What exactly is a megachurch—aside from a church with more than 2,000 weekly worshipers? Several years ago, in a book titled Beyond Megachurch Myths, Scott Thumma and Dave Travis noted that mega churches come in various flavors. Some are homogeneous, some are economically, ethnically and racially diverse. Some revolve around a charismatic pastor, others have team ministries.
The ever-growing phenomenon of the megachurch continues to elicit study from researchers intrigued by how these huge congregational complexes—with more than 2,000 adults and children attending church on a weekend (using the usual definition)—market their religious product.
They were visitors in our worship service and, like all visitors in a small church, they were not hard to spot. I could see from the looks on their faces that whatever they were looking for in a church, we didn’t have it. When we all stood to sing the hymns, they just looked straight ahead, never making an effort to sing and not even picking up a hymnbook.
After reading the research on booming Protestant megachurches and their senior pastors, I couldn’t help noting how my neighborhood megachurch and its lead pastor (an acquaintance for more than a dozen years) fit the trends.
Methodists opened the ordained ministry to women in 1956, and today female ministers account for about 20 percent of the clergy in the denomination. And 14 bishops heading the 50 U.S. regional jurisdictions of the United Methodist Church are women—28 percent of the total.
The United Methodist Church, like other mainline denominations, is steadily losing members. Yet it has some large, thriving congregations, and about 100 of its churches draw more than 1,200 people on a typical weekend.
With megachurches come megacrowds, megamoney and, increasingly, mega–security concerns.
The crowds—anywhere from 2,000 to 20,000 worshipers each weekend—can be an attractive target for a deranged shooter. Overflowing offering plates are tempting to thieves, and well-known preachers can become high-profile targets.