U.S. “mega-churches” – predominately large Protestant or Pentecostal churches, many without denominational affiliation – attract more younger and unmarried members than smaller and more established Protestant churches, a new study concludes.
A survey issued on June 9 of 24,900 people who attend services at 12 U.S. mega-churches, found that almost two-thirds (62 percent) of those attending such institutions are under the age of 45, a sharp contrast to the 35 percent under 45 who attend all Protestant churches in the country.
Similarly, the survey conducted jointly by the Dallas-based Leadership Network, a non-profit public charity, and Hartford Seminary’s Hartford Institute for Religion Research, based in Connecticut, found that nearly a third of those attending a mega-church are single and unmarried.
By contrast, single, unmarried persons constitute only one in 10 in all Protestant churches in the United States.
“Pastors of mid-sized and small congregations may well want to see how adapting elements from the mega-church model would help them better serve that segment of their community,” said Warren Bird, the Leadership Network’s director of research.
Mega-churches tend to have thousands of members, and there are at least 1,300 of them in the United States, according to the Hartford Institute.
In their conclusion, Bird and co-author Scott Thumma, who teaches sociology of religion at Hartford Seminary, cautioned against too strong a contrast with the religious or spiritual experience at smaller churches.
They note that those attending mega-churches “are not radically different people from those who attend Protestant churches of all sizes. They don’t come to a mega-church and then develop into a different kind of spiritual being.”
Still, the authors note, “Participants interact with the mega-church on their own terms, to meet their individualised needs rather than following some prescribed or idealised plan created by the church’s leadership.”
As one example, the survey found that nearly half of mega-church attendees do not volunteer at their churches, and nearly as many, 40 percent, do not belong to what is considered the “mainstay” of church programming – engagement in a social or volunteer group.