The Baylor Survey of Religion studied megachurches, criticisms of megachurches, and whether or not the criticisms were right. You can find the study here: Rodney Stark, What Americans Really Believe
. I should fess up right away: Kris and I, as well as Laura and Mark (our daughter and her husband), are Willow Creekers. I may be biased, but Rodney Stark’s book is not.
What is the truth about megachurches? Do you lose what so many say you lose? What is the gain in the smaller congregation?
Here are the facts…
The standard criticisms, voiced by theologians and pastors and postmoderns, include that it’s a Disneyland experience, anonymous, lacking in intimacy, lacking a sense of sin, overly concerned with consumer happiness … thus, lacking authenticity, commitment, intimacy of small congregations.
The Baylor study compared churches over 1000 with churches under 100.
Do they focus on the “bright side of life”? Yes, 92% vs. 79% believe in heaven and 85% vs. 53% think they will go there. 57% vs. 46% think God honors faithfulness with success.
Do they include the “dark side” as well? Yes, 90% vs. 69% believe in hell and 72% vs. 67% think God is angered by human sin.
But what about commitment measures? 46% vs. 39% attend services weekly; 46% v. 36% tithe; 33% vs. 32% read Bible daily; and 52% vs. 43% attend a Bible-study group. And members of megachurches are more inclined to have religious experiences: 67% vs. 39% measure “high.”
What about intimacy? 41% of megachurch members have half or more of their friends at their church vs. 25%, while 12% in megachurches have no friends vs. 22% in small churches.
Outreach? 83% vs. 52% shared faith with friends in last month vs. 52%; 53% with strangers vs. 35%.
Volunteerism? Are megachurches “gated communities”? 40% did volunteer in the community that was not a part of the church vs. 31%, and 18% vs. 9% participated in faith-based programs not affiliated with the church.
Age? Big one here.
70 and older 6% megachurch vs. 12%
50-59 26% megachurch vs. 35% smaller congregations
Here’s what they say one loses if one moves into the smaller congregation:
1. Inspiring sounds of thousands singing, large and talented choirs, etc
2. What they find is that the faithful band is old, small and getting smaller.
3. They lose spreading the Good Tidings to others.