Trends in Church Buildings – Why Bigger is Becoming Smaller

The megachurch has been a topic of interest for years. There are more every year and their growth rate is increasing. In other words, it’s not just that there are more, their rate of increase is growing.

Yet, when most people think of megachurches they not only think of mega-numbers, but also mega-facilities.

I thought it worth a moment to consider megachurch BUILDINGS—and what trends in such buildings might mean. Interestingly, some mega churches have begun to think differently about their facilities. These trends are not only fascinating, but I also find them encouraging several ways.

The last church I pastored had a 3,000 seat sanctuary. That’s a big room. But, what is interesting is that the church would not build that building if they could do it again—and that’s a theme I consistently hear.

What are the Trends in Big Church Buildings?

One of the trends I have observed in a qualitative way is that fewer churches are building large spaces specifically meant to accommodate thousands of people. In 2009 I posted a blogpost expressing our findings as we searched for gathering spaces of 5,000 seats or more. It would seem that being a megachurch does not necessarily imply having mega-facilities even if they maintain mega-numbers.

While the number of megachurches has increased, my (unscientific) observation is that sanctuaries have not grown at the same pace. At the time I wrote that post (2009) the average main sanctuary seating capacity in the typical American megachurch was 1,400 at most. This is large, but nowhere near 5,000. It seems that gathering spaces of growing mega-churches continue to get smaller. There seems to have been a substantial shift from the days of several thousand-seat sanctuaries to smaller venues. There are certainly exceptions, but I’m sensing a trend—and I’ll do more formal research on that later.

From Mega-Facilities to Multiplying Facilities

The decline of large church buildings points to a shift in ministry methodology. Many of the largest churches have begun to favor multisite expansion or church planting partnerships. While the large, larger, and largest churches continue to grow ever larger, they do not require larger spaces in the process—just more spaces (which tend to still be large!).

Simply put, implementing the multisite model compresses down the magnitude of the cavernous sanctuary. And, I do wonder if such buildings might be combined with a better multiplication strategy for a greater community impact.

At least in the American context today, the gigachurch, consisting of 10,000 or more members or attendees, often grows by adding sites and services rather than square footage to their buildings. New Spring Church in South Carolina provides a prime example. Pastored by Perry Noble, New Spring runs about 23,000 people on a given Sunday. However, their campuses do not seat 10,000 or even 5,000. Instead, there are multiple services and multiple technological means to distribute the message to other campuses.

Similar models like Saddleback implement video technology on many different sites, which allows those models to have 20,000 or more people attending their church on a weekly basis. Ultimately, the growth has shifted drastically away from continual building expansion to continual site expansion. As Rick Warren explained to me recently, their growth happens like a tree—not at the trunk, but at the branches. My guess is we will hear more thinking like that in years to come—smaller (but still very big) buildings, with more locations that are also smaller.

This trend is not only true of gigachurches, but seems to the trajectory of megachurches also. One example is Calvary Baptist Church in Winston-Salem, NC. Calvary is an older established church that has little room to expand at their central campus. Under the leadership of their former pastor Al Gilbert, Calvary voted to open a second campus in an area of town where over 30% of their existing members already lived. The attendance at Calvary’s new campus has more than doubled over the last 3 years, many of the new members having no prior connection to Calvary. That would have been unheard of a few decades ago.

The Benefits of Multisite Mega-Ministry

Part of the point is not really “new” news: more and more giga and megachurches are multiplying their ministry through multi-campus ministry. Perhaps you remember Warren Bird’s recent research that concluded;

  • Multisite churches reach more people than single site churches.
  • Multisite tends to spread healthy churches to more diverse communities.
  • Multisite churches have more volunteers in service as a percentage than single site.
  • Multisite churches baptize more people than single site.
  • Multisite churches tend to activate more people into ministry than single site.

However, my additional point is that multisite may very well lead to smaller (and, I hope) recyclable buildings that does not lead to a proliferation of large, empty church caverns when neighborhoods change.

Also, part of the megachurch debate centered on whether or not the model could sustain itself in years to come. Since then, megachurches have shifted their philosophy from building bigger and bigger to spreading further and further through multisite ministry. I imagine that will improve sustainability as well.

Will the Megachurch Movement Endure?

It is quite possible that the evangelical landscape will include more megachurches than ever in the future. Why? Well, churches grow. Then they grow more…and then they grow some more.

While the evangelical landscape will include more mega-churches than ever, I would contend that the vast majority of those megachurches will be multisite churches. Whether you like the megachurch or not, the trends point to the fact that the megachurch phenomenon is not over, but it actually increasing in its growth.

Furthermore, I think it is now beginning to get its second wind through the multisite expansion model. When it comes to the megachurch the model of bigger church buildings is declining, but new campuses are springing to life all over the landscape.

There are lots of implications here—some good and some bad. But, it appears that bigger churches are having smaller buildings—and more locations.

I’m not sure I know all the implications of this yet—and I’d like to hear your input in the comments, but a new reality is emerging and—with all such shifts—it promises both challenges and opportunities.

Read more from Ed here.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Ed Stetzer

Ed Stetzer

Ed Stetzer, Ph.D., holds the Billy Graham Chair of Church, Mission, and Evangelism at Wheaton College and serves as Executive Director of the Billy Graham Center for Evangelism. He has planted, revitalized, and pastored churches, trained pastors and church planters on six continents, holds two masters degrees and two doctorates, and has written dozens of articles and books. Previously, he served as Executive Director of LifeWay Research. Stetzer is a contributing editor for Christianity Today, a columnist for Outreach Magazine, and is frequently cited or interviewed in news outlets such as USAToday and CNN. He serves as interim pastor of Moody Church in Chicago.

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comment_post_ID); ?> I agree 100%, you can tell if a church is doing this it grows, if there's no growth there's poor leadership..
 
— Dennis Whiterock
 
comment_post_ID); ?> Great work Bubba! Its exciting to see how God has blessed your faithfulness over your lifetime into remarkable, fruitful, Kingdom expansion! Jesus DID say, "without Me you can do nothing!" (John 15:5). No surprise that He rewards "thick and thin" prayer with great fruitfulness! :)
 
— Mike Taylor
 
comment_post_ID); ?> I loved this presentation. It helped greatly as I organized an Outreach Ministry of The Shepherds Care. Thank you. Esther Callaham Mahgoube Emmanuel Pentecostal Church New Jersey
 
— Esther Mahgoube
 

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Can Mega Be Missional, Part 4

When many hear the word megachurch, they think of polished productions, big personalities, an expansive building, stellar programs (lots and lots of programs), and crowded parking lots with orange-vested attendants. Maybe a great worship service that leaves you laughing, crying, or both. Or perhaps a creative children’s ministry– kind of a Jesus-meets-ChuckECheese type of place.

But there are megachurches in America that are undermining the stereotypical view of themselves– for the glory of God. I have already written of three realms where mega churches are making a missional impact. Today as I continue my series I will give you the final two of five realms.

Holistic Disciple Making

Perhaps one of the greatest obstacles to megachurches being missional is the ease with which individuals can simply blend into the large crowds, remaining faithful as attendees but disengaged from other members and uninvolved in service and outreach. However, some megachurches are reversing this trend by reorienting their members to the centrality of Jesus’ message: discipling people toward living their lives in outward ways, like missionaries.

For megachurches, a praxis style of discipleship is catching on, whereby seasoned servant/disciples are taking others hand in hand to the real places of ministry, quite often beyond the church campus itself. Teaching church members to live their lives from a missionary stance is 16,000-member Phoenix First Assembly in Arizona, which sends enthusiastic, well-organized teams to conduct more than a dozen outreaches, transform neighborhoods, and break the cycle of poverty and violence.

Through one ministry called Sponsor-a-Bus, Phoenix First Assembly picks up people for church– and nine bus routes operate throughout the week to serve the disabled, elderly, and nursing home residents often forgotten by society. Its independent fleet of 34 buses is recognized nationwide for serving the Phoenix metro area.

From my observations, some megachurches are training members to live with a 24/7 missional focus. That is encouraging to me.

Church Multiplication

A few years ago, the title “fastest-shrinking megachurch” may go to New Hope Christian Fellowship O’ahu in Honolulu, Hawaii, led by Wayne Cordeiro. Attendance was dropping like a rock. But Cordeiro seems pretty happy about it. On the surface, going from 12,000 weekend attendees to 9,200 may seem like decline. But by planting 83 new churches, New Hope continues to reseed itself by multiplying churches rather than adding to its own numbers. Cordeiro plans to plant New Hope’s 100th church by 2010.

In recent years, church planting has gained tremendous traction. And many megachurches are now embracing a missional vision for church multiplication. Notice I did not say church planting– these churches are not interested in simply planting one church at a time, but are leveraging their resources to multiply or plant several churches on an annual basis.

A prime example of a megachurch that engages in church multiplication is New York-based Redeemer Presbyterian led by Tim Keller. With an average weekly attendance in the thousands, it has participated in more than 100 church plants and sets aside millions for the Redeemer Church Planting Center. Redeemer is a model of local church leaders assuming significant responsibility for planting churches, not leaving the leadership to their denominations.

By making church planting a priority, some megachurches are discovering that growth is experienced on both sides– not only do daughter churches see new growth, but involved mother churches are also seeing their members strengthened to reach more unchurched members of their community.

In my next blog in the series I will wrap up the discussion for now.

Read the previous posts from this series: Part 1; Part 2; Part 3.

Read more from Ed here.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Ed Stetzer

Ed Stetzer

Ed Stetzer, Ph.D., holds the Billy Graham Chair of Church, Mission, and Evangelism at Wheaton College and serves as Executive Director of the Billy Graham Center for Evangelism. He has planted, revitalized, and pastored churches, trained pastors and church planters on six continents, holds two masters degrees and two doctorates, and has written dozens of articles and books. Previously, he served as Executive Director of LifeWay Research. Stetzer is a contributing editor for Christianity Today, a columnist for Outreach Magazine, and is frequently cited or interviewed in news outlets such as USAToday and CNN. He serves as interim pastor of Moody Church in Chicago.

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comment_post_ID); ?> I agree 100%, you can tell if a church is doing this it grows, if there's no growth there's poor leadership..
 
— Dennis Whiterock
 
comment_post_ID); ?> Great work Bubba! Its exciting to see how God has blessed your faithfulness over your lifetime into remarkable, fruitful, Kingdom expansion! Jesus DID say, "without Me you can do nothing!" (John 15:5). No surprise that He rewards "thick and thin" prayer with great fruitfulness! :)
 
— Mike Taylor
 
comment_post_ID); ?> I loved this presentation. It helped greatly as I organized an Outreach Ministry of The Shepherds Care. Thank you. Esther Callaham Mahgoube Emmanuel Pentecostal Church New Jersey
 
— Esther Mahgoube
 

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Can Mega Be Missional?, Part 1

Today, I begin a new blog series to continue an ongoing dialogue. And make no mistake this dialogue is important. What I hope we gain together are sound principles of what makes a church missional— anytime, anywhere, any size. Even greater, I hope you see where your church is un- or under-engaged in the mission of God– and make clear plans to take concrete steps forward.

This summer, while not at my church, I’ve preached at a few megachurches– James River Assembly of God (Springfield, MO), Bethlehem Baptist Church (Minneapolis), and will be at Christ Fellowship (Miami) this Sunday. At every place the question was discussion, “How can we live on mission more effectively?” They wanted to live on mission while being a megachurch. Megachurches want to be missional.

Another outcome I’d love to see the end of “class envy” and “class superiority” in all sized churches. Some small churches or anti-megas believe large churches are blight on America. In turn, some mega churches sneer at small churches with a spirit of superiority because any church in America smaller than them “just doesn’t get it.”

We need each other! The enemy is not another church– the enemy is the enemy (Ephesians 6:10-17). And if it takes all kinds of churches to reach all types of people then we all have a unique place in God’s mission. Paul gave a principle that supports our need for each other to the Romans:

For I want very much to see you, that I may impart to you some spiritual gift to strengthen you, that is, to be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith, both yours and mine. Now I want you to know, brothers, that I often planned to come to you (but was prevented until now) in order that I might have a fruitful ministry among you, just as among the rest of the Gentiles. (Romans 1:11-13 HCSB)

With that being said, let me get to the start of the argument: I think it is harder (in some ways) to be missional when you’re a megachurch because you have a tendency to maintain the monument you’ve created. There’s this self-sustaining structure that has to be continued.

Megachurches face unique challenges in being truly missional— yet they also have the opportunity to rally people for substantive impact. Recent research shows that megachurch attendees are more involved and engaged in many ways, which I will address, but there are issues that distract megachurches from mission as well.

Of course, smaller churches in inner cities and in rural communities do as well. I’ve written on that frequently.

However, I am going to focus on megachurches for a bit. Why? Because a bias against megachurches has emerged that does not always represent reality. At times, some look to people in megachurches as mindless, consumer-encoded automatons who are unable to think for themselves or to live on mission. Lined up like robots sitting in rows each Sunday, they just love the show. And they love the goods and services offered by their Super Wal-Mart that has driven the local “mom and pop” churches to the verge of extinction.

There may be megachurches that have some of those traits. However, I know many megachurch pastors, and it’s not their passion or direction to drive other churches out of business. They are deeply burdened to lead their churches on mission into their community and the world.

Now, to be fair, I also know some megachurches pastors who feel like it is their passion and desire to be the unquestioned leader. I also know some are highly competitive, driven leaders. And so there’s some dysfunction in megachurch world. I get that. But, my point is that there are a lot of megachurches that are asking the right questions and focused on the right issues.

So, let me add that I do think there’s certain arrogance among some anti-megachurchers. Too many of them just refuse to think anything good can come from the megachurch– they’ve already made up their mind, perhaps because they have been burned along the way.

So, full disclosure: I have a great appreciation for what God is doing through many megachurches. To be fair, that is usually my posture– I am not that perpetual contrarian looking for somewhere to point my finger. But, I think that many are just too knee-jerk on their reactions. Megachurches are like all churches– imperfect and flawed– but I want to look at how some are seeking to be more missional.

Every five years or so someone new announces that the era of the megachurch is over. And yet every five years there are more of them. So, my question is, can we engage the mega movement without selling our missional souls?

If you have a group of people who gather together to listen to Bible teaching and that’s the only thing that they do, you’ve created a room full of consumers– whether it has 20 seats or 20,000 seats. But if instead you take that opportunity to help them move from being customers to co-laborers, and you have intentional strategies and processes to do that, I think the end result is that you can have a church that intentionally leads people to be on mission for the gospel. That’s true in a small church or a megachurch.

So can mega be missional? I think that’s like asking can small be missional, or can middle be missional? The right question is “What does the missional church look like?” And “what are your unique obstacles to being missional in your context?” I think all of us live imperfectly in light of the mission of God, but I think megachurches must exhort people to live on that mission, and there are some that are.

Stay tuned.

Read Part 2 of this series here.

For information on what I (and many others) mean by “missional,” click here.

Read more from Ed here.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Ed Stetzer

Ed Stetzer

Ed Stetzer, Ph.D., holds the Billy Graham Chair of Church, Mission, and Evangelism at Wheaton College and serves as Executive Director of the Billy Graham Center for Evangelism. He has planted, revitalized, and pastored churches, trained pastors and church planters on six continents, holds two masters degrees and two doctorates, and has written dozens of articles and books. Previously, he served as Executive Director of LifeWay Research. Stetzer is a contributing editor for Christianity Today, a columnist for Outreach Magazine, and is frequently cited or interviewed in news outlets such as USAToday and CNN. He serves as interim pastor of Moody Church in Chicago.

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What say you? Leave a comment!

Recent Comments
comment_post_ID); ?> I agree 100%, you can tell if a church is doing this it grows, if there's no growth there's poor leadership..
 
— Dennis Whiterock
 
comment_post_ID); ?> Great work Bubba! Its exciting to see how God has blessed your faithfulness over your lifetime into remarkable, fruitful, Kingdom expansion! Jesus DID say, "without Me you can do nothing!" (John 15:5). No surprise that He rewards "thick and thin" prayer with great fruitfulness! :)
 
— Mike Taylor
 
comment_post_ID); ?> I loved this presentation. It helped greatly as I organized an Outreach Ministry of The Shepherds Care. Thank you. Esther Callaham Mahgoube Emmanuel Pentecostal Church New Jersey
 
— Esther Mahgoube
 

Clarity Process

Three effective ways to start moving toward clarity right now.

Can Mega Be Missional, Part 3

Yes, there are problems to the megachurch (and problems to the small, medium, etc.). Any institution or organization that grows large will battle mission and values drift. But today as I continue my series I want to give you some opportunities that megachurches provide for missional ministry. I introduced the first missional realm (community involvement and transformation) where mega churches can engage in last week’s post. Today we will look at two more of those realms.

Now, I should add that this is in addition to how christians, in small groups or individually, live out God’s mission. That “missional life” must trump all designs of missional church (mega or mini). However, my question here is, “Can Mega be Missional?”

Here are two more ways that I think churches can engage in missional ministry. They are drawn from some past research and writing combined with some new information.

Global Ministry

True missional engagement isn’t about being trendy (i.e. the pastor with the goatee and cool glasses). It involves joining God in His mission both locally and globally. Going forward, many megachurches seem to be taking Jesus’ words from Acts 1:8 to heart– that we are to witness of His glory in both local (Jerusalem) and global (uttermost parts of the earth) settings– and utilizing their strength and influence toward that end.

That’s what can happen when a megachurch focuses on not only increasing its own size and numbers but on investing its God-given resources for the purpose of extending His Kingdom around the world. I pray this kind of global leadership initiative will largely characterize the megachurches of the future.

But significant global awareness and influence is also happening at the local level. As the U.S. population becomes increasingly diversified, I see many megachurches claiming their role as Gospel ambassadors and cultural anthropologists.

In Pensacola, Florida, the 10,000-member Olive Baptist Church is focused on reaching diverse ethnicities within its community. As Pastor Ted Traylor encourages the church to be missional, he models that concept with a multicultural staff of Hispanic, Russian, and Chinese pastors. The church identified key people groups to intentionally reach, and then they hired staff that spoke each language and understood each culture to show the church’s commitment to taking the Gospel to all ethnicities. Whether through beginning a global initiative or diversifying ethnic presence within the congregation, megachurches are on the forefront of pushing churches to heed Christ’s call to go therefore into the world and make disciples of all nations.

I just finished an article, out soon in Outreach magazine, that talks about how megachurches are adopting unreached people groups– not just to send a one-time mission team, but to create a long term partnership plan where the church adopts and then acts as a missionary to reach that unreached people.

Apostolic Networking

More and more megachurches understand they are not called to be kings of the mountain. Rather, the Lord has blessed them so that they can bless their communities and incrementally reproduce their talents through other churches. Many megas are doing this by networking outside their church–a methodology called “apostolic networking”–or acting as a key leader of a network that partners in new missional endeavors.

This kind of megachurch collaboration is an increasingly prevalent theme that will carry into the future. Convening best practices and a wealth of diverse experience around a common table produces rich and strategic alignments, in turn providing new leadership and new means of collaboration.

As I’ve studied this changing paradigm, I’ve noticed many megachurches partnering with other smaller churches by freely sharing their vast supply of resources and experience–developing training venues, church-planting networks, outwardly focused seminars and conferences, and online training for other churches. They’re making their staff members and resources available to other leaders and churches all over the world. I predict these strategic partnerships will only increase, replacing the competitive mindsets of the past.

Community Christian Church in Naperville, Illinois, is a prime example of leveraging influence not for its own means or renown but to extend the Kingdom of God. As an outflow of this megachurch’s exponential growth and the increasing number of pastors nationwide who wanted to learn from its success, the Naperville-based NewThing network emerged to coach other pastors in church planting and multi-site strategies. Founding pastors Dave and Jon Ferguson lead their venture with this mission: “To be a catalyst for a movement of reproducing churches relentlessly dedicated to helping people find their way back to God.”

Next week I will unpack the two final missional realms. But for now, which realm relates the most to you church? What further steps can you take into that realm?

See Part 2 of this series here.

Read more from Ed here.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Ed Stetzer

Ed Stetzer

Ed Stetzer, Ph.D., holds the Billy Graham Chair of Church, Mission, and Evangelism at Wheaton College and serves as Executive Director of the Billy Graham Center for Evangelism. He has planted, revitalized, and pastored churches, trained pastors and church planters on six continents, holds two masters degrees and two doctorates, and has written dozens of articles and books. Previously, he served as Executive Director of LifeWay Research. Stetzer is a contributing editor for Christianity Today, a columnist for Outreach Magazine, and is frequently cited or interviewed in news outlets such as USAToday and CNN. He serves as interim pastor of Moody Church in Chicago.

See more articles by >

COMMENTS

What say you? Leave a comment!

Recent Comments
comment_post_ID); ?> I agree 100%, you can tell if a church is doing this it grows, if there's no growth there's poor leadership..
 
— Dennis Whiterock
 
comment_post_ID); ?> Great work Bubba! Its exciting to see how God has blessed your faithfulness over your lifetime into remarkable, fruitful, Kingdom expansion! Jesus DID say, "without Me you can do nothing!" (John 15:5). No surprise that He rewards "thick and thin" prayer with great fruitfulness! :)
 
— Mike Taylor
 
comment_post_ID); ?> I loved this presentation. It helped greatly as I organized an Outreach Ministry of The Shepherds Care. Thank you. Esther Callaham Mahgoube Emmanuel Pentecostal Church New Jersey
 
— Esther Mahgoube
 

Clarity Process

Three effective ways to start moving toward clarity right now.