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Don't cast stones at a church simply based on size.

So, this week inadvertently turned into Megachurch Week on the blog. In the event you missed it, everything started Tuesday with some data on the continued growth of megachurches. Then on Wednesday, I shared a new infographics from Leadership Network on the financial health of megachurches.

Throughout the week, I’ve received blog comments, Facebook messages, tweets and emails challenging the positive influence of several megachurches — some by name, some not. I get it. Some megachurches are not healthy environments. As I said Tuesday, I think some are quite terrible and fulfill every stereotype out there. Yet, there are also some great ones, and for that I am thankful. I want to understand them more and, when possible, to encourage them on their journey.

And while I encourage them, I’d also encourage those of you not pastoring or attending megachurches to do the same. Yes, there are some terrible megachurches. Just like there are some terrible churches that run 125 every week.

But my job, and yours, is not to indiscriminately cast stones at every church that happens to be, or not to be, a certain size.

Wednesday evening, I got an email from my friend Scott Thumma, one of the authors of the research I had quoted and one of the top megachurch researchers in the country, and I got an idea. Scott actually authored the book that debunks megachurch myths, appropriately titled Beyond Megachurch Myths. If you routinely deal with, work at or attend a megachurch, I would encourage you to buy the book. It’s full of research, anecdotes and stats and is written in a very accessible way.

Without further ado, here are the nine megachurch myths from Scott Thumma and Dave Travis, and a little of my commentary about each of them.

Keep in mind that these are their myths and I am commenting on them.

1. All Megachurches Are Alike.

Scott and Dave identified (and listed examples of: p. 31-38) at least four different streams of megachurches: Old Line/Program-Based (large FBC’s and other historic churches); Seeker (Saddleback, Willow Creek, etc.); Charismatic/Pastor-Focused (Church without Walls, Lakewood, Potter’s House); and New Wave/Re-Envisioned (NewSpring, Mars Hill Seattle, The Village).

If you are at all familiar with the church names or pastors of those churches, you know they are nothing alike. The same could be said of the church I pastor and any other church plant that meets in a movie theater like we do. Our size and surroundings may be similar, but our churches would likely be very different.

2. Megachurches Are Just Too Big.

“Of the 320,000 Christian churches, 60 percent of them have fewer than 100 participating adults and children (p. 45). And when surveyed, 64 percent of megachurch attendees knew as many or more people in the megachurch than they did at smaller churches (p. 46). 80 percent of attendees felt satisfied with the level of pastoral care they received (p. 47).”

Any church can be “too big.” But as our culture becomes increasingly urbanized and less rural, large churches become less intimidating — just as large cities became less intimidating for farmers in generations past.

Simply put, obviously many people do not think they are too big.

Ed Stetzer Ed Stetzer is President of LifeWay Research and LifeWay’s Missiologist in Residence. He has trained pastors and church planters on five continents, holds two masters degrees and two doctorates, and has written dozens of articles and books. Ed is a contributing editor for Christianity Today, a columnist for Outreach Magazine and Catalyst Monthly, serves on the advisory council of Sermon Central and Christianity Today's Building Church Leaders, and is frequently cited or interviewed in news outlets such as USAToday and CNN.

More from Ed Stetzer or visit Ed at http://www.edstetzer.com/

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  • Paul NH

    #4- True; Mega churches are great to partner WITH – but having the opportunity to
    work with “several” mega churches has ALWAYS been the result of the
    smaller church getting on board with them. Unless the small church is
    “connected” to them, very rarely does the mega church
    “come alongside” and assisit/help the smaller churches. You play
    their game or they take their football and go home. It’s a little amusing [at
    times] that they sometimes worry more about their people connecting with the
    smaller churches.

    #6 -a little tough to agree with you on this one Ed when SEVERAL mega church
    pastors have come out publicly and stated that they encourage their new
    “satellite” locations to “encourage” members from existing
    local churches to attend.

    #8 – Ed Please interview Pastors of churches under 150 who have had people leave for
    the mega church as to “why” people leave the smaller church for the
    Mega Church Productions. Here are some of the more COMMON reasons I’ve
    personally heard or have been shared with me from BOTH small church pastors AND
    mega church pastors. Better Worship “band”, lights, sound, Hologram
    of the Pastor was sooo coool, “their Sunday Service was like being at
    Disney!”.

    #9 – I totally agree; the mega church movement is NOT dying. People [especially
    Christians] love going to churches where the Pastor does a better dance than
    Fred Astaire when he’s asked “Publicly” where their church stands on
    Homosexuality, guy marriage and Divorce.

    To clarify – I truly believe there is a place for mega churches, just as there is
    a place for Walmart [your illustration]. However; I believe you need to be a
    bit more balanced in your reporting of the facts.

    Just one Pastor’s “opinion”.

    • Brad Cedergren

      In a world of constant entertainment, if the worship service remains non-entertaining people will look elsewhere. To blame this on the mega-church is kind of like blaming Disney for the decline of kids watching PBS. Smaller churches cannot expect their congregation to stick around if the worship service is dry and dull.

      • Tod Thompson

        Entertaining people isn’t our mission but we have certainly made it our mission with a gusto. Numbers are everything in the American Church. We can pretend that our motives are purer, but from what I can see it’s all about butts in the seat. Small isn’t holy or pure or better; I’m not saying that at all, but neither is medium, large or mega.

      • HJ in PA

        I understand what you are saying, but what do you do when you are giving the absolute best you have to offer, yet still get accused of being dull?

        • Ron Wilcoxson

          One of the best things you can do is get a coach – someone who has been where you are and has been used of God to take his church where you sense God wants yours to go.

        • blueststorm

          Our focus should be to worship God not people; serve God not people; therefore whatever you have and wherever you are give God all the glory and all you have no matter what the numbers are. Are you trying to please God or the people??? The whole point is to have His Holy Spirit present and where there are two or three gathered………….

      • Pastor Kent

        But Chaplain Brad, although the world of constant entertainment is the norm, can’t you see the damage it does. It’s like eating nothing but desserts and no healthy food. Even our churches are becoming havens of sickly sweet theology with no commitment or call.
        I suspect when you say dry and dull you mean old hymns, solid biblical teaching and no electronic media. The gospel does not need flash and bling, it needs to be shared and preached.

        • Chaplain Brad

          I am not suggesting to change the presentation of the Gospel or water down the scriptures. There are plenty of other areas (dramas, music to start) that will get someone who has been inundated with entertainment to be attracted to the service over a Sunday football game. I have been to some of these non-entertaining churches and would choose the football game every time.

          • http://www.facebook.com/reginald.taylor.94 Reginald Taylor

            Chaplain Brad, you keep coming back to this entertainment thing……Who sold you on this thing that ministry has anything to do with entertainment.

            This is our instruction as ministers……

            2 Timothy 4:1-2 ~ I solemnly charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by His appearing and His kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with great patience and instruction.

            There is NOTHING about entertainment in our mission……However in the next two verses is our warning for for what happens if we get caught up in focusing on putting on a show for the people.

            2 Timothy 4:3-4 ~ For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires, and will turn away their ears from the truth and will turn aside to myths.

            Ear tickling the people is entertaining them; giving them something to make them feel good, as opposed to something that will make them more humble and sensitive to God; desiring to seek closer and closer relationship with the Lord and growth in Him.

          • http://www.facebook.com/reginald.taylor.94 Reginald Taylor

            The purpose is to preach the Gospel and allow the Holy Spirit to convict their hearts for their choices of football games over the Lord; not to compete with their fleshly desires to watch football.

            I tell you this as a person that loves football and used to get upset at the thought of missing games. I used to be away from church during football season in my much younger days, but the Holy Spirit changed and fixed all that in me. I know it can be done.

      • blueststorm

        I thought church was for fellowship and worship… for God… not to entertain people??????

        • http://www.facebook.com/reginald.taylor.94 Reginald Taylor

          Amen! you are absolutely correct!

        • Rei

          You are definitely right! Churches must exercise true fellowship with God and real worship. To entertain the people is the work of the work not the work of true worshippers.

          • Rei

            I mean to entertain is the work of the world not of true worshippers!

          • MarciH

            True, but I’ve never known true worship to be boring.

        • MarciH

          We come together to fellowship and worship God yes, but it doesn’t have to be boring. My dad always taught me that excellence honors God, and that includes in our worship services. If you have music that is dull and boring, how is that worshipping God? You don’t have to put on a big production to worship God, but there does need to be some life in it. There’s also the fact that most mega church pastors are good communicators. If I had the choice between sitting under a pastor who puts me to sleep or one who is interesting to listen to, you better believe I’d choose the interesting one. Instead of blaming mega churches for their lost numbers, churches need to take a good hard look at themselves. Sometimes it’s the small church who is at fault.

  • Whitty

    Ed, I want to thank you for a fair and balanced discussion on the often mis-guided beliefs…and even hatred…towards Christ’s church…regardless of the size. I believe it takes all kinds of CHURCHES to reach all kinds of PEOPLE! The mega church will reach some people that would never walk in the door of a small church. PTL! It is all Christ’s church and every church has areas of weakness, strength, and maybe even sin. The Mega Church has taught many of us how to engage a culture far from God, give excellence in all we do for god’s glory, and to intentionally think about our mission and God’s vision for His church…regardless of the size.

    Appreciate your continued study, research, and insight into making the local church the beautiful bride of Christ it was intended to be!

    • ServantHeart2012

      Amen! After all, aren’t we all on the same team? Large, small, mega, traditional, reformed, charismatic, evangelistic, black, white, latino, asian, or native american. As long as leading people into a growing relationship with Christ is the basic mission and the Holy Bible is the main text, who cares how many “butts are in the seats” on a given day?

  • David vs. Goliath?

    People from The Chapel at Crosspoint here in Western New York actually have been in the parking lot of our church handing out invitations. They were saying “Comer to the Chapel – it’s just better there”.

  • HJ in PA

    Have you ever spoken with those of us who have to minister in the shadow of these huge churches? Yes, I am excited about the fact that people are coming to Jesus, but I get sick and tired of constantly hearing about how great they are. Whether intentional or not the talk of how great they are always brings about the implication of how much the rest of us fall short.

    I get tired of the fact that when every other church in the community comes together for a community event the one church that could contribute the most to the community is conspicuously absent. I get angry when the hipster church up the road purposely schedules well known speakers at the same time the other churches in the community are having their regular Sunday morning service. I get tired of seeing all the hype on their facebook page about how awesome they are. Yes, they are willing to “work” with other churches, but only on their terms and in their facility – and they NEVER approach us non-hipster churches, they always wait for us to come to them.

    I know I should be happy for them and what they are doing. I know my attitude is selfish and wrong. I know I shouldn’t be angry and bitter. But walk in my shoes for a couple of years and I bet you would feel the same way.

  • sinner saved by grace

    Mega churches, small churches, midsized churches, house churches, churches without walls, small groups, focus groups, Bible conferences, Bible studies, Sunday School, mid week service, choir practice, drama team, programs, books, periodicals, facebook, twitter, praise band, worship leaders, contemporary, traditional, mid-life adult pastor, pre-school director, young adult minister, youth minister, witness training, power point, revivals, seekers, special offerings, special emphasis, outreach activities, fellowships, Christian films, organized visitation, senior adult minister, associate pastor, media coordiantor/director, telivision ministry, – – – not bad things, but collectively they all form what I call “the din of Christianity”. Too much stuff. Its not about the size of anything. Not one of those things will result in what the old and rarely used hymn calls ” a closer walk with Thee”. People are looking for the power of the Holy Spirit and a meaningful place in the kingdom of God via a formula as a passive enterprise; “feed me”. An intimate, close, personal relationship with God comes from copious amounts of time alone with Jesus and God in prayer – not only a “quite time”. AND prayer is not telling God all about your situation or talking non-stop. What He has to say to you is more important than what you have to say to Him. Its more important than the efforts you plan or buildings you want to build to embellish the kingdom. People, get on your face alone and worship Him, be still and know that He is God.

    • Ben

      Hey sinner saved by grace show me in your bible that scripture please. either you are

      saved or you are not saved. you can not be both, thats what sin conscience is. Paul does say I keep a good conscience at all times before God and man, was Paul prefect? Ben

      • Ryan

        1 John 1:8 If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. Yes we are sinners saved by grace. It isn’t stated in one verse all by itself. This verse just shows we are still sinners despite being saved by grace from Romans. Keeping a good conscience before God an man is one of many things to strive for. Even I have my bad days. I mess up and kick myself for a while.

    • Ryan

      I agree totally. For people who have a real and good realtionship with God outside of church by way of prayer and reading the bible will find church the cherry on top of a large ice cream Sunday. Even more, they are not dependent on church for their spirituality. Prayer alone is only 1/2 a relationship which is why I added reading the bible. That’s how I hear from God who is very encouraging and helps me with my heart issues.

  • Adam Puma Borsay

    What I find interesting is that Ed’s little aside where he points out that personal anecdotal experiences and bad feelings do not equate to a statistical truth about Mega-Churches as a whole is completely ignored by some of the comments so far. He doesn’t claim that all mega-churches are saints, but that there is no difference between a large church and the smaller churches in their positives and negatives. I pastor a church of less than 80 in a town of less than 20k that has been around for nearly 100 years. In our town we have one “large” church(600ish) and we have had people from our church go their church. BUT we have also had people leave that church to come to ours for comparatively self-serving reasons. IE, Didn’t like the music, too many young people(true complaint), didn’t like powerpoint usage in sermon…..

    Are there larger churches who are acting “wrongfully” in their community?? Of course. But in most communities there are usually more “small” churches doing wrong. The large church in our town has a heavy emphasis on discipleship and evangelism and preaches the Word with consistency. I can name at least 6 small churches that don’t stand for Biblical authority at all.

    If any church(large or small) is acting in sin in our community(teaching heresy, actively stealing people from Bible teaching churches) we should speak up. But to just lump churches in to groups based on size is absurd. And actual data proves it, and personal anecdotes do not!

  • Derrick

    Dr. R. A. Vernon, Pastor of the WORD Church in Cleveland, Ohio also has a great book entitled, “Size Does Matter” which deals with the myths of a mega church as well as helping your church move from micro to mega vision. But the first mega church was in the book of Acts when Peter preached the first sermon and 3000 souls were added to the church.

    • Derrick

      Just like any size church, it has its good and its bad. But we should always strive to want to advance the kingdom and win more souls for the Kingdom of God, without competing.

      • Decipha

        I just don’t think God needs any help advancing his own kingdom…

      • Ben

        Derrick, the book of acts described what God can do when preaching the right words. the 3000 people who were saved were saved By God, they where not an organized church. Ben

  • Decipha

    I do not understand why THESE were the big questions being asked and answered…WHy not.

    1. Mega Churches produce individualism within their congregations if orthodox Gospel is not being preached, and lived out locally by the leaders.

    2. Many of the largest Mega Churches spend large amounts of money on things that do not help their local community.

    3. Mega Churches create a people who are not willing to allow other people into their lives for training, correction, reproof, rebuke, and discipline…aka Discipleship, as Jesus commands.

    4. Most Mega Churches cannot give a clear definition of the Gospel.

    5. What keeps Mega Churches thriving is the concert like sense of moral with each service, that keeps the viewers coming back for more.

    6. If when seeing the crowds Jesus withdrew to preach to a smaller number, who then went and were effective in their own right, if they are not having smaller local community groups weekly…is having a Mega Church really what God wants?

    7. Mega Churches rarely practice any type of Church discipline, unless you speak bad about the church, or Pastor.

    8. Many Mega Churches are heretical in practice and belief.

    9. Most mega churches ONLY preach topical messages, never expository, thus many members and watchers via internet/TV never hear a clear understanding/ exposition of the Bible.

    10. It’s easier to hide sin issues within a Mega-church.

    • Adam Puma Borsay

      Every single one of your points can be interchanged with “small” church. You are totally missing the entire point of the article. The actual data does not support your presuppositions that Mega Churches have problems that are not equally represented in smaller churches. While Ed is quoting verifiable research you are quoting your own prejudices. That does not mean you might not have anecdotal evidence that proves a particular point in regards to a specific large church, but that is not the same as these problems being inextricably linked to a mega church “model”.

      I have said this here already, but once again; When any church, large or small, is found to be in error, or even sinful heresy, then we should address it. Other wise it is totally absurd to take large segments of the Church at large and say “X” type of churches do this, or, “y” type of churches do that. It is absolutely inaccurate and damaging instead of helpful. Each individual church within each “size” category needs to be evaluated individually, not collectively!

      • Decipha

        My question simply was, WHY are these questions the pressing ones. When that’s not what the real issue is?

        I was also giving more precise statements that are and need to be stated. Most small churches do not have a budget like these big ones. So these statements would not apply to a small church.

        Also I wasn’t doubting his research or assuming HE was saying anything. I know NOT ALL churches are the same but a vast majority of mega churches though not the same are still breeding an individualistic, money loving, egotistical, non gospel culture. I personally do not have anything against mega churches…it’s assumed that since the articles is talking about Mega churches I do not need to keep specifying that all false churches need to repent in every sentence.

        So to recap, I wasn’t refuting any of the articles claims except to say these statements made about mega churches at not what is being asked or assumed by people.
        #2- in my opinion these are the critical issues made against mega churches at large
        #3- most small churches simply want to be mega churches and get their cues from mega Pastora and spend most of their time trying to be mega churches ….that last point is something I just thought of…lol…go in any major city, and survey the smaller churches. BTW I work with church denominations nation wide, and I am we’ll acquainted with church’s.

        • Adam Puma Borsay

          I am not saying you are absolutely wrong…I am saying that your points need actual data to support them. Either there is an actual case biblically and practically to be made against the mega church model,or, there is not. All of your points are “people” issues, not church “size” issues.

          For instance, in relation to point #2, you have to show that there is a trend of mega churches using “x” percent of their money for “themselves” while smaller churches actual use only “x-y” percent for themselves. If there is a glaring discrepancy as a statistical whole then we have an actual problem that can be addressed.

          As for point #3, the largest churches I know are the best at discipling in our area. That of course is anecdotal evidence, but again, you would have to show that there is a measurable decline in discipleship of the members based on the increasing size of attendance/membership.

          Your statement that “a vast majority of mega churches are creating self-centered(paraphrase) members” is again a completely unverifiable claim. You have to first even define what that actually looks like and then actually measure as a percentage of a local congregations members how many people fit into that category.

          The problem I perceive with your comments is that your are implying that you believe the entirety of the mega church model is in and of itself a problem. You defend it with unsubstantiated and unqualified points. I have no dog in this fight, I pastor a church of less than 80 in a rural community of around 20k. But if there is actual solid evidence that points to clear endemic problems within the mega church model it is important to be provided to all who seek to serve within ministry. So far in my ministry career I have heard lots of complaints about mega churches, but no hard data or facts to justify the negativity.

          • Joe Rhoads

            I’m not the biggest fan of the megachurch model, but agree strongly with Adam. You make unsubstantiate claims about megachurches. You provide no proof that megachurches are/are not doing what you claim. In the legal world, we call that kind of defemation libel (because it’s in written form).

  • Vince Smith

    A numbers comment–44% local transfer growth for a church that adds 1000 people means 440 left local churches. The impact is disproportionate on the smaller churches. Think along the lines of why we have a progressive income tax rate. The impact of transfer growth, in my opinion, is not a myth.

  • Whitty

    I believe a lot of the comments believe actually enforce one of the huge turnoffs people have to church in general…any size church. That is the anger they see of fellow Christians towards each other…judgmental attitudes and condemning spirits from Christian to Christian. I think most of the arguments in negative nature below come from personal bias and disappointments in and of ourselves or our own ministries rather than rejoicing any time the Kingdom is advanced. If a Christian goes from my church to another church…I rejoice they are still going to heaven…even if I mourn the loss. It makes me even more passionate about being a church to redeem those far from God and thankful HIS Kingdom is advancing…and not my own.

    Ed has gone to great lengths to show that there ARE…and will ALWAYS be those pastors and churches that are self-serving and egotistical. But that comes from both large AND small churches! Just saying…

    • Paul NH

      I find it ironic that you have a judgmental comment about people being judgmental.
      I believe what’s hurt the church is the pious attitude that many try and portray that we never have issues, disagreements and difficulties. As long as we keep it civil, what a great opportunity for the average person to see we [believers] have many of the same struggles, we just handle them in a Godly and honorable way.

  • PK

    It is sometimes close to the same as corporate America. The larger corporations consuming the smaller. We’ve seen so much here. One church that is very popular at the moment, bought a property that another church labored and pioneered and grew quite large (over 3000)- but they couldn’t financially support their budget anymore. So the popular mega church located about 10 miles away found out they were in trouble, and instead of helping them, they bought their property and they have one month to relocate somewhere. That same church had 1500 people transfer from one of our pastor friends church, who is a mega church himself, but because the “popular ” church has all the latest “bells and whistles” . It’s about our culture. We are a consumer culture. And like an earlier comment someone said, we never see the senior pastors of those churches come to city events, including city wide mayors breakfasts where 7 mayors from our region attended and many community organizations to plan meeting the needs of our community. The middle churches suffer most because they are not large enough and financiall set to compete, so to speak, with the megas. Yet they are not small enough to attract the people who want a smaller atmosphere. Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate all those mega churches named and some unnamed. Really I do, I just would like to see them support the “little brother” down the street and not be apathetic about those churches. Those pastors are just as anointed as the ones who are known and many are weary and need cheering on. My opinion from being raised a PK, and being on staff at megachurch, and part of pioneering two churches of middle size.
    However, like Paul said, the Gospel is being preached,whatever the sizes. That is good.

    • Pat K Sensing

      I agree with this opinion..and no I am not PK..

  • alhatesreligion

    I once read about a church of 120 adding 3000 new members in one day and before anyone could blink an eye it was growing by leaps and bounds daily-where did I see that? Oh yeah now I remember in the Bible (The books of Acts). There are dangers on both sides of church growth-some grow large and lose focus-they neglect people over programs and the smaller church becomes inwardly focused and loses sight of the commission to be missional. Stop picking each other apart and pray for those who don’t do it your way.

  • Mar Komus

    Wondering if Ed has any positive myths about megachurches he’d like to debunk? These are all negative myths, so the article is a little one-sided.

  • Ed Stetzer

    These comments make me smile.

  • Pastor Kent

    It seems to me that the author is being overly protective of the mega-church. I think that one of the issues that is not looked at is context. In essence what percentage of the community is actually attending the church. I know of a mega-church in the area that is serving 2500 to 3000 a sunday and yet that is only .05 percent of the population of the community they are serving, The church I serve, in the same denomination but different town is averaging 85 to 90 a Sunday, but effectively ministering to 5% of the local population. We share ministry with over 30 other churches in the surrounding area. So who is really the effective church, or better yet, who is making a bigger impact in their communities. Next time you do a poll, look at context, not just raw numbers. I agree that there is a need for both small and large churches. But can we please stop defending a group that needs no defense and start looking for a way to work together for the kingdom of God.

  • http://www.facebook.com/fbolin1 Bolin Freda

    They get to big and forget about the unsaved…and in come the Purprose driven what can you tell me…I don’t understand why this is a miss unstanding on issues?

  • http://www.facebook.com/fbolin1 Bolin Freda

    What is this Purpose Driven believe?