(405) 425-5070

Book examines myths, facts about megachurches


A friend, a fellow preacher, recently told me he always turned his car a couple of blocks before passing the location of a megachurch.  “I don’t want to pass by THAT place.”  In the ensuing conversation he complained that the particular church stole members from other churches and “that is how they have grown.”  He continued talking about how much that church had hurt other churches in the area and that people go there for the “entertainment value” of the worship team. 
Those sentiments express a couple of the reasons why many are not in favor of megachurches.  In Beyond Megachurch Myths the authors investigate nine complaints expressed against megachurches and, based on research, conclude that the sentiments are myth rather than actual.
Fear of how a megachurch effects other churches in the area seems to be at the root of many of the objections against them. There is a real concern that megachurches are growing because they steal sheep from churches in the area by teaching a “watered down” Gospel and replacing it with entertainment and programs designed to feed individual’s felt needs rather than bringing them to deeper levels of commitment. Thumma and Travis expose all of those concerns.
According to the authors megachurches can be beneficial to other churches in the area rather than hurt them. Thumma and Travis tell of a new church that was started to specifically reach people in their teens, twenties and thirties. In a few short years this church grew to megachurch proportions. Rather than hurting other churches the authors’ research showed “attendance at other churches is up slightly but not appreciably since the new church began.”
Area churches have benefited from megachurches in several ways. They often become resource centers for smaller churches. For instance, a megachurch I have studied focuses on healing troubled marriages. For the past six years this church has hosted a two to three day marriage seminar to correspond with Valentine’s Day. In April they follow that up with a weekend retreat for married couples. This has proven to be so successful that they now have to offer the retreat over four weekends to accomodate all who want to attend. Furthermore, many of the couples who go on the retreat are from other churches.
Throughout the year this church holds several other significant events designed to benefit marriages and these events are open to people from other congregations. This megachurch also is able to staff well qualified Christian counselors to work on a personal level with husbands and wives. And these services are used by couples in other area- wide churches. This same megachurch allows a much smaller congregation to print full-color bulletins each week that otherwise they would not be able to afford. Rather than hurting churches this particular church is helping them and is representative of many other megachurches.
The research completed by Thumma and Travis challenge each of the nine negative attitudes many have against megachurches. The conclusion is that these attitudes are largely inaccurate.
One of the best features of the book is that each chapter concludes with a section titled “Applying What You Have Read.” In these sections the authors offer practical ideas as to how to benefit from the research and conclusions they made. Thumma and Travis also provide a website where more data from their research may be accessed.
Some of the data included in their research may raise an eyebrow, for instance, they noted that only 39 percent of members in most churches contribute financially. That figure seems to low but it is what their research found. The book is well written, easy to read and thoroughly documented but it does not read like a technical study.
Before writing off megachurches I recommend you read this book. As Thumma and Travis noted, another of the myths about megachurches is that they are a dying movement. Their research reveals why megachurches are increasing in number and are here to stay.

GREG BAGLEY has served Churches of Christ for over 25 years in Tennessee, Virginia, Ohio and California. Since the mid-1980s he has studied megachurches in California. He has a BA from Harding University and an M.Th. from Harding University Graduate School of Religion and is working toward a a doctoral degree in ministry Azusa Pacific University. He currently serves the Arcata church in Arcata, Calif.,  and is CEO of the South Placer Rescue Mission in Auburn, Calif.

  • Feedback
    “Fear of how a megachurch effects other churches in the area seems to be at the root of many of the objections against them. There is a real concern that megachurches are growing because they steal sheep from churches in the area by teaching a �watered down� Gospel and replacing it with entertainment and programs designed to feed individual�s felt needs rather than bringing them to deeper levels of commitment. Thumma and Travis expose all of those concerns.”
    Didn’t Christ do the same thing when he fed 5,000+ people to take care of their individual needs?
    Christianity is not difficult to learn and any means to attract and teach is legitimate.
    When are we going to learn that there is a great difference between doctrine and tradition. Doctrine is stable. Tradition changes and is different from the 185 years that have passed since Barton Stone and other earthly patriarchs.
    ,
    May, 15 2008

Filed under: Reviews Staff Reports

Don’t miss out on more stories like this.

Subscribe today to receive more inspiring articles like this one delivered straight to your inbox twice a month.

Did you enjoy this article?

Your donation helps us not only keep our quality of journalism high, but helps us continue to reach more people in the Churches of Christ community.

$
Personal Info

Dedicate this Donation

In Honor/Memory of Details

Card Notification Details

Credit Card Info
This is a secure SSL encrypted payment.
Billing Details

Donation Total: $3 One Time