The Washington Post reported this week on results of a new study exploring worship services at megachurches. A University of Washington study theorized that corporate worship at megachurches produces a feeling of transcendence and change in brain chemistry that the study referred to as a “spiritual high” and keeps congregants returning and in part accounts for the church’s success. James Wellman, study co-author and associate professor of American religion, commented that “they see this experience of unalloyed joy over and over in megachurches. That’s why we say it’s like a drug.”
Study co-author and graduate student Katie Corcoran explained that shared experiences in large audiences of sporting events, concerts, and the like can produce the same feeling of euphoria because of the resulting boost of oxytocin in the brain, but “churches seem to be somewhat unique in that these feelings are not just experienced as euphoria but as something transcendent or divine.”
“The upbeat modern music, cameras that scan the audience and project smiling, dancing, singing, or crying worshippers on large screens, and an extremely charismatic leader whose sermons touch individuals on an emotional level … serve to create these strong positive emotional experiences,” Corcoran said.
Study researchers spoke to 470 congregants and studied the results of about 16,000 surveys from 12 megachurches. Read the report on the University of Washington site here.