By Aaron Earls
American megachurches have one obvious commonality: They’re mega. But that’s not all that unites these sometimes disparate congregations.
According to analysis by the Hartford Institute for Religion Research, megachurches in the U.S. have several traits in common.
Almost half of all American megachurches (49 percent) are in the South. According to Lifeway Research and Outreach Magazine, 53 of the 100 largest and 63 of the fastest growing megachurches last year were in the South.
According to the report, virtually all megachurches have a conservative theology—even those within mainline denominations. More than 7 in 10 megachurches (71 percent) say they are evangelical.
Moderate, the next most common theological orientation, was chosen by 7 percent of the churches. Only 0.5 percent of megachurches consider themselves liberal. Twice as many (1 percent) say they are fundamentalist.
While most megachurches belong to a denomination, Hartford’s research found “nondenominational” was the single most popular type of megachurch.
A full 4 in 10 megachurches considered themselves nondenominational. At 16 percent, Southern Baptist was the only denomination in double digits.
Hartford Institute’s research found most megachurches are in the suburbs, near “rapidly growing sprawl cities such as Los Angeles, Dallas, Atlanta, Houston, Orlando, Phoenix and Seattle.”
As more megachurches have embraced multisite ministries, the need for a large sanctuary has decreased. The typical megachurch worship center now seats 1,200—down from 1,500 in 2010.
At a pivotal moment
According to the Hartford Institute’s research, megachurches tend to grow quickly and under the leadership of a single senior pastor.
What happens when that pastor is no longer leading the church? That will be the question many megachurches are facing in the coming years.
Aaron is the senior writer at Lifeway Research.