American Megachurches: Introduction

The Leadership Network and Hartford Institute for Religion Research of the Hartford Seminary have released a joint report on American megachurches by Scott Thumma and Warren Bird called “Changes in American Megachurches: Tracing Eight Years of Growth and Innovation in the Nation’s Largest-attendance Congregations.”

Although very few Churches of Christ qualify as megachurches (churches with average attendance of over 2,000), the report is important to us because megachurches are often early indicators of the direction of churches in general.

Megachurches, such as Willow Creek and Saddleback, tend to be trendsetters. We buy the books their pastors write and attend their seminars because they have bigger budgets, bigger staffs, and more resources than smaller churches — and they grow, while most of our congregations do not.

Readers will remember that Scott Thumma wrote the book Beyond Megachurch Myths, which we considered in the Church Growth series of posts a while back. This reports updates that material.

Here’s the executive summary —

[Megachurches] continue to:

• Grow in size, 
• Lead the way as America’s most multi-ethnic class of church, 
• Show a strong bias toward contemporary worship, and 
• Remain minimally involved in politics.

However, they also are institutions in transition. They are now:

• Offering more worship services and expanding to multiple-locations, 
• Shifting to playing a greater role in community service, 
• Decreasing their use of radio and television, and 
• Putting greater emphasis on the role of small groups.

These are all very significant trends. I’m particularly impressed with the fact these trends show a shift from a more consumerist mindset toward greater missionality. It seems that growth and deepening spirituality are not at all inconsistent — good news indeed.

We’ll consider each bullet point in a separate post, and then consider some additional points made in the report but not listed in the summary.

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About Jay Guin

I am an elder, a Sunday school teacher, a husband, a father, a grandfather, and a lawyer. I live in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, home of the Alabama Crimson Tide. I’m a member of the University Church of Christ. I grew up in Russellville, Alabama and graduated from David Lipscomb College (now Lipscomb University). I received my law degree from the University of Alabama. I met my wife Denise at Lipscomb, and we have four sons, two of whom are married, and I have a grandson and granddaughter.
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