(RNS) — America’s megachurches have continued to thrive over the past five years, attracting more worshippers, becoming more diverse and opening new locations.
A pre-pandemic, national survey of megachurches from the Hartford Institute for Religion Research found the median megachurch draws about 4,100 attenders to its worship services, up from about 3,700 in 2015.
The average megachurch budget is $5.3 million, up from $4.7 million in 2015. Seven out of 10 have more than one location. Six out of 10 (58%) say they have a multiracial congregation.
Despite the decline among Christian groups overall, most megachurches seem to be doing well, said Scott Thumma, professor of sociology of religion at Hartford Seminary and director of Hartford Institute.
“They continue to do things that other congregations should be doing,” Thumma said.
Thumma said the use of contemporary worship—along with a focus on small groups and international diversity—has helped megachurches continue to grow. Megachurches, in general, he said, also tend to steer clear of controversy, staying away from culture wars or political battles.
According to the survey, few megachurches said they distribute voter guides (14%) or encourage voter registration (14%), or participate in get-out-the-vote efforts. Sixty-three percent said their church avoids political discussions when they gather. One in 5 said their congregation is politically active. Two-thirds disagree when asked if “everyone in this congregation has the same political position.”
Thumma said the growing diversity in megachurches reflects the changing demographics of the United States. Megachurches, he said, also attract younger worshippers than other kinds of churches.
“Megachurches are one of the few groups of churches that have a wide representation of people under 45,” he said. People in that age group, he said, tend to be more demographically diverse and more open to diversity. More than three-quarters of the churches (78%) in the survey said they were intentionally trying to become more diverse.
Still, Thumma pointed out, megachurch pastors themselves are not a diverse group. The average megachurch pastor is a 53-year-old white man who has been in place for 15 years. And many are in danger of losing effectiveness as leaders, he said.