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New Research Shows
Megachurches Growing in Influence

For Immediate Release

(HARTFORD, CT – September 12, 2008) – A new study by Leadership Network and Hartford Seminary’s Hartford Institute for Religion Research shows that Protestant megachurches continue to strengthen their foothold in the American religious landscape.

According to the study, megachurches are becoming de facto replacements for religious denominations in that they are duplicating many of the functions of these national bodies:

  • Christian education literature, worship resources and music materials are all produced by megachurches and consumed by smaller churches internationally of all different denominations.

  • More of these churches sponsor pastors training conferences and have intentional programs of training for would-be clergy. Likewise, many megachurches have been instrumental in both planting new congregations and spinning off affiliated satellite locations that are flourishing under a popular and recognizable name-brand.

  • Increasingly megachurches are investing heavily in their own homegrown, hands-on mission trips for those attending their churches to experience what it is like to be a missionary and assist, even temporarily, in the mission field.

Scott Thumma, professor of sociology of religion at Hartford Seminary and co-author of “Beyond Megachurch Myths: What We Can Learn from America’s Largest Churches,” says he is not surprised at this development. “Megachurches are highly adaptable and continually innovating their programs and approach to worship and congregational organization as they respond to an ever changing social context,” he says.

This new study focuses on the developing patterns observed across three national surveys done in 2000, 2005 and 2008 in a partnership between Thumma and Warren Bird, Leadership Network’s director of research.

The survey found that some things have not changed. Megachurches (Protestant congregations with average weekly attendance of 2,000 or more) continue to grow in size, lead the way as America’s most multi-ethnic class of church and emphasize contemporary worship.

But megachurches also are institutions in transition. They offer more worship services in multiple locations, play a greater role in community service, and put greater emphasis on the role of small groups.

Areas of Continuity

Contemporary worship style: Not surprisingly, contemporary worship (indicated by electric guitars, keyboards, drums and visual projection equipment) remains the overwhelming norm for worship. In the 2008 study 78% of megachurches thought the term “contemporary” described their worship quite or very well.

Outreach and programming: These churches continue to be highly evangelistic and invitational, with their attenders being highly engaged in recruiting others to the church. Megachurches still offer countless programs and opportunities both to be ministered to and to engage in ministry activities toward others.

Finances: Megachurches also continue to garner significant annual incomes. In 2008, the average megachurch income was 6.5 million dollars. This represents nearly a half million increase over the average in 2005. However, the current income figure actually represents a slight decline of nearly $100,000 of income when compared to the 2005 study figure after correcting for inflation.

For the first time, the 2008 study inquired how the megachurches spend their money, based on broad categories. While there was considerable variation among the churches reporting, generally about 50% of income went to salaries, a quarter of income to buildings and a quarter to missions and programs.

Growth: Megachurches continue to increase in the number of people they draw. Their average rate of growth for five years is around 50% increase in attendance.

Areas of Change

Growth without more seats: A number of strategies and organizational innovations are evident that reflect new ways these congregations continue to grow. To create the larger attendance figures, megachurches have turned to an increased use of additional gathering spaces (overflow rooms and multiple venues). Likewise, they are offering more services over the weekend. Additionally, 35% of the megachurches say they hold simultaneous venue worship of different styles on their main campus and in satellite locations.

Megachurches are also turning to the creation of off-campus satellites or multiple sites to hold additional worship services under the umbrella of a single identity, unified budget, and solo senior leader.

Education and interns: More than half the megachurches in the survey are sponsoring pastors or ministerial conferences. Additionally 69% have internship/residency programs to train potential staff and ministerial candidates. So it seems as if megachurches are shifting from formal pastoral schools or institutes toward informal on-the-job internship programs for clergy training.

Small groups: Another aspect of congregational life that has dramatically changed in the past 8 years is the increasing emphasis on small groups. Perhaps the renewed emphasis on small groups by over a third of megachurches is in reaction to a perceived social disconnectedness more than a proactive strategy.

Social justice and community service: An area where significant proactive change clearly seems to be taking place among megachurches is within social ministry and community service programming and involvement. In 2000 a third (34%) of megachurches affirmed their congregation was “working for social justice.” By 2005, nearly a half (49%) of congregations somewhat or strongly agreed this phrase described them well and in 2008 51% of churches affirmed this.

The full report on the survey, “Changes in American Megachurches: Tracing Eight Years of Growth and Innovation in the Nation's Largest-Attendance Congregations,” is available at http://hirr.hartsem.edu/megachurch/mega2008_summaryreport.html

For more information or to schedule media interviews of the principals behind the study, contact:

Scott Thumma, Hartford Seminary, sthumma@hartsem.edu.

Warren Bird, Leadership Network, warren.bird@leadnet.org.

Thumma also is available for interviews at the Religion Newswriters Association annual conference in Washington, D.C. from September 18 to September 21.

About Leadership Network: Based in Dallas, Texas, Leadership Network is a non-profit public charity that fosters church innovation and growth through a variety of programs, resources and strategies in furtherance of a far-reaching mission to identify, connect and help high-capacity Christian leaders multiply their impact. For more on Leadership Network, see www.leadnet.org and www.halftime.org or contact Rick Long at 1.800.477.6698 x102 or rlong@source-mpi.com.

About Hartford Seminary and the Hartford Institute for Religion Research: Hartford Seminary is a special kind of seminary, focused on interfaith relations, congregational studies and faith in practice. The Hartford Institute for Religion Research has a 30-year record of rigorous, policy-relevant research, anticipation of emerging issues and commitment to the creative dissemination of learning. This record has earned the Institute an international reputation as an important bridge between the scholarly community and the practice of faith. For more on the Seminary and the Institute, see www.hartsem.edu or http://hirr.hartsem.edu or contact David Barrett at 860.509.9519 or dbarrett@hartsem.edu.



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