A “megachurch” is defined as a Protestant church that has an average of 2,000 or more regular attendees to weekend services.
Megachurch demographics: The composition of the megachurch has changed in the last decade. Ten years ago, megachurches were comprised mostly of baby boomers (the post-World War II generation born between 1946 and 1964) with children. As baby busters (born in the generation following the baby boom when the birth rate fell dramatically) had their own families and megachurch singles’ ministries developed, the demographic has grown much younger. Income and education levels of megachurch congregants tend to be higher than for those in smaller churches. Megachurches tend to have twice as many visitors as other churches. Over two-thirds of congregants have attended for less than five years, while nearly half of traditional church congregants have attended for more than ten. Members of megachurches are more likely to hold evangelical beliefs, study the Scriptures on their own, and believe in the importance of sharing their faith. Megachurches also tend to be the most multi-ethnic of all congregations.
Megachurch denominations and beliefs: Roughly one third of all megachurches are non-denominational, and one fourth of all megachurches are Baptist. Over half are evangelical. Interestingly enough, the larger the church, the more likely their doctrine is to be conservative and Bible-based (at least in a very broad sense of what it means to be conservative). According to George Barna, this may be because traditional-minded conservatives, those who value boundaries and rules, are more able to work together for a common goal.
Megachurch health: Attendance in and financial support of megachurches is actually climbing, while traditional-sized churches are struggling. Again, George Barna points out that conservatives tend to define success by numbers, and people with higher education and income would naturally take more ownership in what is perceived as a successful organization. But although megachurches are, in general, doing well financially, their individual congregants tend to give less. A megachurch’s larger numbers means their finances can be used more efficiently to provide more services for a greater number of people.
Megachurch environment: Megachurch worship styles are usually contemporary and professional-quality, although they may have great variety between their different services. They tend to use technology in the worship service and are more likely to support a variety of artistic expressions of worship such as drama and dance. Many megachurches manage their growth by expanding to other geographical locations and broadcasting the pastor’s message from the central site. Smaller churches will embrace technology as their budgets and culture deem appropriate. Most megachurches emphasize small groups as a way of building and maintaining interpersonal relationships, something difficult to do in the main services.
Megachurch ministries and programs: Megachurches offer many more opportunities to serve. Attendees can pick and choose their ministries and the groups they’d like to participate in. On the other hand, it is easier to regularly attend services and still not know anyone; new parishioners need to be proactive about finding a place in the church. Coffee shops are becoming ubiquitous, but many megachurches also provide preschools, recovery and addiction groups, and licensed counselors. They may also host musical concerts and conferences. Smaller churches are usually limited by their resources and facilities, although they can join together with other churches to provide some of these services. Because of the services offered, parents of young families and young singles are more likely to go to a larger church.
Megachurch leadership: Many megachurches are driven by an energetic senior pastor with a strong personality. A megachurch led by a spiritually mature, Bible-dedicated pastor can remain healthy for years. If the pastor leaves, whether due to scandal, retirement, or just moving on, the church may not survive intact very well. Megachurches are often defined by their senior pastor, and transition can be difficult.
Smaller churches, often comprised of several long-attending families, are less dependent on the pastor for their internal atmosphere. Smaller churches tend to rely on their parishioners more, and the parishioners have more of an impact on the tenor and life of the church. This can be fulfilling as parishioners see how they have a personal impact on the identity of the congregation. It can also be overwhelming if the church is struggling financially.
Megachurch culture: Interestingly, although megachurches were first developed by baby boomers, megachurch trends in attendance, participation, and leadership all reflect the growing influence of the baby buster generation. Busters are more likely to take responsibility for their own beliefs instead of allowing an organization to define them. Because of this, they are generally more committed to the church when their needs are being met (hence the high ministry participation rate), but are more apt to leave and find another church when they are not (hence the low long-term membership rate). In addition, busters are more likely to be loyal to an individual or individuals than to an organization—reflected in the megachurch’s reliance on a single personality.
Obviously, the biggest difference between a megachurch and a traditional church is the size. From the off-duty policemen directing traffic in the multi-acre parking lot and the huge sanctuary with stadium seating, to the warren of hallways leading to children’s Sunday school rooms, megachurches, by their nature, must be big. This provides more opportunities to serve and a wider variety of ministries, but also a greater chance an individual will get lost in the crowd.
The choice between attending a megachurch or a more traditional, smaller church is a personal one. While the above descriptions are based on statistical analysis, there are churches of all sizes that provide sound biblical teaching and opportunities for spiritual growth. All Christian churches should preach the gospel and the headship of Christ. The ministries available should be those that edify and provide service opportunities for the attendees. There is nothing in Scripture that states the ideal size of a local congregation. It is the presence of God that makes a church, not the number of people.