June 17, 2007 in Idaho

Defining a megachurch not just about size

Virginia De Leon Staff writer

On the Web

To see the complete “Megachurches Today” report, go to hirr.hartsem.edu/megachurch/ megachurches.html. Scott Thumma and Dave Travis, two of the researchers behind the report, also have written “Beyond Megachurch Myths: What We Can Learn From America’s Largest Churches,” to be released in August.

How many people does it take to make a megachurch?

At least 2,000, according to a 2005 study by Hartford Seminary’s Hartford Institute for Religion Research and Leadership Network.

Based on that definition, the “Megachurches Today” survey found there are 1,210 Protestant churches in the U.S. with a weekly attendance of more than 2,000 – almost twice as many as five years earlier. .

But while size is the most obvious characteristic of a megachurch, the study also found other common traits among these large congregations:

“Most – even those within mainline denominations – have a conservative theology.

“An overwhelming majority would be considered evangelical, charismatic or fundamentalist.

“While almost half of the country’s megachurches are in the South, a quarter are in the West.

“Most are in newer suburban areas and occupy prominent tracts of 50 to 100 acres near major traffic thoroughfares.

“Generally, they have significant parking lots and large sanctuaries.

“Megachurches tend to grow in a short time, usually less than a decade, and under the tenure of a single senior pastor.

“Nearly all megachurch pastors are male and viewed as charismatic individuals.

“Megachurches host a multitude of social, recreational and aid ministries as well as home fellowships and interest-based small group meetings.

“Worship service is a high-quality, entertaining and well-planned production.

“Contrary to expectations, these congregations promote intense personal commitment in a majority of their members but also contain a large percentage of anonymous spectators.

Despite these shared traits, megachurches are not all the same, the report stressed. They differ in growth rates, size and emphasis. And while they’re perceived by some as a form of “spectator worship,” megachurches generally have high spiritual expectations and serious orthodox beliefs, according to the study. The vast majority also are not politically active, despite the Republican stereotype.

Real Life Ministries in Post Falls is the only megachurch in North Idaho, according to the Hartford Seminary’s megachurch database. Three megachurches are located in Boise.

Washington state has 36 megachurches, with all but four on the West Side. In 2005, Bethel Church in Richland had a weekly attendance of 3,600. The Walla Walla City Adventist Church had an average of slightly under 2,000.

Spokane is home to two megachurches: Life Center Foursquare and Calvary Chapel.

The Hartford Seminary report noted that many more megachurches are on the way.

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