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megachurch

megachurch, large Protestant church with an average weekly attendance of 2,000 or more; relatively uncommon until after 1970. In the United States, where most megachurches are located, there were more than 1,300 by the late 2000s. They can also be found in a number of other countries, e.g., South Korea, Brazil, and several African nations. More than 60 percent of the American megachurches are located in the Sun Belt, especially in suburban areas of California, Texas, Georgia, and Florida. The average congregation ranges from about 2,000 to 3,000 in size.

Whether belonging to an established denomination or nondenominational, practically all American megachurches share a conservative, evangelical theology and aim at attracting members from many religious backgrounds. Most megachuches have pastors who possess a markedly charismatic preaching style and often make use of print, television, and radio in their ministry. Run as much like businesses as religious institutions, megachurches usually serve social as well as theological functions. Typically open from morning until night, seven days a week, they very often host conferences, hold classes, operate cafés or food courts, maintain gyms and other sports facilities, offer child care and youth programs, and have many other auxiliary operations, including a variety of outreach programs. Other features of some of today's megachurches include the operation of a variety of business ventures such as residential developments, shopping centers, investment partnerships, a sports arena, publishing house, limousine service, graphic design studio, recording studio and record label, and specialized web sites.

One of the earliest, best known, and probably the most architecturally distinguished of the megachurches is the Crystal Cathedral (1980), Garden Grove, Calif., the former home church (1980–2010) of televangelist Robert H. Schuller; the building was designed by Philip Johnson and John Burgee. By the mid-2000s, the nation's largest such church was the nondenominational Lakewood Church, Houston, Tex., pastored by Joel Osteen and holding services for a congregation of more than 40,000 in a former sports arena.

See studies by O. Guinness (1993), J. N. Vaughan (1993), G. A. Pritchard (1996), D. E. Miller (1997), L. E. Schaller (1992 and 2000), J. H. Kilde (2002), A. C. Loveland and O. B. Wheeler (2003), J. B. Twitchell (2004), G. Marti (2005), S. Ellington (2007), and S. Thumma and D. Travis (2007).

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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See more Encyclopedia articles on: Protestant Christianity


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