November 5th, 2010
11:10 AM ET

Are megachurches falling out of fashion?

I was attending a lecture several years ago when I heard a startling prediction: megachurches are doomed.

A religion professor predicted that megachurches would one day resemble abandoned retail stories “on the edge of town” because they were so expensive to maintain, and a younger generation wanted a more intimate worship experiences.

I thought about that prediction after learning that the Crystal Cathedral megachurch in California filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy after its leaders disclosed  the church is close to $50 million in debt.

The bankruptcy revelation, along with recent scandals surrounding several megachurch pastors, caused me to wonder if megachurches will fall out of fashion in these lean economic times. Will Americans cut back on the size of their churches while cutting back on everything else?

Scott Thumma, an authority on megachurches, says mammoth churches aren’t going anywhere anytime soon.

He says most megachurches are holding their own financially amid this “great recession.” He defines a megachurch as a congregation with 2,000 members and above.

“Megachurches, in part, grew because they were adaptive, innovative and resourceful.  They, and their leadership, have a great ability to evolve,” says Thumma, co-author of  "Beyond Megachurch Myths: What We Can Learn from America's Largest Churches."

Thumma says much of the criticism directed at megachurches comes from envy. People like to beat up on the big guys, says Thumma, a religion professor at the Hartford Institute for Religion Research in Connecticut.

Megachurch critics often say that their ministers preach bland messages designed for mass appeal; they have no internal checks and balances to check autocratic pastors; they’re too big to foster a genuine sense of church community.

One of the biggest complaints, though, is that there is something inherent in the megachurch culture that breeds preacher scandals.

Thumma says the percentage of megachurch pastors that run into ethical difficulties, though, is “no greater and is perhaps less frequent” than the clergy of smaller churches.

Megachurch pastors get the headlines because they are so well-known, he says.

“What is different is that megachurch clergy can't hide in anonymity,” Thumma says. “There is no rug large enough to sweep their indiscretions under.’’

Another possible threat to megachurches is the “emerging church.” It’s a broad term, but it includes churches that are smaller, more intimate and shun being built on the popularity of a charismatic pastor.

Thumma says megachurches can still grab the emerging church crowd because they also know how to go small when necessary.

“The increasing emphasis on multiple smaller worship venues and satellite campuses directly address these perceived challenges,” he says. “Mega worship can be simultaneously mass gathering and intimate. It can have its mall and boutique all under the same brand.”

Maybe that college professor was wrong. Even in a time of frugality, we still like our big churches, Thumma says.

What do you think?

Will megachurches retain their popularity in the future or is something other kind of church ready to be born?

- CNN Writer

Filed under: Christianity • Church • Money & Faith

soundoff (64 Responses)
  1. b whitesell

    I was just watching on cnn news room and you are talking about straight people and what they think. WELL what about what GOD thinks.He says it is wrong and you set there and put yourself above GOD? All I can say wait until you are face to face with him Or is is like some people are saying your just in it for the $$$.acording to the bible you are folloming Satan is that your God could it be that you have not read the bible fully. I'm just glad I'm not you and have to answer for the things you are saying that you know is WRONG.you can justifi it before man but I think you wil have a BIG problem when you die

    November 13, 2010 at 7:44 pm |

    @ GARY so by me researching and studing others, keeping an open mind makes me brainwashed. And don't get me wrong i love CatholicMom just her church but we go back and forth. Aint no hard feelings between us, @ Catholicmom the catholic church never did any mircles but hide their wrongs for so many years, BUT YOU PUT THE POPE N THE SAME POSITION OF PETER, well if you are going to do this then, he has the same power that peter was given to him right. Christ Church would never NEVER kill other's expectally christians, his church was the one's getting persecuted NOT THE ONE'S DOING THE KILLINGS. I HATE WHAT YOUR CHURCH DID, i don't hate the people of it, i just know no matter what you say what Yeshua was saying and what the bible say about the church doesnt describe your church.

    November 8, 2010 at 4:51 pm |
  3. Armybrat

    One thing I noticed, after returning home from Iraq, I can't handle big crowds at church any more, or a lot of loud noise. I was also impressed with the pace and thoughtfulness of some Episcopalian-led services at small chapels on camps in Iraq. Since coming home I find it hard to belong to a church. I think the problem may be that other than college classes and a part time job, I have spent all my time with family. I find it hard to connect with civilians at church, and overwhelmed in larger louder churches. I'm looking for a smallish liturgical church with a few other Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans. I don't know that I'll find it. If anyone knows of one, please post it here...

    November 8, 2010 at 10:20 am |
  4. Fred Reeves


    November 7, 2010 at 7:38 pm |
  5. Fred Reeves

    Gary, You have alot of nerve! You are putting down these two persons, who, although they may not agree on some things,
    at least believe in God. Then, you call them "brainwashed"??
    (CatholicMom amd Iceman)

    Mayby you should check out your spirit to see if its "Spirit washed"...as in never been put to use. You do have one. Faith is the key to unlock it, you can't go there by way of touchy feely, or humanistic scientific theroys...which have proved over time not to be infallible.

    November 7, 2010 at 7:37 pm |
    • NL

      Would you consider the millions of other gods, goddesses, demigods, nature spirits and other forms of deity that humans have worshipped throughout the ages to be failed theories to define God? How about the many, many versions of God both between the Abrahamic religions and within Christianity itself? More theories on who God actually is? See, religion is hardly infallible either, and how likely is it that future Christians will have the exact same view of God as you presently do?

      Theology, means of worship and even who God 'is', has changed throughout the ages, just as scientific theory has. The only difference is that we know that we're getting closer to the truth in science.

      November 8, 2010 at 10:30 am |
  6. Iceman

    @ catholicmom do you know Yeshua's church was the ones getting persecuted NOT the ones doing it don't you think? this shouldn't take you long to figure out but since you are die hard, it will take forever, THIS IS PROVEN that the RCC was as you may not say a terrorist function, and Peter had power just like all the other Apostles, PETER RAISED I THINK 2 FROM THE DEAD, why don't your Pope have this power, if you believe everything that the rcc SOLD YOU,

    November 7, 2010 at 5:31 pm |
    • Gary

      Iceman you are just as religious closed minded ,weak minded as Catholic Mom. You have no business calling her out. You are just as brainwashed as she is...

      November 7, 2010 at 7:19 pm |
    • CatholicMom


      Man is a sinful creature but you demand perfection. Man has fought and done evil things all through history.

      You want more signs of miracles today in order to believe the Truth as the Catholic Church has it; Jesus Christ has promised the Paraclete to the Apostles, to guide and guard the Church, but because man has done evil things you want to discount the power of the Holy Spirit. If the Church had to depend on man for its survival it would never have lasted 2000 years!

      The Church regrets any sins that were committed by Catholics against others. Injustices have occurred throughout history by man but the Church has prevailed against evil just as the Holy Spirit promised. We do not need any further signs to believe; your persistence in unbelief would not be helped by another raising of the dead…you would just say that the person wasn’t really dead or find some other reason to reject the Truth…as would others like you who for some reason have so much hate for the Church.

      I am sorry for the dessension you feel towards the Church......

      November 7, 2010 at 10:34 pm |
  7. Steve

    Above post is to CatholicMom

    November 7, 2010 at 9:35 am |
    • CatholicMom


      John 14:26

      26 The Advocate, the holy Spirit that the Father will send in my name—he will teach you everything and remind you of all that (I) told you. [This is Jesus talking to His Apostles]

      Catholics listen to the Pope as Successor of Peter the Rock on which Jesus Christ built His Church with Himself as the Cornerstone because we know that Jesus promised the Paraclete to His Apostles who will teach and remind the them all that He told them.

      If we step away from the Catholic Church and become our own pope we are not guaranteed the Paraclete. We can receive the Sacrament of Baptism which is the gift of the Holy Spirit but because we are fallen creatures through sin and may not confess our sin or repent, we can become distant from the Holy Spirit and lose our way.

      John 15:26-27
      26 "When the Advocate comes whom I will send you from the Father, the Spirit of truth that proceeds from the Father, he will testify to me.
      27 And you also testify, because you have been with me from the beginning.

      The Advocate, who is the Paraclete, the Holy Spirit, has been with the Apostles from the beginning on through to today by Apostolic Succession.

      We can read the Bible and this is a good thing but if we find we tend to twist the verses to mean something other than what the Church has interpreted it to mean, we should not be alarmed [people do this] but to come to know the Truth within the Bible, the Church has the fullness of this Truth as promised by the Holy Spirit, and we can come to know it through the Church.

      Do not lose sight as to where you got your Bible. Remember…it is the Church that is the pillar and foundation of the Truth.

      November 7, 2010 at 2:53 pm |
  8. Steve

    Where's that any different then you reading your bible as d-i-ctated by your ec-u-menial councils and your Pope?(Catechism right?) Is that by direction of the Holy Spirit to you, or what the Holy Spirit told them?
    Or is it because the Catholics have to go through the Pope to get to God?

    Your quote:It appears that many persons are saying they do not need a church or religion at all….they say they can live just fine without those things as long as they have their Bible and themselves as the infallible interpreter of it.

    Whats wrong with that? Organized religion is pretty bad. Look at all the wars its caused in the past. Organized religion has caused people to leave the church, because of the way things are ran and d-i-c-tated. I think people are better to read thier bibles and as far as interpetation of it, the only infallible helper is the Holy Spirit...not a Pope who places himself equal with God, as tells people what it says.

    November 7, 2010 at 9:35 am |
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