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What is a Megachurch?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 17, 2024
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A megachurch is a church with a congregation of 2,000 or more people, with some megachurches having as many as 50,000 congregants. The megachurch movement started in the United States in the 1950s, and continues to be most strong in North America, although it has spread to some parts of Asia, especially Korea. These churches are also known as “seeker churches,” because they cater primarily to new Christians and seekers, rather than to Christians who are already attending services.

The design of a megachurch is about much more than just the church itself. Typically, megachurches are headed by a single charismatic minister, who takes charge of most of the services in the church. The church also includes a monumental support staff to handle the daily operations of the church, and it is further supported by a large base of volunteers and donors.

Many megachurches are more like small villages, with a wide range of amenities in addition to the main hall of worship, which can seat as many as 16,000 people for services in some cases. A megachurch also usually has ample parking with shuttles, sports clubs, restaurants, bookstores, and a wide variety of other services on offer, allowing people to accomplish errands while going to church. Megachurches are also structured to be destinations for the whole family, with targeted youth programs designed to entertain young Christians while their parents attend streamlined services in the main church area.

Many megachurches have very active outreach and community service programs, in the hopes of reaching out to even more potential converts. These programs are often staffed largely by volunteers who contribute to the work of the church for free as part of their commitment to service, and they range from educational seminars to donations of labor to build homes for the poor. Organizing all of this requires a crack team of administrators who are dedicated, talented, and extremely motivated.

Most megachurches are offshoots of the Protestant church, and they are considered to be largely independent. Some have become so successful that they have been able to establish satellite locations, with main services being beamed off-site by satellite.

The megachurch movement has been heavily criticized by people who feel that it offers a version of “Christianity light” while also taking worshipers away from smaller congregations. While the accusation of Christianity light could certainly be borne out by the casual sermons and pop music instead of hymns, megachurches do not generally steal worshipers from other churches, because of the focus on recent converts. In addition, supporters of megachurches argue, while the Christian message may be lighter than it is in some churches, it also reaches many more people, and if one's goal is converts, megachurches certainly do yeomanly duty.

WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a WiseGeek researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments

By dega2010 — On Jun 30, 2011

The growth of the mega-church has increased drastically over the years. TV evangelism has become more and more popular for a number of different reasons. I personally think that whether I worship in a mega-church, a country church, or in my living room, God knows my heart!

By CarrotIsland — On Jun 30, 2011

@momothree- I know what you mean. I like the idea of a church where everybody knows everybody and the preacher knows your name and the names of all your kids! It just seems more personal that way. I love to socialize with other members of the church.

However, I do love to watch Joel Osteen and his mega-church. I’m okay watching these big church services on TV but I would probably have a panic attack if I were to visit a church that big!

By momothree — On Jun 29, 2011

I was raised in a small country church with a total of about 18 members. I loved it. For many years, we didn't even have indoor plumbing. It was cozy and quaint. We had gas heaters on the walls and ceiling fans for the summertime.

If we had a church gathering, such as Thanksgiving dinner, we had picnic tables set up outside with a cover over them. It was really awesome!

About a month ago, I went to visit my sister in Dallas. She asked me to go to her church with her on Sunday morning. I was excited to go. When we pulled up and they had men outside guiding you to a parking spot, I got a little nervous. When we went in, I felt like I was at a rock concert. It was like a huge coliseum. From where we were sitting, I could only see the pastor on the big TV screens they had everywhere. It sure made me appreciate my hometown, old-fashioned church!

Mary McMahon

Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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