Megachurches qualify for the designation when attendance tops 2,000 people. The term was first used by megachurch researcher John Vaughn and later popularized in his 1993 book entitled Megachurches and America’s Cities: How Churches Grow. Now we’ve got the inelegant term gigachurch, a congregation of 10,000 or more in weekly services.
Now several churches top 20,000. Actually, Joel Osteen’s Houston-based Lakewood Church is listed at about 43,500. Next in the list is Second Baptist church, also Houston, at 23,659; North Point Church with Andy Stanley in Alpharetta, GA at 22,557; Willow Creek Church in Chicago with well-known megachurch leader Bill Hybels at 22.500; Lifechurch.TV in Oklahoma at 20,823; and West Angeles Cathedral in L.A. at 20,000. Purpose-Driven Life Pastor Rick Warren’s Saddleback Church just misses the 20,000-attendee club at 19,414.
There are now well over 1200 churches in the United States with weekly attendance figures regularly over 2,000, and most are growing. Before we get carried away with these grand numbers we should note that in South Korea some churches claim 250,000 regular weekly attendees. Mind-boggling.
So what should we think of this?
I’m not a megachurch researcher, much less an expert. I’m not necessarily “for” or “against” megachurches. I just get into some of them, see them as I travel, and witness how some of them present facilities, personalities, missions, etc.
As far as I can tell there’s nothing “wrong” with a church that attracts a large attendance. In one sense, they are simply outcomes of our age, along with “big box stores” like Walmart and Home Depot, huge businesses, again like Walmart, or Google, Apple, or Microsoft. “Big” is an attribute of our lives in part because there are more people on the earth than ever before, some 7.3 billion and growing.
I believe in liberty, i.e. that one can make one’s own choices, and I believe in free enterprise, i.e. that one is free to invest talent, time, and effort, create a service or product, and build something worthwhile. Churches can do this, or at least their attendees and leaders can. People choose to go where they get what they want, where what’s presented is presented well, if not excellently, and where it’s convenient or affirming for them to go. One reason churches grow is because they have a speaker that hits the ball and people choose to come back time and again. Nothing odd or “wrong” in this, unless of course the speaker or the church preach or teach theological error.
Beyond this I confess some megachurches make me uncomfortable. One reason is simply the facilities they require. Enormous, and I mean humongous, edifices—no, multi-edifices on campuses rivaling small universities. Having led one of those small universities and done a bit of fundraising I can say these facilities cost tens of millions of dollars and other millions to operate them. Some are nothing short of opulent. Is this “bad” or “wrong”? I can’t quite go there, at least not as a generalization. But I also know that facilities like this go well beyond what’s necessary for basic worship and fellowship. They absorb funds that could indeed go for a variety of other fund-starved needs and ministries.
Megachurches aren’t all good or all bad. Their appropriateness and effectiveness trace to the people who lead and attend them.
© Rex M. Rogers – All Rights Reserved, 2012
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