United States Has More Megachurches Than Previously Thought
- Scott Thumma Hartford Seminary
- 2005 13 May
New research shows 50 percent more megachurches in the United States than previously thought. Initial analysis of a cooperative project to survey all megachurches in the United States by Scott Thumma of Hartford Seminary’s Hartford Institute for Religion Research, and Dave Travis and Warren Bird of Leadership Network uncovered at least 1,200 Protestant churches that claim more than 2,000 weekly worship attenders.
This figure is nearly 50 percent more than the figure of 850 commonly assumed and quoted by both organizations and other researchers of very large churches.
“I would never have guessed that either of our groups could have missed so many additional megachurches,” said Thumma, a professor of sociology at Hartford Seminary who specializes in the study of such churches.
Many of the new congregations were uncovered when the two groups, which both keep separate lists of megachurches, compared their records. Each group knew of different sets of congregations, with the two lists overlapping on about 600 churches. It was the names of those that did not overlap that pushed the total list to just over the 1,200 mark.
“Our preliminary research for the major survey effort indicates there could very well be another 200 to 400 megachurches in addition to these,” Bird said. “We’ll have to see what information the questionnaires return to know for sure.”
The 2005 Megachurches Today questionnaires are being mailed and emailed to more than 1,700 very large congregations this coming week.
“We hope and pray that each megachurch that receives a survey will fill it out and return it so that we can help correct misperceptions and better network these churches with each other," said Travis.
There are many misconceptions about megachurches in the minds of the general public, he said. This new study, which will be repeated at least every two years, will shed new light on the megachurch phenomenon that generates such attention from the media and the religious world alike.
Preliminary analysis shows that the 1,200 churches represent three tenths of one percent of all congregations. They account for more than four million weekly attenders, however, and possibly as many as 8 to 12 million members.
This pattern supports what Mark Chaves noted in his recent book, that “the largest 10 percent of congregations contain about half of all churchgoers” (Congregations in America, pp.18-19).
There are megachurches in 45 out of 50 states. The states with the most megachurches are Texas with 174 (14 percent), California with 169 (13.7 percent), Florida with 83 (6.7 percent) and Georgia with 64 (5.2 percent). Houston and Dallas alone account for 56 megachurches or 4.5 percent of the total.
In terms of affiliation, the greatest number of megachurches are Nondenominational or Southern Baptist, followed to a lesser percent by the Assemblies of God, the Presbyterian Church USA, and the United Methodist Church. These are preliminary indications in the data. Much more will be known with certainty as the questionnaires come in and are processed.
Considerable research on megachurches can be found at the Hartford Institute website. Thumma has been researching megachurches since 1988 and is considered one of the leading scholars in this area. He maintains an online database of what he formerly considered to be most of the megachurches in the country. His extensive online database is now being updated to include the new information.
The Leadership Network (www.leadnet.org) is the foremost networking and resource organization in the country for very large churches and their leadership. Since 1984 its mission has been to identify, connect and help high-capacity Christian leaders multiply their impact. Dave Travis is Senior Vice President of the Leadership Network. Warren Bird is Leadership Network’s Director of Leadership Community Intellectual Capital Support as well as a prolific author.
For more information about this survey visit the website http://hirr.hartsem.edu/megachurch/megachurchresearch.html.