Megachurches can be addicting “like a drug,” according to a new study that reveals that megachurches in America with congregations larger than 2,000 people are not only growing, but also satisfying the spiritual needs of their members. The study comes out of the University of Washington, where the findings seem to indicate that the megachurches movement is one of the leading indicators of how American Christians exercise their faith. Erin Benziger over at Christian Research Net has put together a thoughtful analysis of the study and what it means:
A recent study may offer some insight into what some would perceive to be the problem with many megachurches, especially those that employ a seeker-driven agenda. LiveScience reports:
[A] new study of 12 representative megachurches spread across the country finds that the size of these churches is a major part of their appeal. Members report that the experience of worshiping with thousands is intoxicating, the researchers find.
“It’s an addicting experience, it’s so large, it’s so huge,” said study researcher Katie Corcoran, a graduate student in sociology at the University of Washington. “One respondent said you can look up to the balcony and see the Holy Spirit go over the crowd like a wave in a football game.”
Perhaps unwittingly, these researchers have stumbled onto a primary issue of concern that many Christians have in regard to the megachurch phenomenon. That is, that these churches largely rely on creating an experience for the attendee rather than focusing on worshiping God through clear and unashamed preaching and teaching of His Word. Is it not quite common today to hear about the local megachurch’s weekly “worship experience” instead of simply the weekly service? In fact, a recent article published on Rick Warren’s site, Pastors.com, discusses the importance of creating an appropriate environment for worship:
to be able to reach the world that we live in we must be aware of the importance of environments. The world around us uses a variety of gadgets, computer graphics and technology to communicate in large environments. Because of this, we have to be aware that what we do in an environment of worship is important.
Our goal is to create worship environments that are appealing, relevant, changing and current.
If Christians today are so focused on their external environment, one can only imagine how dull and uninteresting many would find a church service to be from the first century. It certainly is fortunate that those first Christians were more concerned about hearing the Word of God proclaimed and rightly taught than they were with their surroundings.
The LiveScience article continues:
Prior research had suggested that megachurches were rather soulless — entertaining, but lacking a sense of spirituality or belonging, Corcoran told LiveScience.
“We went in thinking that’s what we were going to find,” she said. “Instead, we actually found the opposite, that people do experience strong feelings of belonging. They’re very happy with their megachurch, and the size is actually seen as a positive rather than a negative.”
Unfortunately, a “feeling of belonging” is not the same as hearing the Gospel proclaimed. While a Christian church certainly should be welcoming, the reality is, if the Gospel is being preached, many will be made to feel uncomfortable at the declaration and realization of their sinfulness and guilt before a holy God. Few unregenerate people enjoy hearing that there is nothing they can do to secure their own salvation, and that they must trust in Christ alone to accomplish it.
The conclusion of this article correctly captures the unfortunate point:
Corcoran attributes the rise in megachurches to charismatic pastors, optimistic messages and activities for every interest. Small groups, often based around non-religious hobbies like knitting or fishing, give members a sense of belonging, she said.
“The main reason that people are gravitating towards these churches is because they do offer a wide variety of programs, and they have very enjoyable and entertaining services with messages that a lot of people feel comfortable with,” Corcoran said.
How sad it is that the primary factors attracting people to these churches are things such as social programs, entertainment value and “comfortable” messages. The cross of Christ is an offense and folly to those who are perishing; it is anything but comfortable. In fact, Jesus promised His followers just the opposite of worldly comfort. Rather, He warned of persecution, of families divided and of the hatred of the world. The only true and lasting comfort for the genuine Christian is found in the peace that comes with resting in salvation through Christ alone.
The study being discussed in this article made one additional interesting discovery:
The researchers also found a new trend of people reporting that they regularly attend not only a megachurch, but another church as well. It’s not yet clear why people double up on their churches, but it’s likely that they’re getting something different from each church, Corcoran said. Source
Perhaps the second church these people are attending is one that focuses more on the Bible and Jesus Christ and less on worldly attraction and entertainment. We certainly pray this is so.
- Americans Increasingly Super-Sizing Their Churches (livescience.com)
- The ‘Addicting Experience’ of Worshiping in a Super-sized Church (christianresearchnetwork.org)
- God as a drug: The rise of American megachurches (esciencenews.com)
- Does megachurch ‘high’ explain their success? – Articles (religionnews.com)
- Like A Drug: The Rise Of American Megachurches (medicalnewstoday.com)