Three reasons the Megachurch Bubble isn’t bursting

Skye Jethani, editor of Leadership Journal, recently has written on Christianity Today’s “Out of Ur” blog a two part series (1, 2) suggesting that the megachurch “bubble” could be about to burst.  He based it on an infographic showing some basic statistics compiled from some credible sources.

Overall the picture is very strong for megachurches, with the vast majority experiencing both growth in budgets and attendance despite the recent economic challenges. This is confirmed in Leadership Network & Hartford Seminary’s 2011 research profile of large churches.

Yet he has some concerns based on the data.
They include:

  • Megachurch pastors currently average 50 years old. Will these churches still be “mega” through leadership transition?
  • Half (48%) are located in young, growing suburbs of major cities. Will these large churches move to follow the “growth edge” of a city?
  • Megachurches are disproportionately white (85% of attendees) and that group will not be a majority in 2042.

These are concerns, no doubt. But mostly they are future problems, not near term issues. For example, if we assume a third of all megachurches had poor leadership transitions in the next decade and declined significantly, and no other churches grew to “mega” size, there would still be more than 1000 megachurches in North America.

As for growth, it is easiest to grow a church rapidly when located in a rapidly growing urban or suburban area. But once a church is large enough, their draw is regional. Large churches do not need to be in the “growth edge” to remain large or increase attendance in the same way an up and coming church does. As Jethani mentioned, one way to stay closer to the “growth edge” is through a multisite approach to growth, which 50% of all megachurches are currently using and 20% more thinking about it.

As for the ethnic challenge, the white population is not declining in the US. The minority populations are increasing more rapidly, such that whites will not be the “majority” ethnic group in 2042. Most large churches, including Hope Community  Church,  are intentionally trying to cross ethnic lines in their leadership, stage presence, and staff. With another 31 years to solve the tension, most will have adapted to the new reality or long since ceased to be relevant.

Overall, the concerns are real but not “mega” problems. The values of the next generation for mission, social activism and innovation are already embraced by most large churches. Concern for our neighbor’s physical needs gives practical legs to our gospel proclamation. Those things are part of the reason most large churches BECAME large.  The challenges of leadership transition, ethnic diversity, and continued growth are the leadership challenges we are focused on, and trusting God to lead us through.

What concerns do you have for large churches in our shifting cultural landscape?

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