American Megachurches: Continued Growth

While Churches of Christ and Baptist Churches — among many others — are in numerical decline, megachurches are growing. Over the last 5 years, they’ve grown on average 50% (about 10% per year)! What does this tell us?

* If conservative denominations are in decline while conservative megachurches are growing, then we are likely seeing lots of transfers from small churches to large churches. There’s something about larger churches that our members find desirable.

* But the megachurches report large numbers of baptisms. It’s not all transfer growth. 

The transition we’re seeing from small churches to large churches is driven, I think, by several factors —

* Americans like big things. We like big shopping centers, big grocery stores, and big cities.

* Americans like quality. Why not participate in the best worship and hear the best sermons?

* Americans like effectiveness. Who wouldn’t rather see their contributions being used in ministries that really matter and make a difference?

* Americans are post-denominational. Who cares whether the local megachurch is Baptist or Methodist or Lutheran? What matters is effective ministry and encouragement to live as Jesus would have us live.

* Megachurches are getting better at helping people form close relationships despite their size. This is shown in the increasing emphasis on small groups.

In other words, ask yourself why 30 or 40 years ago nearly all churches were small, and you’ll have the answer to why they are large today —

* Churches were small because people wanted to be in a church of their denomination (or part of a denomination), even if it meant being part of a small, ineffective church with weak preaching, worship, and teaching.

* Churches were small because we didn’t know how to staff, organize, and manage a large church. Once a church got to 200 members, we kept a staff of one preacher and one secretary, tried to manage with the same structure that worked when we had 50 members, and wondered why people felt the church had gotten too big.

* Churches were small because many were family churches, dominated by one or two families that had multiple generations living in the same town, attending church together.

* Churches were small because splits were inexpensive. Land and buildings for a new congregation weren’t that costly as church buildings didn’t need to be very big or in a prominent location. Expectations of preachers weren’t as high, so a part-time man could be hired for a modest cost. 

Now, we have to remember that all megachurches started off as small. And so their growth began for a reason other than just being big and having the advantages of size. And whatever helped them get big surely helps them get bigger.

Therefore, it’s hardly impossible for a small church to become a big church. However, small churches stay small if they don’t overcome the barriers to growth — which, at the least, means not being just like every other small church.

About Jay F Guin

My name is Jay Guin, and I’m a retired elder. I wrote The Holy Spirit and Revolutionary Grace about 18 years ago. I’ve spoken at the Pepperdine, Lipscomb, ACU, Harding, and Tulsa lectureships and at ElderLink. My wife’s name is Denise, and I have four sons, Chris, Jonathan, Tyler, and Philip. I have two grandchildren. And I practice law.
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