Megachurch trends we small churches must face

The appeal of the megachurch is undeniable: big building, large worship setting, youth and children’s programs, and a semi-celebrity pastor. Yet many smaller churches have not learned from their large counter parts.  There are some things megachurches are doing well and us smaller churches must take note.

A study from the Hartford Institute for Religion Research at Hartford Seminary and Leadership Network  found some surprising trends in megachurches:

  • Nearly two-thirds of megachurch attenders are under 45 years old, as compared to only one-third for all Protestant churches (62% vs. 35%).
  • Nearly a third of megachurch attenders are single, unmarried persons.  In a typical church, singles account for just 10% of the congregation.
  • Megachurch attenders are both more educated and more affluent than attenders at other churches.
  • The majority of megachurch attenders are not necessarily new to Christianity but nearly a quarter had not recently been in another church before coming to a megachurch.
  • Attraction to a mega church tends to steam from the church’s reputation, worship style and senior pastor.
  • Long-term attendance flows from an appreciation for the church’s music/arts, social and community outreach and adult-oriented programs.
  • 45% of megachurch attenders never volunteer at the church, and 40% are not engaged in a small group, the mainstay of megachurch programming.

Megachurches are meeting a need and are leading to people to Jesus Christ.  Two awesome things.  However, this study of 25,000 people at 12 mega churches indicates that megachurch attenders volunteer less and give less money than people who attend typical Protestant churches, although megachurch-goers tend to be wealthier and better educated. This follows the greater cultural trend of people being less committed to things because of their other commitments.

Giving and tithing in no way amounts to the zenith of Christian commitment, but it sure indicates how far people are willing to go to sacrificially give to God through their local congregation.   A sizable minority of mega church goers, 40%,  just show up to worship and are not connected to any of the major programs it is know for.

Based on this study, there are four facts we non-megachurches must face:

  1. We non-mega churches clearly have not succeed in the way that our larger sister churches have done.  Based on this study, 1/4 of the people have attended other churches.  What was missing for those 25% in smaller churches that did not grab them to that “other church”?
  2. We non-mega churches have a lower number of younger people (under 45) in mainline denominations compared to larger churches.  We are missing the boat on attracting and holding younger people interested in faith.  We have to do a better job as the mainline churches are aging.  Studies have found that there are encouraging pockets of younger people attending churches.
  3. We non-megachurch mainline churches need to do a better job of encouraging our congregations of bringing friends, families, and co-workers.  Mega churches have done that very well.
  4. We mainline churches need to think hard about our worship, programs, and ministries.  We need to teach our people to branch out and try new things in worship and mission.

Although, we non-mega church goers are more committed and give more per attendee, we need to learn from larger churches about what they are doing and how they are reaching people.  At the same time, we must resist the trend to “become like them” in everything we do.  Just because something works at church “A” does not mean it will work the same at church “B”.

Alan Rudnick

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Alan Rudnick has been featured on television, radio, print, and social media and serves as the Pastor of the First Baptist Church of Ballston Spa, NY. He has quickly established himself as a leader, blogger, and commentator in the areas of faith, Christianity, ministry, and social media. He is the author of, “The Work of the Associate Pastor”, Judson Press. Alan’s writing has been featured with the Albany Times Union, The Christian Century, Associated Baptist Press, and The Fund of Theological Education.

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