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The perception of American religion is changing with the entry of mega churches in the religious scene. Mega churches receive considerable attention from their leaders and attendees. Interestingly, leaders and members of smaller churches, denominational officials, church consultants, and seminary faculties pay great attention to mega churches.
In addition, political parties and media reporters are often talking about mega churches. The biggest church in the United States is the Lakewood Church in Houston, Texas, and usually has a total attendance of forty three thousand and five hundred followers. The United States has the largest number of small churches, which too play a major role in the religious landscape of the US.1
Due to the huge potential the small churches have in community building, they often grow into large churches once they have good internal leadership and surpass their resource limitations. This paper will focus on the growth of churches into mega churches and the decline in the number of small churches.
Mega churches are Protestant churches with at least two thousand attendees. Most of the mega churches are located in the suburban areas of the fast growing cities in the United States such as Houston, Atlanta, Orlando, Los Angeles, Phoenix, and Dallas. The majority of attendees in mega churches are the younger adults and most of them have attended a small local church.
Research has shown that, most of the young adults that attend the mega churches are around forty-five years of age, and most of them are college graduates.2 The young adults around this age attend the mega churches because they have young children and the mega churches offer more programs and many opportunities for their children. In addition, the young adults at the age of forty-five have an interest in being connect and the mega churches gives them a good opportunity to know more people.
The mega churches have strong believes, a well-stated mission and purpose and have high expectation for scriptural study, prayer, and contribution. With the level of commitment and zeal, which the leaders of mega churches have, these churches ought to be the future churches that every Protestant will want to attend.
This had made mega churches to attract persons who are in need of a new experience of worship that entails large scale, high technology, and professional praise and worship3. The central activity in mega churches is worship and most of the Protestants view this experience as inspirational.4
Most of the mega churches have introduced contemporary music using guitar and other instruments and in most cases accompanied by elaborate visual presentation. These innovations have led to the growth of churches membership. The small churches tend to be conservative and stick to their traditional mode of worship; hence, most of their members are the young adults because they long for new styles of worship.
In the United States, Joel Osteen draws the largest congregation of around thirty thousand attendees on a weekly basis. During the weekly worship, life praise and worship bands lead the worship song. In addition, the mega churches seek to offer detailed visual presentation all the attendees. This makes the church livelier hence encouraging more membership. The mega church also offers three services to accommodate the large membership. Small churches are not in a position to achieve this due to the high expenses involved.
Most of the Protestants are encouraged to join the mega churches because they will be involved in the churches’ educational programs, fellowship groups, and community services. Most of the Protestants, who join these mega churches, come from the small churches, which ultimately force the small churches terminate their services.
Seemingly, four types of mega churches motivate the Protestants to move in to them. While many mega churches focus on teaching, some focus on evangelizing to Protestants, who are not in church, others are prosperity of the gospel churches that focus on creating wealth and ensuring good health for their congregation and those that are youth oriented and emphasize on popular culture.
The mega churches play a major role in the missionary work. This has enabled their membership to grow because their doctrines are spread easily among Christians. Mega churches support most of the long-term missionaries serving outside the United States. This has been possible due to their financial status. This has encouraged most of the youth to have and interest in joining the mega churches to serve as missionaries.
The small churches lack the capacity to sponsor their members to participate in missionary activities. This has contributed to most of the younger adults who want to serve as missionaries to move to mega churches to have that opportunity. Most of the mega churches have full-time ministerial staffs who are devoted to missions.
This has greatly contributed to mega churches being proactive in social-organization of missions.5 Mega churches also grow through the word of mouth, with the congregation reaching out to their neighbors. This makes Protestants in small churches join the mega churches.
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In future mega churches will dominate because of the financial resources they have and social power. Mega churches are making the effort to attract members of different racial and ethic groups. Mega churches welcome diversity and middle class people around the church. This had made evangelical Christians to leave small and medium sized churches located in the downtown area the mega churches that are non-denominational, large and embrace professional worship.
This has made the mega churches convince evangelical Christians to join them to have the new experience of worship. The mega churches have also come up with music from their choirs, have t-shirts written the church doctrines, and their leaders have written books that preach the church doctrines. This has made the congregation of the mega churches to belief the leadership of the church. It also encourages those who attend the churches to become committed to the teaching to the mega churches.6
Mega churches in the United States are growing at a rapid rate with the recent development being the introduction of satellite campuses of the mother church. This has influenced the way evangelistic Christians view the church and the lead pastor. Research shows that attendance in mega churches is so high as compared to small and medium-sized Protestant churches.
This implies that most of the Protestants prefer to attend the large churches than the small church. Despite of the rise in the number of mega churches, the small churches might not die completely.7 Small churches have a major role to play. Small churches give its members an opportunity for spiritual development, community caring and social engagement.
They also give their pastors a better chance to develop spiritual leadership and mentor them to be good pastors, as compared to mega churches. For pastors who want a well-rounded ministry, small churches offer an ideal place for that opportunity.8
Churchgoers are not comfortable with church symbols such as crosses, stained glass windows of some churches, something that mega churches have not adopted in their churches. This has attracted more Christian into mega churches. Mega churches also pay more attention to the preferences of their congregation. Due to the rapid growth of mega churches, the evangelical Christians have been forced to adapt to capitalism as a mode of spiritual development.
The mega churches are consumer friendly and have knowledge about media. Attendee of mega churches are offered several options choices in ministry. Mega churches have high tech entertainment and other activities. This has attracted most of the young adults in mega churches.
Most of the recent college graduates are too busy and if the church service is boring, they will not be willing to attend that church again. Small churches have not become accustomed with the entertainment idea and new styles of praise and worship and this had driven away the young adult from such churches.
Due to theolographic limitation and some demographic factors, small churches have not being in capacity to draw many evangelical Christian. The demographic drawback, faced by small churches, is that, they only attract Christians with low household income, as compared to mega churches that attract the middle class young adults. This has led to small churches remaining small while large churches grow bigger.
People dominating the population of the United States are at the age of twenty- and thirty-something.9 The mega churches will be the future format of worship, because they have adopted new technology in ministering their work, by using Web-based media to transfer their messages.
Use of the internet is cost effective for the mega church. This has enabled mega churches to broadcast their teaching globally. In addition, almost all the mega churches have their services aired through, either radio or TV, though this practice is costly. This has improved Protestants commitment to their teaching and the way of worship.
In the last ten years, churches tend to grow larger. This implies that in the future, mega churches will dominate. The big-screen and modern worship service, adopted by mega churches, is in close relation with modern lives of Americans, as compared to small churches, which are still using the traditional church service with slow- moving worship and old hymns.
With the young adults forming the majority of the population, the small churches have no future in the American religion. The future of the church is with the young adults who are now oriented toward the mega churches.
Battista, Andrew.” After the Garden is Gone: Megachurches, Pastoral, and Theologies of Consumption.” DisClosure 19 (2010): 83-94.
Dart, John. “The Trend Towards Bigger Churches; Going Mega.” Christian Century, 2010: 22-27.
Dodgshon, Robert. The Age of the Clans: The Highlands from Somerland to the Clearances. Edinburg: Birlinn, 2002.
Ellingson, Stephen. The Megachurch and the Mainline: Remaking Religious Tradition in The Twenty-First Century (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2007), 321.
Priest Robert, Douglas Wilson, and Adelle Johnson. “U.S Megachurch and New Patterns of Global Mission.” International Bulletin of Missionary Research 34, no. 2 (2010): 97-104.
The Christian Century. “Megachurches a draw fro those under 45.” Christ Century 126, no. 14 (2009):17-18.
Thumma, Scott, and Travis Dave. Beyond the Megachurch Myths: What we can learn from America’s Largest Churches. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass, 2007
Tischler, Henry. Introduction to Sociology. Belmont, CA: Cengage Learning, 2010.
Tucker, Ruth. Left Behind in a Megachurch World:How God work throuhg ordinary churches. Grand Rapids: Baker, 2006.
1 Scott Thumma and Travis Dave, Beyond the Megachurch Myths: What we can learn from America’s Largest Churches (San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass, 2007), 8.
2 The Christian Century, “Megachurches a draw for those under 45” Christ Century 126, no. 14 (2009): 17.
3 Robert Dodgshon, The Age of the Clans: The Highlands from Somerland to the Clearances, (Edinburg: Birlinn, 2002), 69.
4 Henry Tischler, Introduction to Sociology, (Belmont: Cengage Learning, 2010), 312.
5Robert Priest, Douglas Wilson, and Adelle Johnson, “U.S Megachurch and New Patterns of Global Mission,” International Bulletin of Missionary Research 34, no. 2 (2010): 98.
6 Andrew Battista, “After the Garden is Gone: Megachurches, Pastoral, and Theologies of Consumption,” DisClosure 19 (2010): 84.
7 John Dart,”The Trend Towards Bigger Churches; Going Mega,” Christian Century, 2010: 22.
8 Ruth Tucker, Left Behind in a Megachurch World:How God work throuhg ordinary churches (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2006), 99.
9 Stephen Ellingson, The Megachurch and the Mainline: Remaking Religious Tradition in the Twenty-First Century (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2007), 321.