Local News

Popularity of megachurches leaves some smaller churches struggling

Posted May 3, 2015

Kim Dobbins, who worshiped and attended school at Calvary Baptist Church for four years, said her church is like many other megachurches in the state. The atmosphere is comfortable and modern, with many worshipers wearing jeans or other casual clothing. Christian rock bands frequent the spacious building, and services are held almost all day on Sunday, from 8 am to 5:30 pm, for convenience.

When megachurches rose to popularity about 30 years ago, the faithful swarmed to the new spaces of worship that offered charismatic leadership and a appealing, convenient way of attending church. But this presented other, smaller and more traditional churches with the challenge of keeping up membership.

“Unknowingly, they certainly tapped into the interest and desires of the contemporary person to have choice and different ways they could connect with people,” said Scott Thumma, one of the countries leading experts on megachurches.

The defining aspect Calvary shares with other megachurches, like Elevation based in Charlotte or Mid-Way Baptist in Raleigh, is its size. Calvary’s flock is about 5,000 people, according to the Hartford Institute for Religious Research. Since the 1970s and '80s, megachurches have enjoyed a heyday in the religious landscape of the country, especially in the South.

And North Carolina follows the trend. Charlotte’s evangelical church Elevation plans to open a new campus at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, costing about $5 million.

Thumma said megachurches’ quality and professionalism set them apart.

“They offer an international plan and professional worship experience,” he said.

When megachurches first started, they were some of the first to use big screens, technology and small groups to connect people. They offered multiple services at different times of the day, and contemporary music and a laid-back atmosphere, he said.

“It was something different in the religious landscape,” he said.

That presents a host of challenges for other congregations in the area, and smaller churches often found themselves unable to compete.

“They can forget about serving God and try to appeal to the market, or they can say we aren’t going to do anything, and hide our head in the sand and die a slow death,” Thumma said.

Small churches still make up an important part of religious life.

Now Dobbins attends Bethania Moravian in nearby Pfafftown, which holds only a couple hundred people.

“It’s way more personal and the pastor knows you by your name,” she said.

And the rise of megachurches meant smaller churches like Bethania Moravian faced tough challenges.

David Merritt, the pastor at Bethania Moravian, said megachurches can offer a “weight watchers” approach to faith.

“They want a checklist,” he said. “If you believe this, then this will happen. In some ways, they wanted the bells and whistles.”

Dobbins said she left Calvary because the church felt impersonal and didn’t align with her beliefs.

“It was just a lot of fire and brimstone,” she said. “The Moravian church was more accepting of others.”

Merritt said he has seen some people come back to smaller, mom-and-pop type churches because they want a more personal experience.

“I think sometimes when people have been part of a larger church and they felt like they have gotten less than stellar pastoral care, then there is a transition because smaller churches can be pastoral care friendly,” Merritt said.

Thumma said megachurches forced smaller churches to confront the kind of place they are going to be, forcing them to decide if they would stay in the past or if they will change for the future.

“At least megachurches have brought with them the reality of the worship experience into the 21st century,” he said. “Without the megachurch, I don’t think churches would have had the challenge to even come close and catch up with where society is now.”


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  • Shawn-loves'Shanna Alexander May 5, 2015
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    Continued....... happened to Matt 18 you know the one that goes: "I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it." I guess were just throwing the Bible completely out the window nowadays.

    And it goes on with ones like this: “weight watchers” approach to faith. So another words cut the parts out that are not necessarily appealing to you and keep the ones that make you feel good, right? or how about this one: “They want a checklist,” he said. “If you believe this, then this will happen. In some ways, they wanted the bells and whistles.”

    When did we start basing the "success" of the church on it's size rather then the numbers being sent out into the mission field? You know, I could go on and on however I'm sure its unfortunately falling mostly on deaf ears....end rant.

  • Shawn-loves'Shanna Alexander May 5, 2015
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    I'm not knocking "megachurches" by no means because I'm sure there are plenty of good ones out there. So if your apart of one don't take this the wrong way, however their is so much wrong with this article.

    First off the article talks about the "church" as if it's merely a form of business...Have we forgotten that we as the people are the Church? The buildings in which we worship are certainly nice but if our primary concerns are "charismatic leadership and a appealing, convenient ways of attending church" or the number of members were running in membership then we have gotten way off course.

    It's quotes like this one: "it's there quality and professionalism that sets them apart" Should it not be Christ who sets us apart?

    Or how about this one: "They can forget about serving God and try to appeal to the market, or they can say we aren’t going to do anything, and hide our head in the sand and die a slow death,” "They" meaning smaller congregations....Really???? I mean whatever

  • Sean Coates May 4, 2015
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    Churches are nothing but big businesses!!! Sucking the blood from the poor!!!

  • Tom Haywood May 4, 2015
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    There is no perfect place to worship because they're all filled with imperfect people. Generalizations about both small and large churches are simply ignorant. Unless you've been to all of them, then you are simply guessing at what they are like. I agree with Crystal Stewart ... choose what works best for you and allow others to do the same.

  • Crystal Stewart May 4, 2015
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    Some of these comments are absolutely ridiculous. Worship (or don't) in your own way, and mind your business about how others worship.

  • Greg Griffin May 4, 2015
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    Many of the older, smaller churches are spiritually dead because of tradition and resistance to change. People want to go where they can feel the move of God. Yes, larger churches sometimes miss the mark when it comes to ministering to its members individually but I don't think they are all corrupt corporate entities.

  • Amy Singleton May 4, 2015
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    View quoted thread

    Worship all you want, just quit giving tax free millions to super scale, organized pandering. If you need a mega church, question your motivation to worship. Such places are often the only social outlet people can come up with and everyone wants to feel like they belong.

  • Louis St.Lewis May 3, 2015
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    All churches need to close down. Soon as possible!

  • Adul Siler May 3, 2015
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    When the Devil comes he brings all the bells and whistles!

  • Salatheal Hasty May 3, 2015
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    I feel megachurches don't focus on peoples spiritual needs they care more about the perception that they are filling the seats...I see alot of people going because such and such goes there or because Pastor XYZ is an understudy of TD Jakes or whomever...Not once do I hear about their soul/spirit being touched or revied...Just my thoughts