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In Defense of Megachurches

posted by Scot McKnight

WillowCreek.jpgThe 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.


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RJS

posted May 24, 2010 at 6:57 am


A comparison of churches of over 1000 to those under 100 is worthless. A church of under 100, except in certain specific situations – say a rural location or a house church movement is often inbred and dying to dead. This report above isn’t a defense of megachurches as much as it is an indictment, in our society, of the very small church.
A defense of megachurches would have to compare churches of 300 to 1300 with churches of over 5000. Is the same true in this case?



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RJS

posted May 24, 2010 at 7:12 am


Here is my definition of megachurch – if the head pastor (generally the central figure, especially in a “megachurch”) does not and cannot know by name and face everyone who has been involved regularly for ten years or more, the church is too big.



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Rick

posted May 24, 2010 at 7:18 am


RJS-
“…the church is too big.”
Too big for what?
Captcha: censuses land



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Scot McKnight

posted May 24, 2010 at 7:18 am


RJS, Stark says that the numbers do not change if you examine the numbers in between the 100 and 1000. But there’s a criticism that this Baylor Survey was actually probing: is “small” better because it provides intimacy, etc..
Which means, you are right: this is an indictment not so much of the small church but of the claim that the small church actually “does church” better.



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RJS

posted May 24, 2010 at 7:55 am


Rick,
I think it is too big because it will inevitably develop a corporate hierarchical structure – and I don’t think this is what the job of ‘pastor’ should be. This isn’t the way to build disciples.
Scot,
I don’t think under 100 does church ‘better’ – but I would define megachurch as over 2500 or over 5000 not over 1000. These megachurches clearly bring something people value to the mix – and people will respond, but it is unclear to me that what they bring is actually anything like what ‘church’ should be. I don’t think this Baylor survey is actually effective at measuring quality. It does a much better job of showing up the (not surprising) shortcomings of very small churches.



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Cobus

posted May 24, 2010 at 8:29 am


Scot, I’d have to agree with the above critique of talking about megachurch as churches of over 1000. From the statistics it would also then seem that the “small” churches of the study had an average attendance of 39 per week. Since it’s churches less than 100 with average 39% attendance… something seems wrong with using this group.
However, another thing need to be mentioned. And that is that “good” and the “dark” seem to indicate a strong evangelical believe system, and then the higher “outreach” seem to indicate a certain understanding of evangelism. Maybe a decent study should be made asking the question whether bigger churches doesn’t maybe favor a certain theological position. Thus if you disagree with certain theological presuppositions found in megachurches, it might be impossible to change these except when in a smaller church?



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Jim Martin

posted May 24, 2010 at 8:36 am


Interesting. I have great respect for Rodney Stark and his work.
I am wondering about the churches under 100. (Stark may give more detail in his book regarding this.) Are these churches primarily older, established churches? Or, do they include such groups newer start-ups, house churches, and newer inner city churches?
It sounds as if these churches are older, established churches that for whatever reason have either or shrunk to 100 or below or just never grew beyond 100. Just wondering.



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Bill

posted May 24, 2010 at 8:40 am


In line with RJS, Richard Baxter in The Reformed Pastor, “We must labor to be acquainted not only with the persons but with the state of all our people…. Being thus acquainted with all the flock, we must afterward take heed to them…. It is our duty to take heed to every individual of our flock” (142-143). Lectures from 1656. Too big to be shepherds.
captcha – humbling the



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Scot McKnight

posted May 24, 2010 at 8:41 am


RJS,
You may be right about whether or not this is measuring something valuable, but there’s another factor here: this chp debunks the traditional, and all-too-common, critiques of megachurches. It seems to me that is the focus of this chp.
On the number 1000 … I don’t know how many churches studied were in the 2500+ range.
Cobus,
Hello friend.
How did you get 39? I’m inferring that number from the 39% who attend church weekly, but it may be 90 people attending church but who reflect that 39% rate.
On theology, yes, I agree: megachurch is nearly synonymous with evangelical conservative.



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garver

posted May 24, 2010 at 8:51 am


I don’t have enough information from this to really conclude much of anything. “Under 100″ is an odd measure. I live in an urban area and just about the only churches that are “under 100″ are dying, mainline liberal congregation that are populated with elderly folks. If that’s what this study is measure, well, “duh” – of course megachurches are preferable to that.
When I think “smaller congregation,” I think of congregations in the 125-250 range. There are lots of those out there that are neighborhood-based, largely non-commuter, theologically orthodox, missionally-minded, etc. And they seem excluded by this study.



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chaplain mike

posted May 24, 2010 at 8:58 am


Scot, though I am biased toward smaller churches, primarily because of what I believe a pastor is supposed to be and do, I don’t think size is the sole issue. Here would be my questions:
Do the pastors work with people personally with regard to spiritual formation? pastoral care?
Does the church have a sound theology and practice of worship (Word and sacrament), or is it a “stage show”?
Does the church leadership emphasize spirituality and ministry outside the church facilities, equipping and helping people walk with Christ in their daily lives, or is it a “temple” around which the life of its members revolves?
Has the church become a “brand” of its own, standing apart from other churches, and thereby (consciously or subconsciously) setting themselves above those other ministries?



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RJS

posted May 24, 2010 at 9:04 am


Rick #3,
“Too big for what?” is a good question. I guess the first questions we need to ask are (1) What is the purpose of a church? and (2) What is the purpose of a Sunday morning (or Saturday evening or whenever) service? What I consider “too big” may actually be what many need.
I am struggling these days because, raised and empowered in the church, I find both Sunday morning service and ‘church’ in general increasingly irrelevant. I rather expect this is the result of changes in me, changes in the structure of the “Sunday morning service” and changes in the perceived role and purpose of church.



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Robin

posted May 24, 2010 at 9:12 am


In my experience, churches that are ‘largish’ tend to be the most well rounded because they give intentional thought to meeting member’s needs outside of the Sunday Service. That service is for preaching, teaching, and communal worship…community actually occurs outside that setting in focused bible studies, intentional fellowship, and some form of small groups.
Churches that still see themselves as ‘small’ think they can get away with a Sunday service, (1) Sunday School Class, and then informal fellowhship opportunities throughout the week.
I think the first model works better, and for people I have known at Mega-churches, that seems to be the approach they use.



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michael

posted May 24, 2010 at 9:13 am


RJS – relax for a second. After reading all the data on great discipleship, you said, (#5) “This isn’t the way to build disciples” (in a megachurch). Aren’t you in the science field? Aren’t you constantly posting about things that have at least some relationship to data? If even half of the stats discovered in this study are true, then you must at least spend time re-evaluating your premise that megachurches don’t build disciples. It’s the only intellectually honest thing to do.
Frankly, it would seem that the gospel response should be something akin to this: “Wow. I wouldn’t have guessed this – but that’s great news! Praise God for effective megachurches – even though I’m still more comfortable in a small church.”
And for the record – I’m not a biased megachurch guy. I pastor a church just under 200.



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Robin

posted May 24, 2010 at 9:16 am


Just to be clear about (13) I think small churches stumble because they assume that community will just happen because they are small. They assume some people will naturally become greeters and hospitality will just evolve because of their small size; whereas in the largish churches I have attended they intentionally focus on these areas and often-times they develop into habits as a result.



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Brent

posted May 24, 2010 at 9:22 am


Rodney, I wondered about your facts until I got to the percentages who tithe. Then I really guffawed. Sorry, but there is no statistical measure on tithing that is anywhere close to the numbers given here. These are exaggerated ten-fold. I wonder what that says about the other numbers.



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Rick

posted May 24, 2010 at 9:31 am


RJS #12-
Let me add a 3rd question to your list, since it is something you touched on earlier: What is the role of a pastor?



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Scott Eaton

posted May 24, 2010 at 9:35 am


Did the study just consider evangelical churches or did it also include mainline churches? Protestant or Catholic? Conservative or liberal? I think this matters.
In my experience, most megachurches are evangelical and moderate to conservative. Growing up in a very liberal, small, mainline church (not knocking anyone here, just making observations) there was not as much commitment to the things Stark questioned as there seems to be in more conservative evangelical churches regardless of their size.
This information would be helpful and I think affect the results.



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andrea

posted May 24, 2010 at 9:42 am


well our church went from a local church into a world famous mega church and to me it seems the new pastor dose not have the same genuine i care about you that our local church pastor had ,our new pastor is more like a movie star in the making and dose not carry over that feeling of i’m here you can talk with me, it seem some times more like going to a play or something rather than sunday service



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Bil Donahue

posted May 24, 2010 at 9:43 am


Scot — as you know I left staff at Willow April 1st after 18 years. I had seen this data, and more. Though we have many challenges, there has always been a focus on disciple-making that many critics do not see because they only look at services (the “word & sacrament” comment #11 betrays this view).
Perhaps because of resources and multiple staff, megachurches are more 24/7 in actual praxis. That’s because they can pull it off, both programmatically and in organic, spontaneous ways. Hence, there is a constant emphasis throughout the week on community, service, evangelism, personal worship, activities, gatherings, and so on. Seems like a lot is always going on. (Granted, sometimes too much).
My experience consulting with smaller churches is that it is difficult to gain momentum without daily or more regular gatherings, service projects, small groups, etc. as in Acts 2. I have often worked with a group that has asked, “How do you get your people to a small group in addition to a Sunday service– that’s two gatherings a week?!” It is a mind-set rather than simply a size issue. Missional communities, though small, get this quite well, and would be exceptions in many cases. But as far as traditional church structures, the smaller ones often have fewer resources, teams, staff, and capacity to gain momentum in disciple-making. Just an observations from my travels.
What I wonder about, though, is the “giga-church” even though relatively few people are involved. While 2-3 new mega-churches hit the scene each week (that is now the 2,000 barrier not 1,000 as a few years ago), there are now more and more churches over 5-10,000, whether multi-site or at one gathering place. They struggle (I observe) with getting overly structured and corporate by virtue of their size and complexity, and absolutely require an infrastructure of small communities, groups and teams to thrive.
Was there a breakdown in the data for very large churches as well? – Bill



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Jason Lee

posted May 24, 2010 at 9:47 am


These are only frequencies and percentages which can be very misleading. If these variables were put in regression models that control for other factors such as church tradition/theology then the positive effects of mega-churches would probably go away. The BRS data is great for detailed beliefs and political views, but it is not very good data for comparing mega-churches with other churches. Its a survey of individuals, not churches and their members. Where Stark’s book looks at individuals’ beliefs its good, but where he compares church-types, he’s on shaky ground. Studies with better church data (e.g. Congregational Life Survey) show that in most cases large size hurts. Even small groups don’t make up for the heavy penalty of large size. The anonymity of the mega-church encourages free-riding and so dampens overall participation and sacrifice. Most sociologists of religion know that the most vibrant and viral churches are small storefront charismatic churches with lots of passion but not much professionalism. Mega-church numbers are likely riding on the waves of the growth of yesterday’s sectarian movements. And a lot of this is probably due to those older movements’ having a lot of babies that have now grown up and want a cool comfortable church with some continuity with the conservative faith of their upbringing. We can credit mega-churches with retaining these people, but I’m not we can say mega-churches are superior to smaller churches in other ways. In fact they’re probably inferior.
Recommendation: The Jesuscreed needs to add a blogger to the team who is more familiar with the sociology of religion and statistics to cover these sorts of books … or at least get a social scientist of religion to look over what you guys post before you post it. Here are a couple examples of things that a social scientist could have helped you with:
1) Stark did top-notched work and was a leading sociologist of religion in the 90s and early 2000s. But to say that Stark’s book is not unbiased is laughable. He makes no bones about being vocally biased in favor of conservative Christians and mega-churches. Even a cursory read of his recent work makes this plain. Sure, everyone is biased in some way, but many scholars tone it down and make an effort. Stark seems to be increasingly comfortable being labeled as biased.
2) This blog sometimes talks about findings from the barna group. I highly doubt the work of the barna group would stand up to much scrutiny. The certainty with which things can be considered “findings” depends on the quality of the samples and data analysis.



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Paul Soupiset

posted May 24, 2010 at 9:49 am


I’ll want to look at his methodology: does it compare megachurch attendees (fairly) with small chuch attendees in similar settings (city folk vs city folk; educated versus educated; xx-year-olds versus xx-year-olds) wherein the only distinctive is the kind of church in which they find themselves? If it instead compared megachurches to a shotgun smattering of churches regardless of socio-geographical-economical factors, I wouldn’t be surprised. I’d love to compare similarly educated, city-dwelling Christians (barna’s definition is fine for this purpose) whose only differentiator is their choice of attending a megachurch or a smaller community.
Reminds me of Joe Meyers’ book about community



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Phillip

posted May 24, 2010 at 9:55 am


Maybe this study reminds us that we can’t broadly characterize churches based on size, and that big and small have their place in forming disciples and participating in the mission of God. Right now I am a member of a small church (less than 100). The church is genuinely hospitalble and intergenerational. Our largest demographic is the 60+ group, but the next largest group is probably single twenty-somethings. So it’s not simply a matter of an older generation maintaining and dying off.



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BradK

posted May 24, 2010 at 9:55 am


I’m having a very hard time drawing any meaningful conclusions from the facts presented here.
So according to this data, 21% of people in small churches (vs 8% in megachurches) don’t believe in heaven? And 31% of the people in small churches (vs 10% in megachurches)don’t believe in hell?
based on personal experience I find all of those numbers to be questionable. Of course most of my personal experience is in the “Bible Belt” so maybe they are skewed.
Also, I’m not so sure that the number cited regarding intimacy truly indicate intimacy. The larger the church, obviously the greater the chance that a higher percentage of your friends will come from church. If you attend a church with less than 100 attendance and have over 200 friends total, by default half your friends will not be at church even if you are friends with every single person in your church. Is this really a measure of intimacy?
I assume that the other stats mean that 12% of the people in megachurches have no friends at church and 22% in small churches have no friends at church. I’m not sure this indicates intimacy either. Obviously the more people, the more opportunity to form friendships with people of similar age, interests, background, etc.
On outreach, I’d be interested in how “shared faith” was defined. Does that mean they explicitly shared the gospel or that they simply invited a friend to church?
On age, numbers are given for 70 and older and for 50-59. What about 60-69? Why was that category left out?
Fwiw, my church averages somewhere in the 2500-3000 per week range (as far as I know, slightly over 4000 is the largest attendance we’ve ever had) in 9 different worship services in a variety of venues. But I do not consider my church to be a megachurch at all.
Obviously I haven’t read this book, but these numbers do not indicate much of anything to me.
captcha: had ebert



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Joan

posted May 24, 2010 at 9:59 am


It appears to me that those who are posting against the results of this book have their own biases against megachurches. Thus, these people are always questioning the statistics rather than looking at what this book has to say. You can bash any study by just saying “these statistics don’t hold up to scientific scrutiny …”
Bottom line, let’s admit that God works his will and purposes in megachurches, smaller churches and anywhere in between. Let’s support God’s work wherever it is happening. We can each choose the size of the church that works for our family and do God’s work within that setting!



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Josh G.

posted May 24, 2010 at 10:01 am


I go to a smaller church, not below 100, but smaller, and I love the idea of mega churches, and I have a strong desire to see them succeed. I think a Mega church can be a healthy offsetting force to the moral pluralistic individualistic society we live in. (I know this is a general statement but I think it is true) I think the last thing an American needs is more small specialized groups that cater to him or her. I think the idea of being one in a group of 5000 is a breath of fresh air. I think Small churches are important, and can tell you why since I go to one, but we need mega churches because of the potential they can offer for outreach, organization, and withstanding the onslaughts of a moral pluralistic borderline privatized society.



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Ben Griffith

posted May 24, 2010 at 10:09 am


I love this video from North Point about Megachurch worship: http://vimeo.com/11501569
I think places like North Point are unique because they “own” their megachurch-ness. They know the issues and maneuver them well.



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Scot McKnight

posted May 24, 2010 at 10:16 am


Here’s a point I want to make and I think Joan is getting at it: the Baylor study is a social-scientific study and for folks to question the numbers or the validity or reliability of the studies is a bit pushy, don’t you think? Do you have the data that show otherwise? To accuse this mega-study of not being done well according to scholarly methods is a major indictment of one of the most important studies of church life in the last century.
Jason, I take your critique: I said unbiased and knew that such a term is flimsy. What I mean is that many people have opinions, other people have data … that’s what I see in this Baylor study: it’s rooted in evidence.



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RJS

posted May 24, 2010 at 10:22 am


Michael and Joan (#14, 25),
I hope I am not coming across as anti-megachurch, because I don’t mean to. I do think that this particular comparison (1000 plus compared with under 100) is meaningless. A better comparison to provide food for thought would be 2500 to 5000 plus compared with 300 to 1000. But it also needs to control for area. In a sparsely populated area a church of 100 to 300 (or even smaller) could easily be thriving.
Rick (#17),
You are right of course – one must also ask what the role of Pastor is.
(Captcha: defraud Worth)



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RJS

posted May 24, 2010 at 10:30 am


Scot,
A survey can use quality data attained scientifically and still not be used to make a valid point. If the question is: Small churches provide better discipleship and lead to greater commitment – then this study debunks that idea. But these particular data don’t really defend or debunk the quality of megachurches.
The comparison group is (in my opinion) wrong for such a conclusion.



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Richard

posted May 24, 2010 at 10:38 am


@ Scot 27
I commend the Baylor Team for their work but I’m not sure that your comment counters Jason’s critique. If it is accurate that the study was not conducted according to scholarly standards then the fault doesn’t lie at the feet of the critics, it lies at the feet of the researcher. The data is only as good as the system designed to gather it. If Stark is biased, and it doesn’t have to be intentional to be biased, then the data will be skewed. If the emperor has not clothes, we need to know that.
I would even wonder about publishing the ranges that he did because he ignores a large swath of churches by limiting his ranges to over 1000 and less than 100 (maybe I’m misunderstanding that), as has been alluded to in earlier comments.



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kent

posted May 24, 2010 at 10:42 am


I am not sure that the debate over which style or size of church is better is beneficial. Given the sheer diversity of congregations in our country, to narrow down the definition of what is optimum seems… well goofy. I am serving a small church – by any definition. I can site chapter and verse on the advantages and the disadvantages they have. I also am more than fairly familiar with several mega churches – those over 2000 people, and they have their unique advantages and issues. I think the study is interesting. But as for fueling the debate of the preferred size and type of church, that leaves me cold. It seems that where you end up in debate is more a factor of personal circumstance than objective examination.



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Ethan Magness

posted May 24, 2010 at 10:47 am


Scot,
You write: “the Baylor study is a social-scientific study and for folks to question the numbers or the validity or reliability of the studies is a bit pushy.”
Actually I think that skepticism about statistical studies is woefully lacking in Christian circles and is vitally important.
For instance, if they did not control for denomination, then the measures of belief are meaningless.
If they did not control for different definitions of membership, then measures about attendance and participation are meaningless.
As mentioned above that tithe number is just crazy. Even if that lower number is right. Can you imagine what we could do if 36% of all church members were tithing? (In fact even that weekly Bible study number is very high. I wonder how much over reporting is involved in that?)
Again as mentioned, the friendship number is also confusing. Of course I’ll have fewer friends at church in a small church.
Also as mentioned several times. The common cut-off for megas is 2000 and comparing to less than 100 seems to me to be a simply baffling comparison. 2K-5K vs. 200-500 would be a more useful snap shot. It seems so very likely to introduce all kinds of noise data. Most megas are suburban. Most under 100’s are rural and urban, etc. Limiting to those groups without controlling for those factors is a huge risk that I think does call for legitimate questions about this study.
For the record as to questions of bias. I work at a mega. Love megas and think that they are a perfectly legitimate expression of the body of Christ. But this data doesn’t help me much until a lot of questions are answered.



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Michael W. Kruse

posted May 24, 2010 at 10:51 am


Percentage of congregations by weekly worship attendance (excludes Catholic/Orthodox):
59.00% = 7-99 (177,000)
35.00% = 100-499 (105,000)
4.00% = 500-999 (12,000)
2.00% = 1,000-1,999 (6,000)
.40% = 2,000-9,999 (1,170)
.01% = 10,000+ (40)
Hartford Institute



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Robin

posted May 24, 2010 at 11:03 am


Ethan et al.,
I don’t really see a big deal using self-reported data unless you want to de-legitimize all of the following sources of data: U.S. Census, American Community Survey, NYT/CBS Political Polls, Survey of Income and Program Participation, etc. Sure the 36% tithing question might not be on cue, but then why should I believe self reported incomes or voting preferences. The fact is that for these types of questions this is the best data available. The only way it is problematic is if you think people attending ‘mega’ churches have some greater proclivity for lying than people attending small churches. If they are both fudging the truth, and we assume that both groups have a similar distribution of truth fudgers, then on average, with a large sample size, the results still tell us which group tithes more, studies more, etc.
I’m not sure about your comments regarding attendance, belief, etc. If one group is more likely than another to attend weekly services does it really matter that they are from different denominations – it seems it would only matter if one denomination didn’t have weekly services and I think all denominations have services at least 1x per week.
It would of course be nice to have a study that had at least dummy variables for denomination, race, age, income, etc. but I think the data requirements for such a study would preclude most people from undertaking it. There is a reason that social scientists tend to use data generated by the government – it is costly to send out a survey to 200,000 recipients.



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Robin

posted May 24, 2010 at 11:09 am


About that last post, the reason I used 200,000 as a number is that if you take a survey of 1000 or 2000 adults and attempt to use controls and dummy variables in a regular old regression or even a fancy one, almost nothing will show up as statistically significant because your controls are lowering the data available for each regression. In statistics the rule is that as your sample approaches infinity everything becomes significant, so in order to get meaningful results for something like this you would have to have a fairly large sample, I have no idea if it would need to be greater or smaller than 200,000 though.
I see these results as the best available information given the data and financial constraints faced by the researcher.



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Ethan Magness

posted May 24, 2010 at 11:13 am


Hey Robin,
Thanks for your feedback. You are right to suggest that at some point we must tolerate some level of self-reporting. Although I think that for things like there are ways to get this data without self-reporting.
I will offer two clarifications about attendance and denominations.
Those are unrelated you will see that I have different objections for different points. The denomination question only matters for the belief data. If the mega were mostly conservative evangelical, and the small included a healthy mix of old mainline churches then the lover numbers on heaven and hell may have nothing to do with the size of the church.
Then attendance figures matter more. They are not related to the denomination but rather to the definition of membership. Most megas maintain what is called an active membership roll. People who do not participate are removed from the rolls of membership. This is not a dramatic action but a pragmatic one. If they move out of state and don’t attend any more they are removed from membership. Many (I don’t know how many) small and mainline churches have a static role. Unless you remove yourself from membership or you die, they keep you as a member. It is not uncommon for a church with a static role to have a membership role that is 5 – 10 times the average attendance.
This is why I say that unless we know that they insured that all these churches were using a common definition of membership, these attendance numbers don’t mean anything. I don’t mean they are bad, I just mean they contain no information.
Static roles produce wide discrepancies between “membership” and participation. Active roles are designed to address this problem. If they did not correct for this, then these numbers are exactly what I would expect.



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Jason Lee

posted May 24, 2010 at 11:21 am


Joan #25,
You said: “You can bash any study by just saying ‘these statistics don’t hold up to scientific scrutiny …'”
This is only true to a certain degree. Yes, you can always pick at any study a bit, but the basic core of the findings in some studies may hold up to any amount of picking. The mega-church findings in Stark’s book likely do not hold up to much scrutiny for a variety of reasons. The main reason is that its not actually a random survey of churches (its a survey of individuals).
2000 is the customary cut-off point for mega-church research (see Scott Thumma’s work). Stark’s chapter probably put the cut-off at 1000 so he could get even a tiny number of mega-church attenders in his sample to try to make comparisons on other variables. This problem is why there are surveys specifically designed to study congregations (eg National Congregations Survey conducted by Mark Chaves and the Congregational Life Survey).
Joan, certainly people should find a church that fits them and a mega-church or small church may be where they meet God and the body. But this doesn’t change the fact that the shape and structure of congregations may have real-world impacts on members. Increased organizational complexity, professionalism, and division of labor in mega-churches likely has an array of both positive and negative consequences for members and the surrounding community. The Church cannot ignore these intended and unintended consequences. Studies with good data on congregations can help the church count the cost of what those consequences are. As an example here is a study that uses the high quality CLS data I mentioned above. This is Scheitle and Finke’s recent study: “Maximizing Congregational Resources” http://www.sciencedirect.com/science?_ob=ArticleURL&_udi=B6WX8-4R2HKJM-2&_user=29621&_coverDate=09%2F30%2F2008&_alid=1346347129&_rdoc=1&_fmt=high&_orig=search&_cdi=7152&_sort=r&_docanchor=&view=c&_ct=2&_acct=C000003958&_version=1&_urlVersion=0&_userid=29621&md5=0033a42ab249a5d44a4f01663ea45326
Interestingly in Scheitle’s study large size has a persistently negative effect on giving after controlling for a wide range of other factors.
Again, the Baylor Survey is great for the individual-level but should not be used for making claims about congregations. You won’t see a book on congregations using the Baylor data published by a reputable peer-reviewed publisher. Stark’s mega-church chapter seems like it’s tucked in as a minor side point with some potentially interesting starting-point comparisons that would need better data and analysis to confirm. It should be taken as such. The Baylor data is not on solid ground when addressing congregations.



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Rob

posted May 24, 2010 at 11:23 am


It feels like mega churches are nothing but blackholes surping up Christians.



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Robin

posted May 24, 2010 at 11:26 am


Thinking about (36), one reason you shouldn’t need such controls as denomination, etc., is that a truly random sample assumes that the distributions of quirks among your sample will be evenly distributed among the groups you are looking at. So, is there any reason to believe that small or mega churches are more or less likely than their counterpart to use active or passive membership? If one group is more likely, in a systematic fashion, to use one rather than the other, then yes, you could have one group of non-attenders that views themselves as members that do not attend, while you would have another group of non-attenders that view themselves as non-members and don’t attend; however, this is only a problem if there is an underlying systematic bias between the membership practices of the churches. If I call 10 mega churches and 100 small churches and the ratio of passive to active membership churches between the 2 groups is statistically insignificant then a control wouldn’t be necessary.
I guess what I am saying is that random sampling should take care of most of the control issues. I suspect that is one reason he kept the groups at under 100 and over 1000. It would be very difficult to find old mainline members in churches over 5k or 10k, but I suspect there are quite a few mainline churches that can meet the 1000 threshhold.



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Jim

posted May 24, 2010 at 11:28 am


The only problem with mega churches is that the gospel is not spread out. People probably drive for many miles to be part of this church neglecting their own communities.
I have heard that churches over 1,000 people need to start a new church. A pastor could never manage more than 1,000 people.



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RJS

posted May 24, 2010 at 11:33 am


Jason Lee,
Fascinating paper you linked.



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Jason Lee

posted May 24, 2010 at 11:37 am


Rob,
Small churches may be missional communities or social clubs. Likewise, there are probably many kinds of mega-churches. What is important is when large sized churches exhibit certain patterns regardless of other factors, such as theology, small groups, disciple-making ethos, strictness, etc… This is where talking about mega-sized churches become consequential. Mega-size may have many consequences (many of which may be negative, such as reduced giving), but I highly doubt that after controlling for other factors that mega-churches “are nothing but blackholes surping up Christians”! C’mon are you serious? Let’s be reasonable.



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Travis Greene

posted May 24, 2010 at 11:39 am


I don’t doubt the data (although I’m not sure what conclusions to draw from it) but I doubt relevance of what the data is measuring. Here is what I see being measured: going to church on Sunday, believing in heaven and hell, believing God blesses those who do right, tithing, reading the Bible, being part of a Bible study, having religious experiences, having friends at church, certain forms of evangelism and volunteering.
So, okay, none of those are bad things (except, I’d argue, the “believing God rewards faithfulness with success” part) and lots of them are good. But I don’t see much about being disciples of Jesus here, just about being good church attenders, and maybe good citizens.
I also would want to to know about the middle range of churches. For all we know, their numbers are better for even these dubious measures than either megachurches or sub-100 churches.
And yes, I’m biased. My church averages 50-60.



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Michael W. Kruse

posted May 24, 2010 at 11:46 am


I think Stark’s size categories are valid. Church growth studies consistently show that there are inescapable transitions that take place as churches move from one size to another.
Small churches under 200 in attendance function more as single family where the pastor knows most everyone and most everyone knows everyone else. The more you move beyond about 100 or so the harder this is to maintain. Pastor plays more a chaplain role. Main influence is key families.
Medium churches from about 150-400 become more programmatic and a small staff usually emerges. People stretch to see themselves still as one family. Pastor plays an administrative role. Committees replace key families as main influence.
Large churches from about 350 and up become organizations with multiple “families” (instead of one family) and an elaborate staff structures. The pastor plays a organizational and community leader role. Key leaders become the key influence.
There are sociological dynamics that make these general differences inescapable. There are certainly gradations of difference but a church of 1,000 or 10,000 is mostly a more elaborate version of church with 500. Churches under 200, and certainly under 100, are different animals from the rest.
We could also get into questions of congregational life cycle. A church with 200 members that was planted two years ago is a much different place from a church with 500 members that had 2,000 members a generation ago. But the basic point of the post, that there is nothing inherent in mega-churches that prevents them from vibrant ministry. Churches of all sizes have their challenges from sociological dynamics. Having been a part of small congregations for the last 20 years, I’ve come to the conclusion that is more difficult to have a vibrant small congregation than I mega congregation.



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Ethan Magness

posted May 24, 2010 at 11:48 am


Hey Robin,
You are right. If they sample church membership definitions and determined that they did not need to control for definitions of membership than that would be great. But that would of course be an example of them addressing the question of the definition of membership. My point is that unless you address the definition of membership then to talk about membership v. participation tells us nothing.
This is especially true if their survey was self-reported. Many cultural Christians who were initiated as infants (in whatever denominationally appropriate way) still self-report as members. In fact, the differences in how the church define members may pale in comparison with how different individuals define membership. Again this is majorly influence by theological and denomination factors that must be address to get meaningful data.
To your point, it is my anecdotal experience that yes churches over 1000 are much more likely to use active membership because of all the pragmatic benefits of an active list. (When they purchase accounting software or membership software they are often paying based upon church size that they want a realistic measure.) None of the small churches that I have served used an active membership roll. But you could be right that this is non-issue. But unless they checked, the numbers on participation versus membership tell us nothing.



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Richard

posted May 24, 2010 at 11:52 am


@ 42
“but I highly doubt that after controlling for other factors that mega-churches “are nothing but blackholes surping up Christians”! C’mon are you serious? Let’s be reasonable”
While I would agree with that Rob’s hyperbole wasn’t very helpful, I would hope we recognize that the perception of many of those that have stayed in small churches is that large churches have sucked up many of the resources and members that used to attend these smaller churches, much like a black hole.
It would be an interesting study to find out how much megachurch growth has been conversion and how much has been transfer (for music, programming, or preaching).
Our area is fraught with transfer growth regardless of the size of the church but it seems that the larger churches benefit more because they do offer a tighter package on Sunday morning.



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Michael W. Kruse

posted May 24, 2010 at 11:58 am


#40 Jim
“A pastor could never manage more than 1,000 people.”
That is true, though I would want to unpack “manage.” But maybe the issue isn’t size but our notion of pastor.
In the Presbyterian tradition, the theological view is the the congregation is led by a community of elders of which the pastor is one with a specialized commitment to specific tasks. Maybe the issue is an unhealthy clergy vs laity divide rather than anything to do with size. Mega churches that are effective in discipleship find ways to develop disciplers and not just leave it with the pastor.



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Joan

posted May 24, 2010 at 11:59 am


Rob #38
Oh to the contrary. From what I experience with megachurches, they spread out widely to the communities in which their members reside. The members are working in their own communites as well as globally, urban, suburban, etc. Their members are spreading out world-wide loving God and loving others.



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Jason Lee

posted May 24, 2010 at 12:18 pm


The effects of mega-size does seem to matter above and beyond things like denomination and small groups. But the positive or negative effects of mega-size depend on your definition of what’s positive or negative. For example, recent social scientific research shows that mega-churchers expect less intimacy from church. They also experience less relational conflict. Is this good or bad? To me it kind of seems like nothing ventured nothing gained. We don’t look for relational connectedness because it hurts sometimes. Can we say this is good?
The link to the study is below. It also has a good review of research on the effects of church size:
http://www3.interscience.wiley.com/cgi-bin/fulltext/122240221/HTMLSTART



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mike

posted May 24, 2010 at 12:23 pm


I just have to ask myself, is this what God intended? Is this WWJD? What did Jesus do when he saw the market in the church? Let alone a Starbucks and LCD’s? I mean some guy in a $1000 suit standing in a $5m building who drives his $50k luxury car to his $1m home (and yes this is true from some of them). To me, if the preachers, priests, rabbi’s, etc.. are going to be the closest thing to God on earth, they should embody his complete vow of humility and poverty and give every last penny to those who truely need it rather than hoarding it themselves. Every penny they spend on their own ego toys, massive buildings with massive upkeep, takes from someone who truely needs it. They are money machines that have to keep churning it out to keep their system going. Strange and blasphemous how they can twist the word to justify and fit their (and our) own lifestyle. My belief is that until you truely give everything, you’ve given a pittance that allows you to continue your self-serving lifestyle and comfort your feelings of guilt by throwing dimes to the poor. Call me old-style, but I think we all need to get back to the original roots of christianity and away from the crass commercialization of it.



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Rob

posted May 24, 2010 at 1:02 pm


I am being serious here. Glad I got your attention. As a christian anarchist, I think its a real problem in the church as the consumerist society which we live in influences the way we do church these days.
I really like what Richard (#46)wrote, ‘While I would agree with that Rob’s hyperbole wasn’t very helpful, I would hope we recognize that the perception of many of those that have stayed in small churches is that large churches have sucked up many of the resources and members that used to attend these smaller churches, much like a black hole.
It would be an interesting study to find out how much megachurch growth has been conversion and how much has been transfer (for music, programming, or preaching).’



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Jason

posted May 24, 2010 at 1:03 pm


I have grown up in churches of all sizes and many denominations and non denominations. My biggest concern with any church whether small, medium, large, or supersized is the fact most are inwardly committed. Take the massive mega church in Alphretta, GA. They have a campaign going to erect a multi million dollar bridge to get people in and out of their Jesusland faster.
Or the local “small” congregation down the road from me that just spent $8M to “grow for you” and build a bigger auditorium. While inner city buildings and even suburban buildings sit empty as the country is on verge of bankruptcy. Our schools are a wreck, our neighborhoods a disaster. The poor and homeless rates rising. Yet the like of Willow Creek have flat panels and glitz and glamor everywhere you look.
And trust me I have several very good Christian friends who have been involved with Willow for decades and are servants of Christ for sure. I know these large and small churches do some good. Its just the money flaunting I cant seem to get myself over. Dont we have better things to do with our money than lavish our buildings so we can gather in the flock and keep them coming all throughout the week?
What happened to the church of Acts where everything was shared or given away to the homeless, the fatherless, the poor? Where is that love of nothing matters here on earth so why store up our treasures here? Jesus surely didnt live this way. I often ask the question would Jesus attend church as it is today. I often think No he truly wouldnt. He would be in the midst of all those in need much like He was when He walked the earth.
While the house church sure has its disadvantages too, I truly believe the days of meeting in peoples homes and engulfing yourself into your own community is what Jesus would do if He were in human flesh walking amongst us today. In the end the church of today is about sustaining its own life, keeping its flock coming in the door, and keeping the church machine growing for its own existence. I see this as the number one reason the church is failing in all sizes of congregations.
One of the few mega churches that seems to grasp a small church mindset well is Mars Hill in MI. While I know they are not perfect, the fact they are so simple in everything they do is something more mega churches should take note of. Everything they do except for Sunday mornings seems to be outward focused. Rent the building out all week long, make your small groups, house churches, etc the focus of anyone or anything in need. Recycle 80% of everything you consume. Keep the inside as bare and as basic as possible to keep costs down. It all seems to make sense to me.
So Im not just a “church” or mega church hater, I embrace those who do it right. And I look forward to the house churches in the country showing what smaller groups of people can do that clearly the bigger churches have failed in over the years. Lets take over our neighborhoods and communities, blanket them in unconditional love and giving and see how God changes not only them but you too.



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chaplain mike

posted May 24, 2010 at 1:26 pm


Mr Donahue #20 spouts the familiar evangelical mantra that assumes the more opportunities we offer the more discipleship can get done. When will evangelicalism learn that we are not called to be a business that produces a product? And that things like word and sacrament and personal ministry and good pastoral care in the midst of real life are much more life-giving and healthy than all our strategies? It’s not just megachurches–it’s the whole production mindset.



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RJS

posted May 24, 2010 at 1:35 pm


chaplain mike,
But isn’t there something to be said for a scale that allows opportunity better focused to the individual? A smaller church can do very well – but is of necessity aiming for the center of the distribution.



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Timothy Dalrymple

posted May 24, 2010 at 1:38 pm


We all seem to be looking for *those other Christians* to compare ourselves against, so that we can feel better than them, more radical than them, less compromised with the world.
I don’t find that small churches give a higher percentage of their money to the poor; in fact I find the opposite. I don’t find that larger churches tend to have more problems with egomaniacal pastors. That seems to be an equal opportunity problem. And I don’t find that small churches challenge their congregants to lives that are more completely given to Christ.
Some megachurches are obscene messes of ego-stroking and profit-seeking, and some have drawn thousands of people who are looking to devote their lives more fully to Jesus. Just like small churches.
Megachurches *do* present their own uniques problems and potential. But I don’t find them represented well in the kind of sloganeering against “Jesusland” that some have engaged in here.



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Robin

posted May 24, 2010 at 1:47 pm


Lots of ranting against mega churches, very little consideration of biblical data. Jesus preached to both small crowds and gatherings in the thousands, and this in an age without microphones. The new testament church got so big that 12 apostles combined could not keep up with the ministry and had to appoint deacons to feed widows. There is nothing that I see in the new testament that would lead me to conclude that huge gatherings of Christians are discouraged in the least bit.
Regarding sucking up Christians like a black hole – either they are sucking up mature (or at least committed Christians) that are extremely dissatisfied with something at their former churches, or they are sucking up marginal Christians or non-believers that probably wouldn’t attend church otherwise. If it is the former then we need to start pointing fingers at small churches for failing to provide so basically for the needs of the flock. If it is the latter then praise God that they are at least in some church.
Regarding fund usage. If you think about economies of scale at all then mega churches have the ability to be more efficient with the use of church dollars than small churches by far. Running the physical plant at one church that seats 30,000 people is far less costly than running the physical plant (boiler room) at 300 churches that seat 100 people. Not to mention the 300 church secretaries, 300 youth group leaders, 300 lawn-care specialists, etc. that those churches would employ. Now, maybe the minimal staffs of mega-churches are overcompensated relative to small churches, drying up the surplus.
For the record, I have always been in churches in the 200-500 range and think a large portion of the attendees at mega-churches are probably nominal Christians (just my personal anecdotal experience), but I am thankful they are at least in a church.



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Robin

posted May 24, 2010 at 1:48 pm


Amen to Mr. Dalrymple



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AHH

posted May 24, 2010 at 1:56 pm


I have to question the assumption that this makes megachurches look better:
What about intimacy? 41% of megachurch members have half or more of their friends at their church vs. 25%
First, as somebody already pointed out, this statistic is distorted by the sheer numbers — a gregarious person in a church of 50 is going to have to fill in the need for friendship with non-members.
Second, and more important, is “half or more of their friends at their church” a good thing? Certainly if it was nearly 100% of their friends at their church, it would indicate the church was inward-focused and doing a lousy job of being “missional”. Of course it is important to have support and fellowship and accountability within the local church. But Stark seems to suggest that having many friends who are not members of your local church is a bad thing, and in a missional understanding of the church I think that is mistaken.



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kevin s.

posted May 24, 2010 at 2:06 pm


@mike
“I just have to ask myself, is this what God intended? Is this WWJD? What did Jesus do when he saw the market in the church?”
He didn’t see a “market in the church”. He saw the church turned into a market, prominently featuring thieving money traders and those who unethically sold animals for sacrifice to lepers seeking atonement.
“Let alone a Starbucks and LCD’s?”
LCDs are the only new televisions you can buy. Even smaller congregations use them so that, for example, parents with small babies can still watch the service. I somehow doubt that Jesus would run around whipping nursing mothers over a new Panasonic, but maybe.
I hear a lot about Starbucks in churches. Is this really happening, or are churches simply selling coffee? Some churches do so to raise money for missions, or to fund the youth group. As long as it does not disruptive to the service, I have no problem with this.
“I mean some guy in a $1000 suit standing in a $5m building who drives his $50k luxury car to his $1m home (and yes this is true from some of them).”
Some, but not all. Rick Warren, for example, dresses in ridiculous Hawaiian t-shirts.
“Every penny they spend on their own ego toys, massive buildings with massive upkeep, takes from someone who truely needs it.”
Massive buildings are a frequent subject of criticism, but I’m not sure this is fair. Every church needs certain facilities (restrooms, office space, an auditorium or chapel of some sort) in order to function. Is it worse to have one big building that houses many congregants, or several medium sized buildings that house only a few?
It would seem that a church of 15,000 spends less money, per congregant, on upkeep than 150 churches of 100.
“They are money machines that have to keep churning it out to keep their system going. Strange and blasphemous how they can twist the word to justify and fit their (and our) own lifestyle.”
Above, you twisted the word to condemn their lifestyle.
That aside, I don’t think your caricature is accurate. Many churches would claim to offer amenities in order to attract new members. After all, if you are trying to attract middle class suburbanites, you have to make them comfortable.
You can criticize that argument, but simply asserting that it twists scripture doesn’t get you anywhere.



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Rick

posted May 24, 2010 at 2:10 pm


Amen to Robin and Timothy. People need to consider the motivations of certain mega-churches without broad-brushing.
Case in point, the bridge issue that Jason mentioned. What is the motivation behind building the bridge, from the senior pastor:
“A second access point will allow us to accommodate 1,000 additional people at 9:00 and 11:00,achieving maximum use of our existing facility….Is it worth it? It all depends. If our mission is to be a church that’s perfectly designed for the people who already attend, then we don’t need a bridge. But if we want to continue to be a church unchurched people love to attend, then yes, it’s worth it. From my perspective, this is not a ?nice to have? option. Honestly, I don’t want to raise money for,or give money to, something that’s not mission critical. I believe creating a second
access point allows us to stay on mission.”



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T

posted May 24, 2010 at 2:12 pm


Here’s a comparison that may be justified and related to the “What is church?” question that RJS and others raised: I think it’s fair to say that given what most evangelical churches have made to be the primary sacraments—namely, a top-notch sermon/message of one flavor or another, and, secondly, a powerful worship experience—megachurches are going to generally do those better than smaller churches due to economies of scale, and then thereby pull folks from smaller churches. The sacramental and ecclesial priorities of evangelical churches (as opposed to others) are often both intensified with the size of the congregation, via the $ available for the speaker and other expenses, and the power of thousands vs. dozens of voices during singing. Unless the sacramental theology of evangelicalism changes (and/or the evangelical desire for growth &/or conversions), I don’t see megachurches becoming less common in evangelicalism.
What I do see is folks who have been in evangelicalism for sometime wondering if the evangelical ecclessiology, sacramental theology and soteriology (though not necessarily using those terms) that produces and maintains the American megachurch are taking folks, in the long term, where they need to go, including those that are leaders in those churches. Frankly, I wonder the same about small evangelical churches, it’s just that megachurches are easier and more obvious targets concerning evangelicalim’s strengths and weaknesses.



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Robin

posted May 24, 2010 at 2:26 pm


Re: Sacraments
Baptism, Confession, Communion, Confirmation, Marriage, Holy Orders, Last Rites – I can’t think of any of these that cannot be accomplished well in a mega-church. They all seem to work really well in a mega-church so I don’t know what other sacraments you might be referring to. I have attended some evangelical churches that had a literal meal at every service (or at least sat down around a table for communion) and this wouldn’t work well for mega-churches, but every mainline church I have ever attended just had you walk toward the front of the line, take your wafer, and go back to your seat – just like most other evangelical churches. So what are these sacraments that can be performed (or are performed) in small non-evangelical churches that mega-churches just cannot pull off?



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Robin

posted May 24, 2010 at 2:28 pm


After looking at the list I guess if your mainline, missional, non-evangelical church offered confession every week this could be a problem for mega-churches (unless deacons were authorized to hear confessions) but other than that it seems that small and mega churches would be on the same footing.



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Bill

posted May 24, 2010 at 2:42 pm


For an on the ground take on mega-church from a mega-church pastor, catch what are the thoughts from Francis Chan at Cornerstone
http://www.christianitytoday.com/le/communitylife/discipleship/catchingwaves.html



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Michael W. Kruse

posted May 24, 2010 at 2:50 pm


#61 T
“I think it’s fair to say that given what most evangelical churches have made to be the primary sacraments—namely, a top-notch sermon/message of one flavor or another, and, secondly, a powerful worship experience—megachurches are going to generally do those better than smaller churches due to economies of scale, and then thereby pull folks from smaller churches.”
Well said.



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RJS

posted May 24, 2010 at 2:52 pm


T, nice analysis.
I get the impression that some (most?) of these megachurches are taking many people in the direction they need to go – doing it at least as well as medium sized or small churches. Perhaps that is really the take-home message from the data in Stark’s book. Not that mega churches are better – but that they are no worse and meet many where they are.
I am struggling though with ecclesiology and the purpose of the gathered church.



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Michael

posted May 24, 2010 at 2:56 pm


What if Jesus really meant “sell everything you have, give it to the poor and follow me. If Jesus meant for his followers to live glorious prosperous lives how do we reconcile that with the fates of the Apostles. All suffered greatly and die horrible deaths (excluding John who died in exile)



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Michael

posted May 24, 2010 at 2:58 pm


And Jesus spoke 3 times more often of Hell than Heaven…I believe he is the role model for all Christian Preachers. Seems insulting that one prominent Mega Church Preacher responses “that is not my schtick.”



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John M.

posted May 24, 2010 at 3:23 pm


One thing that this discussion reveals is the importance of chruch sturcture and how “all over the map” we are in our viewpoints of ecclesiology. I used to pastor a church of around 300 adults that was sturctured around small groups. Whenever anyone began critizing the dynamic mega church in our town, my response would be that we had no ground to be critical until our church was doing at least as much in regard to outreach, community service and evangelism. That usually silenced the critics.
Ideally we shouldn’t have to choose between mega and small. I would love to see both. A network of “mini-churches”, homebased cells, small groups, house churches — whatever you want to call them, that gather in a large celebration periodically — could be weekly, monthly,in some cases even quarterly. The mini churches would provide community, nurture, discipleship, pastoral care, and grassroots outreach and service. The large gathering would provide all the positives already mentioned: momentum, large celebrative worship, public proclimation of the word etc.



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Michael

posted May 24, 2010 at 3:41 pm


To: RJS
I believe Edification, Accountability and Corporate Worship.



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kevin s.

posted May 24, 2010 at 3:48 pm


“What if Jesus really meant “sell everything you have, give it to the poor and follow me.”
Then I wouldn’t want to be caught dead typing comments on a computer. We need to understand this verse in its proper context, else we become legalistic.
I agree, though, that prosperity is not the goal. That said, I see no encouragement to actively seek out poverty and oppression.



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T

posted May 24, 2010 at 3:53 pm


RJS (67),
Yes; I think megachurches are doing as well or better than their smaller evangelical counterparts in pursuing the evangelical goals with the sacraments they most trust, which are what they are (and they are much, much better than a poke in the eye). I, too, though, am wondering how the evangelical priorities need tweaking (soteriologically, sacramentally, and in ecclesiology), and that’s for small and large evangelical churches.



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Michael

posted May 24, 2010 at 4:49 pm


“I see no encouragement to actively seek out poverty and oppression” Do you believe in living modestly and contributing to the betterment of those oppressed or dwelling in poverty or are enslaved (note: 27 million people more than any other time on earth)?
The size of the Church Building is irrelevant the the softening of our sin and direct rebellion to God’s Laws and not addressing the results of his wrath, then presenting the gospel versus Jesus can be your friend and your life doesn’t have to change… which in my opinion creates a greater potential false converts is the most concerning part of some of the Mega Churches reputations



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chaplain mike

posted May 24, 2010 at 5:49 pm


RJS #55?I am not opposed to large churches (see my earlier comment, #11. I’m concerned with the overall ethos of American evangelicalism, which seems to be represented quite well by many evangelical mega-churches.
One thing larger churches could do better, IMO, is to start viewing themselves as regional churches that “adopt” communities around them, work intentionally with all the churches established in those communities, and provide resources that the smaller churches cannot come up with. Suburban America is filled with great wealth and talent; it’s time to start using that in service to others rather than focusing on offering every service known to man to satisfy the wants of Christians and their families.



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Commentor

posted May 24, 2010 at 7:53 pm


I was very proud of my daughter when after attending a youth group meeting at the local mega-Bible-church at the invitation of a friend, she remarked on their cappucino machine, the luxe facilities, sport courts, etc. and said she didn’t want to go again.
She preferred our small, poor church with the leaky roof that spends way too much of the budget feeding the homeless.
My distaste for the mega-church is parallel with my distaste for consumeristic culture in general. A church is great at marketing and has the money to create a “product” that people will “buy” just isn’t my cup of tea.
I mean, in this town we have a $10M dollar church that includes a bowling alley. Out of principle, I’m not attending a church that spends money like that.



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Scot McKnight

posted May 24, 2010 at 8:21 pm


Commentor,
Was it wrong for God to ask Israel to spend lavishly on the Temple?



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kevin s.

posted May 24, 2010 at 8:27 pm


“I mean, in this town we have a $10M dollar church that includes a bowling alley. Out of principle, I’m not attending a church that spends money like that.”
Well, good for you, being all non-consumeristic.



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Steve D

posted May 24, 2010 at 9:08 pm


“One thing larger churches could do better, IMO, is to start viewing themselves as regional churches that “adopt” communities around them, work intentionally with all the churches established in those communities, and provide resources that the smaller churches cannot come up with.”
I attend what I call a mini-mega church (about 2,000 weekly attendance). While we do have a Cafe, we don’t have a bowling alley or a McDonalds or anything fancy. We are close to a small city and often partner with an inner city church. I suspect that much of what sets the pace is the elders and the pastors. One thing to note is that our present pastor is not the founding pastor. From a pastoral view we’ve had at least 5 or 6 in under 30 years. I wonder if churches who get past their founding pastors, that aren’t taken over by a close relative are more likely to be more mature.



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chaplain mike

posted May 24, 2010 at 9:47 pm


Scot #77, the temple was God’s own palace, designed with intricate detail (by God’s design) to communicate his glory to Israel and the nations.
Isn’t that a little different than building a religious “mall” fully outfitted to meet the activity demands of suburban Christians?
I’m not opposed to spending money and seeking excellence and all that. But to what end?
If you want to talk about building a cathedral where every one of my senses is stimulated to think of the mystery and glory and love of God, I’m all for it.



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RJS

posted May 24, 2010 at 9:50 pm


Scot,
Was the lavish spending on the temple for the glory of God or the comfort and entertainment of Israel?
I am not anti-megachurch or anti-facilities though. I know of several churches (mega and small to medium) where facilities are used in a very missional fashion within the community. Even a bowling alley can serve such a purpose.



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RJS

posted May 24, 2010 at 9:52 pm


ah … chaplain mike got in just before me with much the same sentiment.



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RJS

posted May 24, 2010 at 10:15 pm


chaplain mike,
Fascinating post on Internet Monk today.



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Your Name george ngo

posted May 25, 2010 at 5:05 am


Hi there, everyone:
It?s my first time to make a comment.
I?m probably from a different background among you guys. I?m Chinese educated and became a Christian in the West, came back to Hong Kong and was in business for 20 years before I went full time and became one of the pastors of a local church?middle case, Chinese speaking, conservative evangelical. English is my second language and therefore forgive me if what I?m trying to express may not be comprehensible to some of you.
A bunch of us (around 30) planted a church in the city area and in 7 years it grew to around 150. Then we experienced a sort of renewal and for the past 12 years we?ve grown to 4000. We would be considered one of the mega churches in Hong Kong though we?re not the largest.
The reason I?m tell you all this is because it would seem to me that in the discussion and in what has been said about Stark?s book (I haven?t read it so all I know about the book is from the discussions on this blog) there seems to be a perspective missing that?s worth considering.
First whether comparing churches with congregants under 100 to churches with congregants over 1000 or under 300 vs 2000+, or 300-1500 vs 5000+ is more meaningful may not be that important. May be it is more important to find out what the differences are (such as the questions listed on the blog like intimacy and friends, sharing faith, participating in church events and other faith-based programmes outside of the church etc) within a mega church when its number was say 100 or 150 or 200 for that matter and when its number has grown significantly to say 1000, 2000, or 4000 for that matter.
Personally if the answers to these questions were negative from the start, I would have left my church and find another and I believe most of us would do the same then. Then as leaders, we would most probably have done anything and everything possible in our disposal to stop the trend including the numerical growth. When our church was small with 150, I thought I had lost most of my friends in the church not because it was small (or big) but because my relationship with God was in a lousy state and therefore my relationship with others suffered too. Furthermore our church back then had all the symptoms of a burnout congregation that would die almost anytime.
I don?t know if we?re unique in becoming a mega church but basically the answers to all these questions were very positive as our church grew. I?ve personally kept track for over 7 years the ratio of conversion growth and transfer growth and the former has always been greater than the latter that is until recently. More recently we also begin to experience some of the negative effects that are discussed here. And we?re worried that more and more people are called to serve in a ministry in the church because we think the ministry is in need of people rather than a ministry was called for because there?s a need to serve the people inside or outside the church. This is what we as a church are trying to deal with currently. This brings to my second short point.
To me, may be the size of the church whether it?s mega or small shouldn?t be the main concern. The main concern should probably be that if the church is ALIVE since we?re serving the living God. Are we reaching out to serve the people (outside the church) and thus the Kingdom of God or are serving our own ministry and thus building our own kingdom or the Tower of Babel? If ever one day our church turns into a graceless, loveless, lifeless institution again whether its number is 10,000 or 10 and seems that nothing can be done to reverse it, I will be the first one to leave.
george ngo.



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george ngo

posted May 25, 2010 at 7:50 am


just to clarify a typo from #84:
I’m Chinese, educated and became a Christian in the West and NOT “I’m Chinese educated”.



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T

posted May 25, 2010 at 9:10 am


George,
Thanks for your comment.
On the “bowling alley/temple” comment, a couple of thoughts:
First, I wonder about the micro vs. macro question. Is it okay for a Christian individual or family or partnership to build and run a bowling alley? If each of us is called to do whatever we do in Christ’s name (on his behalf, as if he himself were doing it), what is the distinction that gets the individual off the hook and not the community? It seems we have a double standard that I’m not sure is justified.
In that vein, on the “lavish spending” for Israel’s temple, given the (different) temple that Jesus is building (and the one he did not build) to display his glory, can we really use God’s temple in Israel as precedent for any of our building projects? And again, the micro and macro question, if that precedent works now, why not also at the individual level then? You know, I’ve been thinking I need a mansion to display the glory of God . . .
I think both our macro and micro spending needs to be whatever we can do legitimately in God’s name, as if he himself was doing it for his reasons. I think that, if we actually wanted to let Jesus reign in that way, the church building projects would change, but they’d be a drop in the bucket compared to budgets of Christians, even though some Christians would no doubt still operate a bowling alley.



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Jason Ellis

posted May 25, 2010 at 10:49 am


It still goes back to what is the churches purpose? To fulfill itself and keep the machine rolling for its inward purpose? You cant tell me in this economy there arent millions of people in this country let alone the world that couldnt use $6M bucks. But no lets use that to build a bridge so people wont complain about waiting times to get out of the parking lot. Thats the real issue at heart. You think Jesus would honestly waste time going to a machine like the church has become today? I think he would gather with his closest friends then go into the communities that surrounded him and live out the life of Love we all talk about. You can have a mass church gathering without the millions of dollars spent that most mega churches spend it on. There are empty buildings, malls, kmarts, etc all over the country. Inner cities are filled with them. But no lets move to the burbs where the rich folk live so they can tithe better, so the machine can keep moving along. Thats the real problem with every size church. When 100% that comes in ends up going out to others, that is the sign of church as God intended in my eyes.



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Rick

posted May 25, 2010 at 11:08 am


Jason #87-
In regards to the bridge, as I stated in #61, it is part of an effort to reach more people.
If $ effectively goes into helping bring unchurched people in, thus exposing them to the faith and the start of discipleship, is that worth it?



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kevin s.

posted May 25, 2010 at 12:45 pm


“You can have a mass church gathering without the millions of dollars spent that most mega churches spend it on. There are empty buildings, malls, kmarts, etc all over the country.”
There are, and many mega-churches do convert old stores, malls, schools and even other defunct churches.
I can tell you, though, that it’s not as easy to do so as you might think. Cities are profoundly opposed to converting commercial property into a religious institution because of the tax considerations.
You might want to do a bit more research before you condemn an entire class of churches as the sort of places Christ would not attend.



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Aaron

posted May 27, 2010 at 4:21 pm


Correlation is not causation. The fact of the megachurch vs. the small church does not necessarily create any of the statistical differences cited in the article.
Here is my hypothesis: Megachurches are simply more likely to be evangelical in focus and theology. A small church might be very exclusive and closed or very evangelical and open or anywhere in between. And the theology on hell, sin, gay marriage, etc might differ quite a lot. But the megachurches probably wouldn’t be megachurches if they weren’t very evangelical, right? And in my experience, that goes along with a somewhat conservative theological bent. So, yeah, megachurch attendants would be more likely to believe in a literal hell, and would put a higher value on sharing their faith.



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Keith

posted July 5, 2010 at 12:35 pm


@ Jason Ellis:
You asked, “It still goes back to what is the churches purpose? To fulfill itself and keep the machine rolling for its inward purpose?”
My response is that is what happens with most small churches. The church simply exists and lacks the funds for any outreach. Most small churches I have encountered can barely pay the electric bill and the mortgage much less be mission-minded and reach the lost.
In contrast, the mega-churches I have encountered (especially Word of Faith and Pentecostal ones) don’t believe in church debt and therefore pay for most everything in cash. This saves a lot of mortgage interest and makes a donation go much farther than it would at a small church. How many small churches are still paying a mortgage 30 and 40 years down the road – a lot of them are.
The sheer economics dictate that a mega-church, with more people putting money in the pot, and with economies of scale, can do more than a church of 100 people barely getting from Sunday to Sunday. I have been a member of a small church in the past that depended on denominational headquarters to pay their bills and did absolutely nothing for missions or extending the Kingdom. However, I am currently a member of a mega-church that does ministry that a small church could never do, simply based on economics.
Additionally, I live in a county with over 250 churches. How much more effectively could churches be if they pooled their resources. Instead of paying to keep the lights on at 250 churches, why not have just 10 big ones, or even 100 medium size churches and save money that can be used for evangelism and missions?



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