community (discipleship house, etc.)
8) The percentage of people involved in a home group
9) The percentage of church income given to outside groups
10) …
11) ?



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Kelc

posted June 20, 2009 at 11:41 pm


Steve S.,
Very well said!



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