By Aaron Earls
Megachurches are continuing to grow and influence the evangelical landscape in the United States, but changes are coming, according to the latest research from Leadership Network and the Hartford Institute.
“Last weekend 1 in 10 adults and children who went to a Protestant church went to a megachurch—about 5 million people,” Warren Bird, director of research at Leadership Network and coauthor of the study, told RNS.
Here are six facts you should know about trends among the largest churches in the U.S.
1. They are still growing.
Both in size and number, American megachurches are still experiencing growth. The typical megachurch grew 26 percent in the last five years.
The number of megachurches, defined as congregations with 2,000 or more weekend attendees, continued to grow in the last half-decade. The Hartford Institute and Leadership Network say the total number in the U.S. is currently at least 1,200 Protestant megachurches.
In the last five years, the typical founding year for a megachurch increased from 1972 to 1977, which means new newer and younger churches are regularly growing to megachurch size.
2. Multisite is even more common.
Most megachurches are now multisite. The percentage of large churches that have multiple campuses has grown steadily from 23 percent in 2000 to 62 percent this year. Another 10 percent is considering adopting the approach.
Additionally, the average number of locations for a multisite church grew from 2.5 to 3.5 per church.
3. Sanctuaries are smaller.
As more churches add more campuses and more services, the need for an expansive sanctuary decreases. The typical megachurch worship center now has 1,200 seats—down from 1,500.
Multisite churches have smaller sanctuaries on average, but nearly double the attendance of other churches.
4. Change and innovation less valued and practiced.
Previously, close to half of all megachurches strongly agreed they’re willing to change to meet new challenges. In 2015, that number plummeted to 37 percent—though they are still more likely to strongly agree with that statement than smaller churches.
That could be explained by the aging of pastors who planted or grew megachuches. The older the senior pastor, the less likely they are to describe worship as “innovative” or their church as willing to change.
5. Fewer young adults are attending.
Megachurches saw a decline in attendance from members of Generation X. In 2010, 28 percent of megachurch participants were ages 35-49. Over the last five years, that percentage has dropped to 23.
While megachurches are doing better than smaller churches at reaching young adults, they still lag behind the general population. Almost a quarter (23 percent) of the U.S. population is 18-34, but that age range only accounts for 19 percent of megachurch participants.
6. Denominational and congregational connections matter less.
While the percentage of non-denominational megachurches has remained consistent at around 40 percent, churches officially affiliated with a denomination are becoming less committed to those ties.
Two-thirds say their denominational identity and affiliation are not very or not at all important to their congregation. More than 1 in 10 considered leaving their denomination in the past 10 years and half of those who considered leaving actually did. Additionally, fewer megachurches were involved with other churches in worship services, fellowship activities, or community services.
The entire report, “Recent Shifts in America’s Largest Protestant Churches: Megachurches 2015 Report,” is available from the Hartford Institute.
AARON EARLS (@WardrobeDoor) is online editor of Facts & Trends.