In a recent article for Outreach, Warren Bird identifies several myths about the American megachurch (congregations of 2,000 or more). Here are four of them:
Myth No. 1: All megachurches are alike. Come to Redeemer Presbyterian Church in Manhattan, New York, where the no-video liturgy is formal, with organ-powered hymns, a classical music ensemble for the offertory and Pastor Tim Keller preaching in a suit and tie. Then go 25 miles west to Liquid Church in Mountainside, New Jersey, a nondenominational church whose name was inspired by texts of Jesus as living water. They distribute earplugs to those who feel the band is too loud, they extensively use video for storytelling and sermon support, and the lights are so low you can barely take notes or see your print Bible. Both churches are about the same size, but they illustrate how denomination, tradition, room size and other factors create very different environments.
Myth No. 2: Megachurches are driven by personality cults, and they fall apart when there is a transition in leadership. It is true that the majority (83 percent) of megachurches had their dramatic growth surge under their present senior pastor, including the season in which attendance grew past 2,000. However, as William Vanderbloemen and I researched for our book Next: Pastoral Succession That Works, we found that a sizable number of megachurches passed the leadership baton smoothly. It’s mostly the failures that make the headlines, rather than examples like Atlanta’s Peachtree Presbyterian Church, where a much-loved, long-term pastor all but died in the pulpit. Yet, more than a decade later, his successor still is there—and the church is thriving.
Myth No. 3: Megachurches are concerned only about themselves and the needs of their attendees. This is an important issue in the church, but I don’t know of any studies revealing that megachurches exhibit this characteristic more than any other size of church does. Leadership Network research found that 14 percent of megachurch budgets go to work beyond their walls. This shows up from partnership in global missions to local projects like painting a community center.
Myth No. 4: Megachurches water down the faith. The research says just the opposite. From the work of the Barna Group to research by Pulitzer Prize-nominated Rodney Stark, studies consistently find large-church congregations have higher levels of biblical literacy and higher agreement with various behaviors taught in Scripture than do their smaller-church counterparts. (This reality also is influenced by the fact that large churches tend to be heavily evangelical, while smaller churches reflect a wider theological range.) [Read the full article, including four more myths]