My understanding is that they put tremendous effort into getting each member involved in smaller “ministry” groups. So while you might be pretty much anonymous WRT the ministry/congregation as a whole, there are smaller subgroups you are closer to.
Also, I think a large part of their appeal is that they present religion as entertainment. Which I believe appeals to a good portion of modern American society.
I don’t get it either. I don’t attend church, but in the context of live music I’d much rather watch a barely famous local performer in a small club, than an international rock star at a stadium.
Although I must admit I did enjoy seeing the Rolling Stones at the Los Angeles Coliseum. They did a superb job with the sound engineering and the collective excitement of the audience was memorable. And the band played great, of course. Maybe it’s a parallel situation with Saddleback. The crowd is receptive, and Warren is probably a master of being able to reach everyone in the crowd.
I used to attend a pretty large non-denominational church. There were four services each Sunday, with around 1000 people at each service. Is that mega?
Anyway, the music and preaching were of very high quality, which attracts a lot of people. As for the more pastoral aspects of it, the size of the church allowed them to have a large paid staff and tons of volunteers to handle those sorts of things. When my wife died, I was encouraged by one of the staff to see a church counselor (A PhD psychologist), which I did, free of charge.
As Dinsdale said, small groups or “house churches” are an important part of church life at a lot of these churches, as it was at mine. For me, the small group that I belong to is more important to me than the whole congregation worship I attend on Sundays.
My former church had 3000 members. So, not as large as some mega churches, but certainly a large church.
I liked the fact that it was large and more anonymous. I don’t want to go to church as a social gathering.
Also, large churches will usually have a better music program. I’d rather have better musicians than a little old lady who only knows 3 hymns.
Most large churches will have some smaller chapels which are used for wedding and funerals.
Most megachurchgoers have come from formerly mainstream Protestant denominations - Methodist, Episcopal, Lutheran, Presbyterian, UCC, etc. - and have been dissatisfied with them for one reason or another.
A lot of it must have to do with theology. They are by now largely non-evangelical, religiously centrist, socially activist, and more alike than similar.
They certainly have not followed the country to the right in its social and moral outlook over the past decade. When people talk about going “back to god,” seldom if ever is it these mainstream Protestants.
Think about Mecca, or the ancient Temple of Jerusalem. There’s a reason why these religions, so long ago, realized the value of having worship being a mass gathering. It can be a rush to be part of a gigantic crowd. It makes you feel tiny - the same way you are supposed to feel before God. At the same time it makes you feel like part of something much larger than yourself. There’s a visceral reaction to seeing a gigantic mass of people around you all doing the same thing.
I am an atheist, but also the daughter of a minister who, on his best day, had about 75 in church. He was always visiting people at their homes or in the hospital. His replacement at the church he left here in Rhode Island actually visited my sister when she had her baby, touched her forehead and recited a blessing when all she wanted to do was sleep! Ugh! Not for me. If I decided to start going to church I’d much rather be one of a big, anonymous crowd where nobody’d be bothering me.
I always thought that people like mega-churches was the vast resources that they have. Some are as large as medium sized towns in population or maybe more. It can be an isolationist community for others of like minds. They often have their own gyms, day care, swimming pools, libraries, and easy ways to find other people to date and marry. Some of them are prestigious and people want to be associated with them for outside social reasons.
This is going to be cynical but I’ll say it anyway - and I’m a Christian for what it’s worth…
One reason, I think that churches become mega-churches is the pastor/ministers often preach feel-good Christianity. One where all the congregation hears is how God is Love and all is right with the world. One that says that in return for your faith, God will bless you and make you prosperous. The parishoner can go to church, hear something that makes him feel good, and go out refreshed.
There’s a negative to Christianity, too - at least from a worldly point of view. One that says that if you’re a Christian the you have to give up stuff. The point of view that challenges you and makes it hard to go home and face some of the decisions you have to make.
I think Joel Osteen of the Lakewood church (30,000 attenders) is definitely among these.
…and then a little farther down…
Osteen tries very hard to avoid the Christian doctrine that there is one and only one way to get to heaven and, sorry to say, everybody else doesn’t get there. He’s trying so hard to be positive and all-encompassing that I think he avoids what is a central, but challenging, piece of Christian truth.
Now - I’m not stating this to debate the doctrine itself, I’m just showing why I think Osteen leads on of the largest churches in the country - because he keeps everything all happy-happy and doesn’t hit the congregation with the less-happy stuff. He makes Christianity easy.
I’m so far away from that whole cultural phenomenon that I really have no business posting in this thread, but … my impression is that although they are indeed mega-churches, they work hard to deliver personalized services: help when you need it with things like daycare, a whole pool of potential friends, family-friendly activities, etc. What’s not to like? (Sure, as a cynical-atheist-freethinker-loner, I personally can answer that question, but even I see the lure of a built-in, like-minded community.)
Another benefit of a mega-church is finding a group of your peers. My small church has a 5 family group of middle-aged parents. Our youth group consists of 10 or so middle and high schoolers. The mega church has a 100 member group of just 7th graders.
If you want a religous environment, combined with people who are going through the exact same situation - the mega churches can offer it. Are you a 30-40 year old recently divorced single mom who gave up a profession and is now trying to get going again? The mega-church has a group of women in the exact same position!
My cousins go to one. They like it because no matter what you are interested in (as long as its not non-Christian), there are communities of people meeting to do it - a quilting circle, a group working to stop smoking, an AA group, a bookclub, a group of musicians who get together to jam, a group that does potluck suppers, SAHMs with a playgroup on Tuesday mornings, WOHMs with a playgroup on Sunday after service…
Granted I’m a loner, but I don’t see the appeal in having such an incentuous community. I guess if it’s truly a megachurch, there’s low likelihood that you’d see the same people in all those groups. But seems like uncomfortable (for me) overlap is bound to exist. Which then leads to gossip and busybodyness (You know, I saw monstro coming out of the AA group the other day. Let’s pray for her and hope she can control herself during Communion. I’m surprised Pastor’s even letting her and her husband run the young couple’s ministry. Maybe he doesn’t know and we should tell him?*)
Guess I don’t get the appeal in all the extracurriculars in the first place. At my mother’s church (which is more “kilo” than “mega”), they can get downright ridiculous. Last year she was the chair of the committee headed to put on an Egyptian-themed banquet for all the men in the congregation, complete with costumes and decorations and skits. A few months later, the men did something similar for all the women. I appreciate it was all good, clean Christian “fun”, but it’s a little too much for me. With all that “Let’s fellowship in the Lord!” stuff, people’s true, non-Christian personalities start to show (as they did with a certain member on my mother’s committee). It’s a big turn-off for me.
*yes, I realize most churches use grape juice. Just laugh at the joke anyway, ok?
There is some relativity here - where I grew up, 700 would be a mega church. There was a church on every corner and they generally had 50 to 100 members. Some as low as ~10, the huge ones were maybe 300 - 400.
(Yes, I know Joel Osteen-type churches have 10s of thousands.)
While this is true about organized church activities, it’s also true about other organized activities. If your mother had been organizing a banquet for an alumni event, science fiction convention, or even the first-ever Egyptian-themed Dopefest, interpersonal conflict would have surfaced. One of my favorite sayings about church is that it is a hospital for sinners, not a museum for saints.
IMHO, people like megachurches for the amenities. I go to a rather small church, maybe 120 members, and frequently visitors who decide not to join are attracted by things like better childcare, better music (although we rock what we’ve got!), and just plain nicer, newer facilities. A lot of people want their church to look at least as nice and modern as their living room.
Back when I was a Christian, we went to an offshoot of Church on the Rock, which indeed would qualify as mega. [And interestingly enough, ended up being at the head of a scandal involving its founding head pastor, Larry Lee, but that’s neither here nor there…] Anyway, before we landed there, I sort of grew up in a mega-lite church anyway and we were always led to believe that if you weren’t growing (as in number of members), then your spirit was stagnant and you somehow were falling short of the will of God. Therefore these small congregations that are much beloved would be seen as not faithful.
Obviously, I would never think that way now (being agnostic on top of everything else now), but that kept me firmly ensconced some place that a loner really doesn’t fit. So, there’s just one more take from the peanut gallery as to a possible “why.”
I attend a church that is really, really big. Mega-church size. (But it is 100 years old and Presbyterian and the services and structure reflect that, which separates it in some ways from the churches that are commonly thought of as mega-churches). And yes, many people really like our Sr. Pastor’s sermons and lectures.
The size is a good and bad thing. On the good side, the church has people and resources. There’s never a worry as to whether or not there’ll be enough kids for a 5th grade Sunday school class. There will be. If you are passionate about the homeless (or any other capacity in which you want to serve), so is someone else and there’s a decent chance that someone has already formed a group about that. That’s nice.
There’s a certain level of anonymity, which is a mixed blessing. When I was church shopping, there were a couple of churches I visited that were tiny. Bob was missing, and people knew it. Not just Bob’s friends, but every single member of the congregation, because there weren’t that many of them. For me, that’s too intrusive. It also will never happen at my church. You can go every week, and never see the same people twice. Which fits a loner like me - no one’s in my business. On the other hand, that can be isolating. You are responsible for creating your own community. The church tries to help by providing avenues for interaction, tons and tons and tons of small groups and classes and the reminder when service opportunities come up that helping out with ___________ will help connect you with the church.
If you do get sick or ill or need counselling or support, there are several visitation and caring ministries; someone will get to know you and care for you. I’ve been to a few weddings - they weren’t full to the brim, but the bride and groom’s friends and families were there and everyone was happy.