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Defining a Megachurch
The median size of a church in America is around 100 (half of churches are smaller and half are larger.) I once visited a church which was twenty-five years old and had ten or so members. But this article is not about the smallest but the largest churches in America.
These churches are known as “megachurches.” A megachurch has a membership of at least 2000 members and is evangelical, meaning that it actively seeks to convert people to Christianity. This article lists the top ten megachurches in America, along with a brief description of each.
(1) Lakewood Church; Texas. Pastor = Joel Osteen. Members = 47,000. Joel’s father began the church in 1959 and Joel took over when his father died in 1999. Membership has grown fivefold since Joel’s ascent as pastor. This means that the church had around 5000 members in 1999 and has added an average of 5000 members a year since.
(2) Willow Creek Community Church; Illinois. Pastor = Bill Hybels. Members = 23,500. Bill began the church in 1975. The Willow Creek Association was created to connect other churches who wanted to copy his success. Currently the Association counts 12,000 churches as members, many of whom also belong to a denomination.
(3) Second Baptist Church. Pastor = Ed Young. Members = 24,000. Ed became the fifth pastor in 1978. He took the church from 2000 members in 1978 to its present number today. It counts five different “campuses” or locations in its number of members.
(4) Saddleback Church; California. Pastor = Rick Warren. Members = 22,000. Rick began the church in 1980. A number of churches are tied into Saddleback (I could not locate the number, but it is in the 1000s). Saddleback has four different campuses.
(5) Life Church; Oklahoma. Pastor = Craig Groeschel. Members = 19,900. Craig began the church in 1996. It has thirteen campuses in six states.
(6) Southeast Christian Church; Louisville. Pastor = Dave Stone. Members = 18,000. The church was started in 1962. Bob Russell, the former pastor, grew the church into a megachurch. Southeast has started a campus elsewhere.
(7) North Point Community Church; Georgia. Pastor = Andy Stanley. Members = 17,700. Andy started the church in 1995. It has three different campuses.
(8) Thomas Road Baptist Church; Lynchburg, VA. Pastor = Jonathan Falwell. Members = 17,445. Jerry Falwell began the church in 1956; his son Jonathan assumed the leadership of the church upon his father’s death in 2007. (Jerry’s other son assumed the leadership of Liberty University.) The membership passed 2000 in 1968.
(9) Calvary Chapel; California. Pastor = Robert Coy. Members = 17,000. Calvary began in 1965 and experienced growth because of the Jesus Movement: hippies became Christian and wanted to attend non-traditional churches. Others wanted to copy Calvary and today the Calvary model counts over 1000 churches around the world.
(10) The Potter’s House; Dallas. Pastor = T.D. Jakes. Members = 17,000. T.D. founded the church in 1996. He has a network of The Potter’s House churches in a number of states.
And just so you don’t think that this is a purely American phenomenon, the top ten megachurches worldwide are located outside the USA. The largest megachurch? Yoido Full Gospel Church in South Korea claims a weekly attendance of 253,000!
©2009 Mark Nickens
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