Wednesday, August 31, 2011

SBC Megachurches... them, hate them, or be ambivalent about them. According to Thom Ranier, head of LifeWay there are 177 of them in the SBC. That is, 177 churches that report on the Annual Church Profile an average primary worship attendance of at least 2,000 weekly and who give something to the Cooperative Program. Not all churches reported, so there's probably a few missing from this list. Some that are on the list are probably only nominally SBC.

Some observations on the 177 megachurches:

About 0.4% of SBC churches are megachurches but on an average Lord’s Day of the 6.2 million people that attend worship in an SBC church, about ten percent of these are nestled in a megachurch.

If your worship is in one of the megachurches, you attend church on that given Sunday with about 3,500 other souls. You probably know very few of them and the pastor might but probably doesn't know who you are.

If your worship is in a non-megachurch, you worship with about 120 other people on that Sunday. You probably know most of them, by name. Your pastor almost certainly knows you and calls you by name when you leave church and tell him what a great sermon he preached.

There are as many as or more SBC megachurches in California (9) than in any of these SBC legacy states: Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Missouri, or Kentucky.

Texas, Georgia, Florida, Tennessee have about 60% of all the megas in the SBC. Texas has by far the most but churches there are known to inflate their members just like ranchers there inflate their acreage and cattle. Georgians, however, are scrupulously honest.

You probably don't recognize some of the top ten megachurches:
1. Second Baptist, Houston
2. Saddleback Valley Community Church, CA
3. Woodlands Church, TX
4. Prestonwood Baptist, TX
5. Thomas Road, VA
6. Potential, Ft. Lauderdale
7. NewSpring Church, SC
8. The Fountain of Praise, Houston
9. Lake Pointe Church, TX
10. Saint Matthews Baptist, NJ

I recognize only half of them.

How many pastors of these churches could you name? Well, Ed Young, Sr. I know; Rick Warren, I recognize, and Falwell the Younger can't be missed. But the rest? Plodder may be deeply out of touch but he has never heard of several of the others.

Two of the top ten seem to be black churches.

Notably, only four of the ten feature ‘Baptist’ in their name.

Suppose you were fresh out of seminary, had a few years of a student pastorate under your belt and got a phone call that started,

"Brother Emdiv, this is Fred Smith. I'm chairman of the pastor search committee for Mud Creek Baptist in Hendersonville, NC. We like your resume and would like to talk to you."

I know what you might think.

'Ain't no way I'm taking my wife to any Mud Creek church. They are probably wonderful folks and a wonderful little church, but I'm edumacated, ordained, and seasoned and am ready for a greater challenge.' ('Greater challenge' is, of course, SBC preacher code language for a bigger church, bigger salary, and greater prestige.)

Better hold your tongue there, hotshot. Mud Creek is a megachurch. There are only three SBC churches in NC are larger than good ol' Mud Creek.

Er, I'd be glad to talk to you.

Then again, you might not be ready for a megachurch.

Check with Joel Gregory first.


Anonymous said...

Man, I know I'm not ready to lead anything bigger than I got. There is enough for me to mess on any given day, I can't imagine leading a mega.

Thanks for putting this up. It helps to put things in perspective.


heath lloyd said...

I know you just used it for illustration and meant no harm, but Mud Creek is a tremendous church led by a great pastor, Greg Mathis.
Interestingly enough, Greg says at the beginning of his ministry there some 30 years ago, a "consultant" told them that if the church was ever to do anything it needed to move from its present location and change its name. They did neither. God has done a great work there.
But you are right, I didn't recognize many on this list.

William Thornton said...

Actually, my church had a member who moved to Hendersonville. When we received the request for a church letter to Mud Creek, I imagined a small, rural church. Not until this week did I realize MCBC was a mega.

Sounds like a wonderful church and it is refreshing in a time when churches are hastily dropping even 'baptist' from their name, that the two century old church kept their historic name and location.

Anonymous said...

We don't have the actual words of the consultant or any caveats that may have been issued, but since 1980 Henderson County has nearly doubled in size. Church leadership can be lauded for the growth in the church, but county population growth also must be acknowledged.

Moses Model said...

I am disappointed with myself. I only knew three. Great post!

Stephen Fox said...

I think my sister has a neighbor who goes to New Spring if it is off 85 near Anderson.
Had an interesting chat with a fellow yesterday, good friend of Chic Fil A's Truett Cathy who is enamored with the CO God mega Rock Springs in Jackson, Ga down toward Macon.
I wouldn't mind singing in one of their choirs if they let me pick the music, but I couldn't check my intelligence at the door.
To that CBF Marion Aldridge had a good take on Rachel Held Evans Evolving in Monkeytown, in current issue of the late Foy Valentine's Christian Ethics Today.
You ought to subscribe.
As to your weekly roundup column been interesting gettin back in touch with my Gaffney classmates for our 40th.
And Bruce Prescott has joined the discussioin on Rick Perry, Frank Page and the Recons at SBC Trends of Hope you and Aaron Weaver do likewise soon.

PS I thought Johnson Ferry was mega or borderline mega. Turns out some of my Furman classmates ended up there, and they are fine people though that does not justify the fundy takeover of the SBC.
Thanks for calling me a fixture at It meant a lot.
Looking forward to your Review of The Help.
I say Bama loses at least 2 during regular season.
Mike Shula is Cam Newton's QB coach with the Carolina Panthers

Lee said...

I don't know if Lifeway's research group under Ed Stetzer has done a study on how the presence of a megachurch affects membership and attendance in other nearby churches, or how the megas do with regard to evangelism. In Houston, the entire west side of the city, from downtown to the west beltway, and from I-10 to US 59 is an SBC "desert." In the city which has the largest single Baptist association in the denomination, in the predominantly WASP neighborhoods, only one SBC church out of 40 previous churches has survived the relocation of First and Second Baptist. Willow Creek admitted, several years back, through research that they packaged and marketed as "Reveal," that the larger the church got, the fewer baptisms occurred. If the SBC megas are typical, and I think they probably are, it takes about twice as many of their members to produce one baptism in a year as in the smaller churches. They are using their resources, and celebrity pastor status to grow by transfer, but they aren't causing the kingdom to grow, and as a side effect, they are causing the denomination to decline.

JR said...

You've done some good analysis here William. I actually have more detailed research which would indicate there are around 250 SBC affiliated megachurches. The variance here is due to churches that didn't report their worship attendance last year, and others which reported, but didn't include children in attendance and were therefore slightly below the 2000 mark.

Lee, I don't think your logic is entirely correct. There is a large body of evidence that suggests that small churches can do quite well with big churches nearby. I think the trend you are describing in West Houston has more to do with a major demographic shift than it does with two large congregations. The anglo churches that were planted west of downtown 50-100 years ago have mostly either moved, closed, or adjusted to meet the needs of the population around them (such as changing their primary language in some cases). This same trend can be seen in the interior portions of other large cities as well.

William Thornton said...

JR, I'd like to see your research. Email me, please.