Across the country we’re seeing multiple generations walk out on religion without a second glance as congregations have seen a 10% attendance drop since 1991. Many attribute the decline to the preaching of hard right politics as a reason many are leaving the church. Modern churchgoers seem to be more interested, as with most things these days, with what can be offered to them. They’d rather have access to coffee shops and libraries rather than hear a possibly close-minded preacher, or at the very least a spiritually conflicted preacher, lecture on topics relating to abortion and gay marriage. For this reason, many are attending congregations of anywhere from 4,000 to 20,000 weekly attendees to hear more about God’s love rather than His wrath. It’s also the flexibility that these megachurches offer that seem to be attracting both the baby boomer and more specifically the baby buster generations.
First things first: amenities. If you go to any office park, gym, or apartment complex these days the first thing that is most often discussed are amenities. We, as Americans, want to know what we’re going to get out of our dollars and most importantly, our time. Megachurches of today could often be considered tiny cities within major cities when you consider all that they have to offer. We’re talking gyms, daycare, libraries, full service cafeterias, coffee shops, sport fields, basketball courts and even intramural sports leagues. The services some of these churches offer rival the social element most college students are getting from their universities. The decreasing trend of congregations across America is immune to the ever-growing amount of megachurches that seem to be springing up everywhere. In 1970 there were approximately 50 churches that were considered to be “mega” status. Today there are over 1,300 churches that put on weekly performances that would rival any secular concert you’ve seen in the past 20 years. Coincidentally, these performances along with technically savvy sermons are also attributed to the steady spike and appeal of the megachurch. All of this of course is funded by the average megachurch income of $6.5 million. These budgets help the churches stay in front of current technological and social trends that smaller churches can’t compete with. There’s no doubt that these churches understand and are fully capable to effectively use social media to connect. For example, check out http://www.youtube.com/user/EdYoung.
Because these congregations are so big, worshippers often feel that they can get “lost in the crowd.” Depending on who you are, that is either very comforting, or very negative. The biggest detractor to the megachurch that is most often cited is the fact that you can go to a church for 2 years, leave the church completely, and nobody would notice you are gone. To the casual worshipper though, there is great comfort in this. This fact hasn’t gone overlooked though. All of these megachurches offer a multitude of small groups that meet either on campus or at the homes of the leaders around the city. These small groups are how the megachurch stresses community and interpersonal relationships. And boy do they have something for everyone. There are singles groups, couples groups, addiction recovery groups, over forty groups, hiking groups; basically anything you can imagine. This is where the relationships can be built and fostered to get that feeling of a tight knit church group. Is everyone going to know your name or your child’s name as you enter every Sunday? No, but should you expect that from a church that caters to 20,000 people? As with most things, you get out what you put into it. Meaning, if you want to show up every Sunday and leave it at that, you absolutely may. If you’re looking for relationships and volunteering, you’re going to have to take some initiative and get yourself involved.
These megachurches often get compared, and maybe unfairly, to that of a prominent national chain that comes to town and puts all of the mom and pop shops out of business, and stats suggest there may be something to that. According to Scott Thumma, a professor at Hartford Seminary, megachurch congregations are made up of only about 6% of attendees that are at their first church. That means that approximately 94% of the congregation has either left the church they were regularly attending or have recently decided to come back to church after falling off the wagon. This happens to be a concern of Pastor Ed Young of Young Fellowship Church, who worries that megachurches may be “taking people from other churches because we have a cooler church.” Well Ed, with respect to all other churches, you do.
It’s clear that these megachurches have their detractors, but the simple fact is that smaller churches just can’t offer, when considering amenities, anything close to what the Fellowship Churches of the world can. Smaller churches do offer the intimacy that many worshippers are seeking. However, for most of the nation, megachurches seem to be the right amount of everything; amenities, privacy, recreation and God. And that shouldn’t be scoffed at. As with all things, it takes a foundation and that’s really what the megachurch can offer. The sermons may be a bit watered down, but the importance of appealing to a mass amount of both young and old cannot be overlooked.