Megachurches Growing in Size and Popularity
Though megachurches have gained almost cult status as consumerist demagogy, researchers from the University of Washington say that they serve their congregation well.
In their study, experts reveal that megachurches have grown in size and popularity with nearly half of Americans now in attendance. With use of "stagecraft, sensory pageantry and charismatic leadership" combined with an non-controversial, though more secularized view of christen doctrine, these churches award their congregation with an uplifting and powerfully emotional religious experience.
"Membership in megachurches is one of the leading ways American Christians worship these days, so, therefore, these churches should be understood," reasons James Wellman, associate professor of American religion at the University of Washington.
"Our study shows that -- contrary to public opinion that tends to pass off the megachurch movement as consumerist religion -- megachurches are doing a pretty effective job for their members. In fact, megachurch members speak eloquently of their spiritual growth."
Researchers hypothesize that such rituals are successful in imparting emotional energy in the megachurch setting -- "creating membership feelings and symbols charged with emotional significance, and a heightened sense of spirituality," they wrote.
The study includes an analysis of 470 interviews and about 16,000 surveys on megachurch members' emotional experiences with their churches.
According to the American Sociological Association, the questionnaires surrounded four main themes: salvation/spirituality, acceptance/belonging, admiration for and guidance from the leader, and morality and purpose through service.
Results showed that most if not all participants agreed that they felt the level of religious experience was better than their previous experiences with smaller, traditional churches, using the term "contagious" to describe the wave of feeling that washes members.
Researchers also believe that part of the success of the megachurch stems from the types messages being touted, which provide conventional though positive moral standards, such as being a decent person, taking care of family, and forgiving enemies and yourself. Megachurches also encourage their members, such as by saying, "Things can get better, you can be happy," he added.
Identified in Wellman's book as "a new hybird form of Christianity," he reveals that megachurches rarely mention heaven or hell and the doctrine is a secular mutation of puritanical traditions.
Researchers imply that religious and non-religious persons can enjoy non-traditional pedogoy as it reaches across this black and white spectrum by teaching universal themes.