Megachurches: More than a mile wide and an inch deep, study finds

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Looking back through my e-mail, I found a release about the latest findings of a Baylor study on religion in the U.S. Rather than posting the entire story at once, I’m going to post it by sections.  This first will be a section about megachurches. The results seem to contradict traditional thinking about megachurches.

What do you think about the findings?

“None of the things we all believe about the megachurch is true,” said Dr. Rodney Stark, Distinguished Professor of the Social Sciences at Baylor and co-director of the ISR.

Even with congregations of more than 1,000 members, the Baylor Religion Survey found that megachurches surprisingly are more intimate communities than small congregations of less than 100 members. Megachurch growth is mostly due to their members, who tend to witness to their friends, bringing them into the group, and witness to strangers, much more often than members of small churches.

When compared to small congregations, the survey found that megachurch members display a higher level of personal commitment by attending services and a Bible study group and tithing. They also are more likely to accept that heaven “absolutely” exists and that God rewards the faithful with major successes, are more convinced of the reality of evil, are far more given to having religious and mystical experiences, are significantly younger in age and are remarkably active in volunteer work (as much or more so than tiny churches).

“We think of them as these great, huge, cold religious gatherings with a symphony orchestra and a paid choir and a lot of hoopla and a lot of good tidings but no bad tidings,” Stark said. “It’s not true that it’s all happy talk. These people are as interested in evil and sin as anybody in any of the churches. Their levels of satisfaction are high, their volunteerism in community service is very high and their outreach efforts are absolutely phenomenal.”

“I’ve heard stories when you go to some of the megachurches that you have to get tickets and parking like it’s a football game,” said Carson Mencken, professor of sociology at Baylor. “You go to a football game, you sit next to people you don’t know very well, and so I figured that’s exactly what megachurches are going to be like. The survey reveals the megachurches are not like that at all. These people do know each other, and they’re networked into the church through their friends and friends of friends.”

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3 Responses to “Megachurches: More than a mile wide and an inch deep, study finds”

  1. James Says:

    Thanks for posting this.

    I go to a large church and always wondered how a small church experience might be different. I find at our church, small groups function almost as smaller churches within the larger church. This keeps people connected to individuals that really know and care for them.

  2. Lee Says:

    I would have to say that my personal experience as a member of two megachurches would not support the research findings. I find small churches to have a much greater level of community and relationships than megachurches.

  3. David Troublefield Says:

    It used to be said that, no matter the numerical size of the congregation, a person still would know only about 60 people in his church. This can be considered a good reason to join EITHER a small church OR a large one.

    Large congregations exist in the same communities that small ones exist in–and are seeking to reach those same communities. Larger congregations have more actual manpower for doing outreach and evangelism, even if the same percentage of members respond to pastors’ appeal for workers as in smaller congregations–unless greater percentages of smaller congregations’ membership step up to do the work, or groups of smaller congregations combine their manpower for outreach and evangelism.

    In WF, our church and 3 others–the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th largest BGCT congregations in town and a Bible church–are partnering to offer Upward Sports Evangelism to our community (the largest church does the same, but on its own–so about 400+ of the city’s children and their families are reached each season–but we invite all the elementary school-age children to play). Our congregation also partners with two local Assembly of God churches to do practical street-by-street ministry (lawn mowing, window washing, automotive repair, etc.) every Saturday morning in the most needy/crime-ridden neighborhood in town–again, for the purposes of outreach and evangelism.

    I think that Natural Church Development research over the past decade has shown that congregations of about 300 are more effective at evangelism than any other size church.

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