Going with my son, daughter-in-law, and grandson to the 10,000-member Mt. Paran Church in Atlanta Easter Sunday got me to thinking about the megachurch phenomenon, and about why it has happened. While confidence in organized religion in the United States is at its lowest point in three decades, according to a Gallup poll, megachurches continue to be on the rise.
The latest Gallop poll on the subject that I could find, which was taken in July of 2012, shows that only 44 percent of Americans now have confidence in organized religion. That’s overall. Break it down, Protestants have the most confidence, at 56 percent, compared with 46 percent of Catholics. Factor in other religions and the non-religious and you get the 44 percent number.
The growth in megachurches has been dramatic. In the U.S., they have more than quadrupled in the past two decades. Wikipedia reports, “It has since spread worldwide. In 2007, five of the ten largest Protestant churches were in South Korea. The largest mega church in the United States is Lakewood Church in Houston, Texas with more than 40,000 members every weekend and the current largest megachurch in the world is South Korea’s Yoido Full Gospel Church, with more than 830,000 members as of 2007.”
After searching the Internet for articles explaining this phenomenon, the best one I found was one published November of last year in the Knoxville News Sentinel. It was posted by By Meghan Davis.
For one thing, she introduced us to the findings of Omri Elisha, an assistant professor or anthropology at Queens College, City University of New York, who spent two years in Knoxville studying . He wrote the book Moral Ambition: Mobilization and Social Outreach in Evangelical Megachurches. Among the reasons he gives is”Megachurches offer a wide array of ministries and services. From spiritual growth and religious education to youth programs, volunteer opportunities, social networking and even career development, megachurches have the resources, the staff and the space to provide many more avenues of participation than one typically finds in smaller churches.”
I saw evidences of all of that at the Mt. Paran Church. The megachurches like Mt. Paran offer artistic opportunities, also, with huge choirs, substantial orchestras, rock-style music combos, that combine with charismatic ministers to provide highly emotional spiritual experiences.
Next in this series, we’ll look at something new to me. A friend of mine, after reading my first post on megachurches, brought me a copy of Harpers that contains an article explaining how hippie Christians of the 1970s “begat evangelical conservatives.”