What We Know about Megachurches ~ Praxis Habitus - On Race Religion & Culture

Thursday, January 22, 2009

What We Know about Megachurches

An excellent review of research on megachurches is now available in the December 2008 issue of the journal Sociology Compass. Here's a preview. A great book on megachurches is also now available.

The State of the Megachurch

A new article comes from the award winning author of

which won the annual best book award from the Society for the Scientific Study of Religion.

Here's the article:

Review Article by Stephen Ellingson
Department of Sociology, Hamilton College

A brief overview of the article says,
Megachurches represent an emerging and powerful force within American Religion. These large, Protestant churches that average at least 2,000 attendees per week are reshaping religion locally, regionally, and nationally as well as at the denominational and congregational levels.

Megachurch leaders have been leaders in religious innovation since the 1970s, ushering in major changes in church architecture, ritual practices, polity, and marketing. In this essay, I review the nascent literature on megachurches.

First, I discuss the major descriptive findings from several surveys and case studies of megachurches. Second, I examine scholars' efforts to explain how and why megachurches have emerged and grown over the past forty years. Finally, I suggest several lines of future inquiry that may allow sociologists of religion to extend or refine existing cultural and market based theories of religious change and church-sect theory."

Highlights on the American Megachurch

The article is a tightly-packed summary of what we know about megachurches today.

For example, Ellingson tells us the growth of megachurches really began in the 1970s:

(expand browser for full image)

Ellingson also tells us most megachurches are denominational, but one-third are non-denominational (mostly evangelical and conservative Protestant):

And Ellingson also includes a section about how megachurches are restructuring American religion:

This is just a brief sample. The full article can be found here (sorry, subscription required).

Best Book on Megachurches Available Today

Beyond Megachurch Myths:
What We Can Learn from America's Largest Churches

(Jossey-Bass Leadership Network Series)
by Scott Thumma and Dave Travis

The book includes a forward by Rick Warren.

My own published review of this book appears in Reviews in Religion & Theology
Volume 15 Issue 3, Pages 336 - 338.

Other quick reviews:
"In this groundbreaking book, Scott Thumma and Dave Travis share their keen insight and unique understanding of the megachurch phenomena in one accessible volume. This book is a significant addition to the literature and knowledge of megachurch studies."
—Ed Stetzer, Ph.D., senior director and missiologist, Center for Missional Research, North American Mission Board

"Megachurches are here to stay and will attract continuing interest. Thumma and Travis have done us all a great service by setting the record straight."
—Robert Wuthnow, Gerhard R. Andlinger Professor of Social Sciences and director, Center for the Study of Religion, Princeton University

"This is the most thorough, insightful, and helpful book ever written on megachurches."
—Mark Driscoll, pastor, Mars Hill Church, Seattle, Washington

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