Religion writers are well aware that notably large Protestant “megachurches” have mushroomed across the United States this past generation. But they’re still expanding and it might be time for yet another look at the phenomenon.
If so, the megachurch database maintained by the Hartford Institute for Religion Research is an essential resource. The listing is searchable so, for instance, reporters can easily locate such citadels in their regions through the “sort by state” feature.
Hartford defines a megachurch as having consistent weekly attendance of at least 2,000.
There’s a big caveat here: The statistics on attendance, necessarily, are what’s reported by the churches themselves. Such congregations numbered 350 as recently as 1990 but Hartford has by now located 1,667 and there are doubtless others, so untold millions of people are involved.
Overwhelmingly, these big congregations are Bible-believing, evangelical, charismatic or Pentecostal -- with only half of one percent labeling themselves “liberal” in doctrine.
Hartford’s data will be a mere launching pad to get experts’ analysis of these newfangled Protestant emporiums and how they are changing the style and substance of American churchgoing. A starting point for that would be this 2015 overview (click for .pdf) from Hartford’s Scott Thuma and Warren Bird of the Leadership network.
They report, for instance, that “the megachurch phenomenon hasn’t waned” and “newer and younger churches are regularly growing to megachurch size.” More and more of them are spreading to multiple sites. An increasing population of adherents participates with church online rather than in person.