It’s a sociological axiom of congregational life that what we see indicated in North American megachurches functions as a “canary in the coal mine,” signaling what’s coming for the rest of U.S. congregations. With that in mind, here’s some of what a recent Hartford Institute and Leadership Network study of shifts indicates is on the horizon:
• 79% to 41%: comparison of megachurches to all other churches on the question, do you strongly agree that your congregation has a clear sense of mission and purpose?
• 62% are multisite, with an average of 3.5 locations
• Five worship services each weekend
• 91% to 39%: growth rate over the last five years of younger megachurches compared to older ones
• 45%: churches where the style of worship varies considerably between services. Most growth is contemporary and high-tech, with traditional worship steadily to rapidly declining (Organ music declining in five years from 28% to 18%, choirs from 43% to 35%).
• 1,200: median seating of main sanctuary (down from 1,500 five years ago)
• 30% host an online campus
• 79% say small groups are central to their strategy of Christian nurture and spiritual formation
• 57%: Communion is always or often part of worship (up from 51% five years ago)
• 74% have an internship, residency or mentoring program.
There are a host of other insights related to megachurch Kingdom advances (a higher percentage of multiracial congregations, a higher involvement of members in global mission and social outreach), and challenges (a declining percentage of frequency of worship attendance, declining engagement with other congregations).
But perhaps the most significant and encouraging thing we who are not in megachurches can observe and act upon is the intentionality of building a young leader pipeline through internship, residency or mentoring programs. Three-quarters of growing megachurches emphasize this, with an average internship lasting 12 months, and one-quarter of those done in conjunction with a recognized seminary.
Say what you will about megachurches, but if you want to tap into their pack-leading vitality and growth, then this is the place to start: with intentional, structured investment in the high-potential 20-somethings, however your church is able to connect with them.