When asked about the role mega churches play in their denominations the top answer from evangelical leaders responding to the July Evangelical Leaders Survey was “None.” That’s because many evangelical denominations have few if any very large churches.
Todd Bassett, former National Commander of the Salvation Army in the United States was very specific: “Of our 1329 churches, very few would have a congregation that exceeds 300 to 400.” Kerry R. Ritts, of the Primitive Methodist Church, USA, explained that “We are a small denomination with no mega churches.”
Larger denominations like the Assemblies of God have a significant number of large congregations. Acknowledging that mega churches have “a very important role,” the Assemblies of God General Superintendent George Wood said that 191 of the denomination’s largest churches have 378,450 in Sunday attendance which is 21.4 percent of the total attendance of all the denomination’s churches. That means that 1.5 percent of the churches have more than one-fifth of all the parishioners.
There was a mixed evaluation of America’s evangelical mega churches. Compliments focused on mega church innovation, leadership, financial support of ministries, solid evangelical theology and especially “church planting” where large churches start new churches. Criticisms included competition with smaller churches, self-reliance and lack of cooperation with other churches.
Speaking for the Worldwide Church of God, Joseph Tkach said that mega churches play no role in his denomination. “We view them as a modern invention that does not follow the pattern of the early church. And of course, we do not view all of the mega churches as being the same. Some are exceptionally good and some are not.”
“The numbers show that mega churches are relatively few in America. They make up less than one percent of the total number of congregations. However, they have a disproportionate influence and visibility. They are the leaders to which pastors and other church leaders look for how to do church,” according to Leith Anderson, president of the National Association of Evangelicals.
Bert Waggoner of The Vineyard USA summarized this disproportionate influence: “They help resource the movement with leaders and other creative resources. They make significant financial contributions. They provide venues for our larger meetings. They lead the movement in church planting. They give visibility and recognition to the movement. The quality of leadership in the mega churches raises the leadership quality in the movement.”
The Evangelical Leaders Survey is a monthly poll of the board of directors of the National Association of Evangelicals. They include the CEOs of 60 denominations and representatives of a broad array of evangelical organizations including missions, universities, publishers and churches.