US Megachurches Are Getting Bigger and Thinking Smaller

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Church growth has corresponded with a huge jump in multisite locations and deeper engagement in small groups.

Megachurches have gotten so big over the years that they’ve outgrown their sanctuaries.

The average megachurch in the United States had 4,100 regular attendees (before the pandemic) and seating for 1,200. That’s because, unlike in earlier days, most now spread services across multiple sites and locations over a weekend, according to a new report by the Hartford Institute for Religion Research.

“The 20-year trend to become multisite … has continued to explode,” the researchers wrote in the report, a 2020 survey of 582 megachurches, defined as Protestant churches with regular attendance of 2,000 or more.

Multisite megachurches tripled between 2000 and 2020, now with 70 percent of megachurches operating as multisite and another 10 percent considering it.

Pastor Phil Hopper leads a multisite church called Abundant Life in Lee’s Summit, Missouri, a suburb-turned-city outside Kansas City. The multisite trend may be new, but to him it’s actually a return to an ancient strategy.

“We have to get back to that early paradigm of church ministry,” the pastor said. “The ‘win’ has to be ‘Wow, we just sent 500 people from here somewhere else to launch something brand new.’ … That’s what made early Christianity a move of God that swept through the ancient world.”

As megachurches continue to grow, logistically they have to add services or locations to accommodate new attendees. “You can’t keep building a bigger building every time you run out of seats,” said Hopper, whose congregation drew 7,000 attendees across two locations before the pandemic.

The average US megachurch, according to the Hartford study, has 7.6 services a weekend, …

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