In graduate school, my specialization was “ecclesiology” which is the study of the Church itself: what it is, how it is constituted and how it grows. Ever since, my abiding interest, as regular readers know, is growing healthy churches. The so-called “mega-church” movement therefore, and not surprisingly, holds special interest for me.
“Mega-church” is a designation that came into usage in the 1970’s as some existing protestant churches and a number of start ups pursued aggressive intentional growth in their communities (mostly in the South at first, mostly Southern Baptist or non-denominational) through disciplined and creative efforts at evangelization. In many instances these communities experienced rapid growth. Churches so designated stood in stark contrast to traditional style Protestant churches both for their sheer size, but also for their deliberately upbeat and contemporary worship style combined with their conservative theology.
A mega-church is generally described as a single congregation (on one or more campuses) with weekly attendance (including kids and student programs) of 2,000 or more.
This month’s edition of “Outreach” (a magazine all about evangelizing church communities) published its annual “100 Largest and Fastest Growing Churches in America.”
The largest church in the country, far and away, is Joel Osteen’s Lakewood Church in Houston with 43,000 in average weekend attendance. Interestingly, this year our friend Andy Stanley and his Northpoint Community Church in Atlanta is number two (31,000). Also in the top ten, of course, are Bill Hybel’s Willow Creek in Chicago (24,000) and Rick Warren’s Saddleback Church in California (19,000). After the top 5, the numbers drop into the teens; After the top forty the largest churches in America are between 6-8,000 in weekend attendance.
Beyond the top 100, there are about 1,200 Protestant churches in the country that qualify as mega-churches. But let me ask you a question. Why aren’t Catholic parishes ever included in this designation? There are as many as 2,500 parishes in the United States with weekly attendance over 2,000, some that probably could have qualified for that top 100 list. Why are they not counted?
One explanation I found in the New York Times (of all places) went like this. As an editorial policy the Times does not consider large Catholic churches “megachurches” because “megachurches” are “movements” in their communities.
The New York Times gets it better than we do. Some Catholic churches are only Mass stations in their communities. They are not attracting the lost and they are not (intentionally anyway) shaping disciples. They are not movements.
We do not want to be one of them. We want to be a movement. So we’ve got to move and grow.
Currently our weekend attendance is topping 4,000…pretty good though we wouldn’t have made Outreach’s list (this year). But whatever our size, we want to be growing in our connection to our community and in the depth of our discipleship. We always want to be moving in those ways