By Aaron Earls
Since becoming part of the U.S. religious landscape, megachurches and those who worship there have had their share of defenders and detractors. Stereotypes abound, but what does the average megachurch attender look like?
Leadership Network and the Hartford Institute for Religion Research spoke with almost 25,000 people who attend U.S. megachurches. Here’s what they discovered about megachurch attendees.
Younger, single, educated — Almost two-thirds of adult megachurch attendees (62 percent) are younger than 45, while just over a third (35 percent) are in that age bracket among churches as a whole.
In a typical church, only 10 percent of attendees are never-married single adults. At megachurches, however, nearly a third are.
More than half of megachurch attendees (52 percent) have at least a college degree. Among all churches, 41 percent have at least graduated college.
Higher income, but less giving — More than a quarter of megachurch attendees (26 percent) have household annual incomes of $100,000 or more. Only 15 percent of attendees at all churches have reached that socioeconomic level.
Despite the additional income, megachurch attendees are three times as likely to say they do not contribute to their church (12 percent versus 4 percent for all churches).
They are also almost twice as likely to say they only give a small amount when they can (20 percent versus 11 percent for all churches).
Churched, but new to the megachurch — Only 6 percent of attendees said they’d never attended church services before coming to their current megachurch.
And 61 percent have been attending the church five years or less, compared to 37 percent of all church attendees.
Not often “stolen” — A frequent criticism of megachurches is that they grow by taking members from other local churches. The research doesn’t support this, however.
While 72 percent of megachurch attendees did say they were involved at another church immediately before coming to the megachurch, that’s only slightly higher than the 66 percent rate for all churches.
And roughly 40 percent of those who came to a megachurch immediately from another church were previously attending a church not in the same area. In other words, they chose the megachurch after moving to a new location, not jumping from a local church.
More sporadic, but more active — Roughly 90 percent of megachurch attendees and all church attendees attend church at least two to three times a month, but megachurch attendees are less likely to attend weekly (70 percent versus 80 percent).
Just over half (55 percent) of megachurch attendees say they at least occasionally volunteer at their church—a higher rate than in churches of other sizes.
Inviting — Megachurch attendees are extremely likely to invite others to their church. Almost 9 in 10 (87 percent) invited at least one person in the past year.
More than a quarter (27 percent) say they have invited more than five in the last year.
Come for the worship, stay for the pastor — When asked what factor initially attracted them to their church, megachurch attendees rated worship style as the strongest draw.
When asked what keeps them at their church now, the senior pastor becomes the top rated factor. Sixty-five percent of attendees say their pastor is the most important reason they stay.
AARON EARLS (@WardrobeDoor) is online editor of Facts & Trends.