inside look at megachurches

I think this book will be the buzz for the rest of the year. People are fascinated and frustrated by megachurches for many reasons; and, because they’re big, they’re easier targets to take shots at. (I heard a couple of shots just this afternoon, in fact.) This new book,
Beyond Megachurch Myths: What We Can Learn from America’s Largest Churches, gives an inside look at the reality of megachurches and highlights many transferable principles for churches and ministries of any size. In this interview published in Leadership Network Advance (free bi-weekly e-newsletter), Beyond Megachurch Mythsauthors Scott Thumma and Dave Travis give readers perspective on how they anticipate the book will impact American churches::

Why did you write this book?

[Scott] We wrote it to clear up the misunderstandings about what megachurches are, how they are a diverse phenomenon, and yet how they are distinctive from smaller congregations. Generally there has been too much talk about megachurches with too little reference to actual data and research about them.

[Dave] After answering lots of questions from people who are not part of megachurches, including reporters, church leaders, professors and the like, we decided to write a book based on

research and observations that clarified the current state of megachurches. From what we’ve seen, the popular picture painted of megachurches in the press was wrong in many key areas. Our book is an attempt to clear up those “myths” that circulate about these churches.

These churches have profoundly influenced American religious life and yet there are almost no books written about the phenomenon as a whole. There are quite a number of practitioner books based on one church example. Further, there are dissertations based on a small handful of megachurches. Our book seeks to cover the entire ground of megachurches in North America today.

The rest of the interview gives the authors’ answers to questions like: What is new about your research? What are some of the big surprises about megachurches? What can church leaders learn from your book? Who is the book for and why should they read it? What’s one thing you’ve learned from your experience with megachurches?

[disclosure: I am currently on staff with Leadership Network.]

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11 Responses

  1. Sally says:

    Hi DJ,

    Interesting article. Although I haven’t been to any church (other than attending one for the Willow Creek Leadership Summit) in a long time, I grow weary of ignorant people inside and outside the church that make ignorant generalizations about megachurches. Unfortunately, the emergent churches are often leading the pack! Thanks for posting the article.

    On a personal note, I’m in a graduate program in nonprofit management as well as working in development in an innercity social service nonprofit.

    I’m beginning to miss church work…


  2. Jayce says:

    There’s a lot to like about what a MegaChurch can do.

    I was in the full-time ministry for 15 years as a… Crusade Coordinator for an Evangelist’s ministry, working with local churches… Pastor of a church plant in New England… Staff Minister with a 500+ member congregation. I’m now a member of a 14,000+ MegaChurch.

    What a MegaChurch can do: Run an excellent pre-K through 12 school with sports programs that truly compete with the public schools, and college-level high school courses; bus and street ministries that reach over 3,000 children per week; own a campground where underprivileged children can be sponsored for life-changing weeks during the summer; Build an outreach center in a crime-ridden section of the city that the police point to as a primary reason the local crime rate dropped two years straight; Fund missionaries and Bible Schools in over 150 nations; Fund telecasts and streaming video that is penetrating the Islamic nations with the Gospel; and more…

    What we miss about the smaller church: the sense of community – a core element of the biblical Christian culture. Even though the senior pastor knows us by name, we miss the ability to sit down to visit with him in casual conversation. Even as a member of one of the (over) 1,000 cell groups, one wouldn’t usually have the broad circle of personal relationships within the church that we had in the 500 member church. True community is missing.

  3. djchuang says:

    Sally, hope you’ll find the nonprofit world to be both challenging and rewarding!

    Jayce, thanks for your thoughtful comments and comparisons about church sizes. I would venture to say the “sense of community” is more of a perception issue than a reality, b/c most people can only have 8 to 12 meaningful relationships that would constitute “community.” What I think people perceive in a smaller church is recognizing the faces of practically everyone, and having a personal connection with the preaching pastor. What people can also have in a larger church is the same number of meaningful relationships for a sense of community, but not likely to have the personal connection with the preaching pastor.

  4. Jayce says:

    Well, as they say, “Perception is reality.”

    I really think your definition of community is too narrow. I believe “community” encompasses those one interacts with in a meaningful way. One person may not be in my “inner circle” of friends, but because I know them I can offer a word of encouragement, or a compliment, or a touch. I can’t offer those things to one I see often, but don’t know personally. Community should also include those who are involved in the same activities I’m involved in, such as a church work project or a ministry outreach. When my wife and I taught 10-12 year olds in a weekly evening class, we counted their parents as part of our community. Those parents weren’t in our inner circle of friends, but we interacted with them concerning their children, and affected their lives because of our involvement in the class.

    In a local (secular) community I may have regular interaction with certain members of society… shop keepers, teachers, service people. On the job I work with others who join together to attain to certain goals. These are part of my community, but not my inner circle. Given time, some may enter my inner circle because of shared beliefs, interests or experiences.

    Currently I regularly travel to a specific client site and stay (usually) at a particular hotel. There are a few people at the hotel I come in contact with on a regular basis. Opportunities to positively affect their lives appear each time I interact with them. They (in my estimation) have become part of my community.

    Regular contact with others will open the door for significant interaction. My previous comment was meant to say that my opportunities for touching others significantly, and allowing others to touch me significantly, were far greater in a church of 500 than they are now in a church of 14,000.