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The State of Megachurches in 2013

December 18, 2013, 0 Comments

Warren Bird is a friend and the research director at Leadership Network. He has a background as a pastor, seminary professor, and is author or co-author of 24 books for ministry leaders including Better Together: Making Church Mergers Work with Jim Tomberlin. His most recent title is Wisdom from Lyle E. Schaller. You can follow him on Twitter @warrenbird

Recently, he posted a report entitled “2013 Year-End Status of Megachurches” and I think it is fascinating. Warren always has great insight into the life of churches individually and is able to highlight the trends that are happening on a larger scale. I connected with Warren and asked his permission to repost his article here. Take a look, mull over it, and think through the implications about what we are seeing in the church in North America. And, make sure you follow Warren’s writings, tweets, blog posts, and books to learn more from a guy who is helping all of us.

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2013 Year-End Status of Megachurches by Warren Bird

(originally posted at LeadNet.org)

Big churches, for right or wrong, get a disproportionate amount of media attention. This happens especially Christmas and Easter, and in year-end tallies. Below I profile the latest megachurch statistics.

Keep in mind that the average church globally numbers fewer than 100 in worship. Across the world, there are almost 5 million Christian congregations; the Center for the Study of Global Christianity’s Status for Global Mission – 2013 (line 42) puts the number at 4,629,000. In some countries, especially those where Christianity is all but illegal, these gatherings of Christians are almost exclusively house churches in form. In fact, today 5.1 billion people today live in countries with high or very-high religious restrictions or hostilities, according to Pew Research Center. Thus for better or for worse, only in some countries are large public churches free to develop.

Megachurches – those Protestant congregations averaging 2,000 or more in weekly worship attendance, adults and children, all physical campuses – exist in at least 48 countries (see my list of global megachurches here). Many nations, even giant ones like India, have received minimal research in terms of how churches are growing and multiplying.  I look forward to the day when churches worldwide, including larger churches, receive equal study and attention. For now, megachurches in North America have been researched more than those in other countries, so here’s what we know about very large churches in the United States:

Scope and Size of U.S. Megachurches

5 million – Number of people who worshipped in a U.S. megachurch last weekend (if it was a regular weekend, with Christmas and Easter being much higher).

1,650 – Current number of megachurches in the United States, according to church lists compiled by Leadership Network.

0.5% – While almost 10% of Protestant churchgoers attend a megachurch, these churches represent only about half of one percent of the roughly 320,000 Protestant churches that exist in the United States. For more breakdown by size, see these Hartford Institute for Religion Research FAQs.

46 – Amount of the 50 states have a megachurch (not yet in Delaware, Maine, Rhode Island and Vermont). Megachurches can be found in Washington DC as well.

Almost all – Number of Protestant denominations that have at least one megachurch from the biggest denominations (Southern Baptists, United Methodists, Evangelical Lutherans, etc., which each have many) to smaller denominations (Foursquare, Christian & Missionary Alliance, Nazarene, etc.). Most denominational megachurches hold their denominational affiliation lightly – Saddleback is Southern Baptist, and LifeChurch.tv is Evangelical Covenant, for example – and many are nondenominational, such as Lakewood, Willow Creek, North Point and Potter’s House.

21% – Amount of today’s megachurches founded in the last 20 years. Average (median) founding date of all current megachurches is 1977.

22% – Amount of today’s megachurches founded by their current lead pastor. (Thus the current pastor was the church’s very first pastor.)

79% – Amount of current megachurch pastors who led their congregation through its most dramatic growth era occur — i.e., under whose leadership it became a megachurch.

55 – Average (median) age of today’s megachurch lead pastor (5% are under age 40, 18% under age 45).

92% – I’ve personally visited 23 of the 25 (or 92%) largest-attendance Protestant churches in the United States. I visit lots of churches of other sizes too.  🙂

For more facts about megachurches see various reports I’ve authored or co-authored at www.leadnet.org/megachurch.

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