The middle of the 20th century saw the beginning of an interesting phenomenon, megachurches. Large institutions of worship that see at least 2,000 believers attend sermons each week have been built throughout human history. What makes megachurches interesting is that at least 40% of them are non-denominational, which means that they are not affiliated with any other Christian sects like Baptism or Anglicanism. As research compiled by the Hartford Institute for Religion (HIRR) reveals, such organizations typically grow rapidly, reaching a phenomenal stature within a span of 10 years and are located in prominent campuses across the country.
70% of Megachurches are Concentrated in Specific States
At present, states like Georgia, California, Florida, and Texas have the highest number of megachurches, with Houston having the largest and best-known houses of worship in the U.S. Some of the best examples of churches in Houston include Lakewood Church, Grace Church, Fellowship Church, The Potter House, and Cornerstone Church, among others. Statistics show that these organizations have an upward of 3,500 attendees for their services each week, and their churches cover anywhere from 50 to 100 acres of land in prime locations across the states.
Megachurches Will Continue to Attract Worshippers
Millennials and young adults today are looking for hope and stability in a chaotic world. With growing political division, uncertainty about the climate, and widespread economic hardship, churches attract people looking for anchors and a sense of belonging. Pastors of megachurches typically have vibrant, dynamic personalities. A typical sermon includes music and is delivered in large auditoriums with backlit stages that envelop members in a spiritual ambiance.
Megachurches are More Accessible than their Conventional Counterparts
In the age of the Internet, people who have questions can search for answers online without attending actual sermons. With the ability to stream live discourses and teachings, potential members have the opportunity to listen to pastors and speakers from the comfort of their homes. In this fast-paced age of long working hours and personal commitments, it is not always possible for people to make the time to go to church. They would prefer to watch videos and podcasts on the go using mobile devices just as this feature on The Conversation reveals.
Modern-day megachurches make media available to their online audience. Most houses of worship have websites where they regularly post recordings of sermons. Not only do newcomers check them out, but existing members and attendees have the opportunity to review them as and when they want to. An additional advantage is that these religious organizations have a wider reach. People interested in the sermons and discourses need not visit physical locations and can join congregations even if they live hundreds of miles away. Television productions are also available for members wanting to participate in discourses. Most importantly, contemporary places of worship may have meetings more regularly than the traditional Sunday morning sermons. Members can sign up for sessions in the evenings or on workdays whenever it is convenient for them.
An official spokesperson from Grace Church Houston revealed, “We see people from all walks of life attending the sermons delivered by Pastor Garrett Booth. We have first-timers as well as lifelong churchgoers telling us they’re connecting with God on a whole new level. “
Megachurches Find It Easier to Gain Members
Religious institutions are now using the entire gamut of digital marketing. By using email marketing, pay-per-click advertising, and search engine optimization, megachurches can reach a bigger audience. Big churches typically have bigger marketing budgets to work with than smaller, conventional churches. That means they grow in size more rapidly. Anyone desiring to make donations can simply use the online portals to give digitally. Of course, churches also have donation boxes where people can make cash contributions during or after the sermons.
Megachurches are Fast Overtaking Smaller Houses of Worship
Christianity Today magazine has reported on the incredible growth of megachurches. Whereas traditional churches may find it hard to maintain a membership of 1,000, their larger counterparts are easily grossing 10,000 or even 20,000 believers. Contemporary houses of prayer have larger choirs with advanced music systems, well-trained staff, and several ministry departments. These churches have a complex management setup that is highly successful in organizing the attendance of thousands of visitors over not just the weekend, but for discourses held all through the week. The efficiency that megachurches display has elbowed out smaller congregations who are now struggling with low attendance.
Megachurches have Transformed into Million-Dollar Businesses
Large-scale houses of worship are more of businesses rather than religious institutions. They have a dynamic personality at the head that attracts clientele and fans. Statistics show that an average megachurch may have an annual revenue of $6.5 million. Not just from church dues and collections, but also from sales of books, DVDs, and CDs and other merchandise. Television broadcasts are a powerful advertising tool. A good example is Lakewood Church, which makes over $80 million a year. Although officials insist that money is not the objective here, donations are clearly contributing to the phenomenal growth.
Megachurches in the Future May Include More Liturgical Methodologies
Despite the immense popularity of megachurches, the coming years may see a shift toward less of a consumerism approach and more adoption of liturgical traditions. Pastors may also develop smaller groups where they interact on a personal level with members of their congregation in place of just preaching to large crowds.
Writer of the book, Nomad: Not-So-Religious Thoughts On Faith, Doubt, and the Journey In Between, Brandan Robertson speaks to Christian Today, saying, “The free church movement in the US, and the Puritan tradition, was always about breaking off from tradition, being authentic, expressing faith in an individualised, localised way. That reached its peak in the megachurch tradition.”
Brandan goes on to add, “They have their own music, their own teaching, their own doctrine. On the one hand that’s very appealing to the consumerist, individualist mindset of the West. But the beauty of the liturgical tradition is that it gives us a rhythm and a contour to our lives. A lot of megachurches are embracing liturgy now.”
Megachurches of the Future May Actually Scale Down
Experts estimate that the coming years may see megachurches scaling down operations to appeal to smaller groups and provide personal guidance. Once existing pastors start to retire, replacing them and creating the same mass appeal can prove to be challenging.
Further, large religious houses no longer want to invest millions of dollars in a single property. From the community point of view, massive campuses are now being considered an inconvenience because of the traffic congestion and noise disturbances. Since megachurches are exempt from property taxes and other IRS dues, people are starting to see them as a liability and burden on the community.
The coming years may see unexpected changes in the landscape of megachurches. The meteoric rise of the mega businesses in the religious community may see an equally meteoric fall. In place of consolidations, the future may see smaller churches springing up again, bringing faith and belief full circle.