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Megachurches: Large Modern Churches and Their Pastors

Updated on February 12, 2017
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Chris spent 50 years in the Evangelical world as a layman, as a student at a prominent Christian University and as a missionary and pastor.

Megachurches. This article features a list of the largest megachurches in the United States and the names of their pastors. The article discusses the common characteristics of megachurches as well as the type of people who attend megachurches.

Willow Creek Community Church, South Barrington, Illinois

Source

The Rise of Megachurches in America

I grew up in the rural farm country of Indiana attending Church with my family at a small Quaker (aka Friends) meetinghouse outside the city of Marion. I'll bet we never had more than a hundred people at a typical Sunday morning service. That is quite a contrast to some of the Churches springing up around the country these days. They are called Megachurches. I would like to describe the Evangelical Christian phenomenon of the rise of Megachurches around the United States.

Bill Hybels, Senior Pastor of Willow Creek Community Church in South Barrington, Illinois

Source

Who are the pastors of some of the largest megachurches?

  • Central Church , Henderson ,NV Jud Wilhite 22,000
  • Christian Cultural Center, Brooklyn, NY A. R. Bernard 29,000
  • First Baptist Church, Jacksonville, FL Mac Brunson 28,000
  • Gateway Church ,Southlake, TX Robert Morris 20,000
  • Greater Allen A. M. E. Cathedral of New York ,New York City, NY Floyd H. Flake 23,000
  • Lakewood Church, Houston, TX Joel Osteen 44,333
  • LifeChurch.TV, Edmond, OK Craig Groeschel 46,000
  • New Birth Missionary Baptist Church, Lithonia, GA Eddie L. Long 20,000
  • Prestonwood Baptist Church, Plano, TX Jack Graham 31,000
  • Saddleback Church, Lake Forest, CA Rick Warren 20,489
  • Second Baptist Church, Houston, TX Ed Young 22,325
  • Southeast Christian Church, Louisville, KYDave Stone 21,000
  • Thomas Road Baptist Church, Lynchburg, VA Jonathan Falwell 24,000
  • West Angeles Cathedral, Los Angeles, CA Charles E. Blake 20,000
  • Willow Creek Community Church, South Barrington, IL Bill Hybels 23,213

What is a Megachurch?

A Megachurch is currently being defined as a protestant congregation with an average weekly attendance exceeding two thousand and meets several other criteria including the following:

  • Strong, charismatic, usually male senior pastor
  • Multiple associate pastors
  • Large, full time staff
  • Hundreds, even thousands of weekly volunteers
  • Theologically conservative
  • Multitude of ministries and programs organized and run by volunteers
  • Seven day a week activity at the church facility
  • Contemporary worship
  • State of the art sound and projection systems
  • Book stores, coffee shops
  • 30-100 acres of land used for building expansion and parking.
  • Usually located in suburban areas of sprawling cities close to major traffic thoroughfares.

VOA's Jerome Socolovsky reports from Durham, North Carolina, on the rise of the multi-site church

Are there Roman Catholic Churches that are considered megachurches?

There is more to the definition of megachurches than numbers of attenders. Megachurches are known for their strong, charismatic leadership, contemporary worship, many programs and ministries. There are large Roman Catholic Congregations, but few have crossed over to embrace the characteristics of the protestant megachurches.

Who attends a megachurch

The average megachurch attender is consumer oriented, middle class, mobile and well educated with a family. Most are spectator/participants as opposed to those engaged in volunteering in the programs of the church.

Are other countries experiencing this phenomenon?

South Korea, Brazil, and Nigeria and some other African nations have megachurches. South Korea has five of the ten largest churches in the world including Yoido Full Gospel Church in Seoul which has over 800,000 in attendance each Sunday (2007 figure).

How many megachurches are there in the United States?

There are in excess of 1600 U.S protestant churches with weekly attendance exceeding 2,000. Fifty Churches have 10,000 to 47,000 attending.

Singapore Mega Churches Build Malls As Faithful Invest in God

Wearing a white leather jacket and jeans, Senior Pastor Joseph Prince asked God to reward a crowd of about 1,200 with houses, cars, jobs, pay raises and holidays if they contributed to New Creation’s multimillion-dollar funding drive.
Wearing a white leather jacket and jeans, Senior Pastor Joseph Prince asked God to reward a crowd of about 1,200 with houses, cars, jobs, pay raises and holidays if they contributed to New Creation’s multimillion-dollar funding drive. | Source

What is the size of the staff of a megachurch?

While most of these Churches have one senior pastor, they usually have between five and twenty-five associate pastors. In addition, they employ a very large full time staff. The average volunteer staff is in the hundreds, but sometimes reaches a thousand or more.

Where are megachurches located?

Seventy-five percent of megachurches are located in the southern sunbelt of the United States with the highest concentrations in California, Texas, Florida and Georgia. Half of those are in the Southeast region

Megachurches also tend to be located on the growing edge of rapidly growing sprawl cities. They are a phenomenon of the suburbs. These Churches locate themselves on 30 to 100 acres of land which is used for building expansion and parking. Normally, there are major traffic thoroughfares nearby. The major cities which are home to these congregations are Los Angeles, Dallas, Atlanta, Houston, Orlando, Phoenix and Seattle.

Saddleback Church, Lake Forest, CA Senior Pastor, Rick Warren

Pastor Warren's book sales have done  so well that in 2005 he returned his 25 years of salary to the Church and now lives on 10% of his income, giving away 90%.  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rick_Warren
Pastor Warren's book sales have done so well that in 2005 he returned his 25 years of salary to the Church and now lives on 10% of his income, giving away 90%. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rick_Warren | Source

What innovative methods are megachurches utilizing?

One innovation is the use of multi site congregations. Instead of having everyone in one large building, the churches using this strategy, have smaller congregations in various places. The services are all connected by video links. Many churches also use television and internet to reach more people.

What do Megachurches believe?

Megachurches are typically Evangelical Christian (see the link for doctrines) Churches with a variety of slightly different leanings. These include Non-denominational, Baptist, Southern Baptist, Assembly of God, Full Gospel, Lutheran, Presbyterian, Church of God in Christ, Christian, Missionary Baptist, Calvary Chapel, Evangelical Covenant, Pentecostal and others.

Are most of these Churches still growing?

Twenty percent of U.S. Churches other than megachurches are experiencing growth. Eighty percent are plateaued or in decline. Seventy-seven percent of the more than 1600 megachurches are growing at a rate of 11% per year.

The pattern with mega Churches is that once the founding pastor leaves, the church begins to decline in numbers. What does this have to say about the future of mega churches? Some Church growth experts are predicting that it is an unsustainable phenomenon.

What do you think?

What do you think of Megachurches? Are they a good thing or not so good? Do you live near a Megachurch? How has it affected your community? Do you think this is all about money and fame, or do you sense that real ministry is taking place? It's your turn now. I look forward to hearing your feedback.

Thanks for reading,


Chris

Megachurch Attendance Poll

Would you consider regularly attending a megachurch?

See results

Author-Chris Mills

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    • fpherj48 profile image

      Paula 3 months ago from Beautiful Upstate New York

      Chris......This hub earns an A++~~Superb! Aside from the fact that I have a personal aversion to this "Mega Church" concept and existence, with the Televangelists in everyone's faces via publicly-aired sermons and services, this is interesting and educational. Kudos on your excellent research.

      The Swaggart, Jim & Tammi Baker, Gerry Falwell-type preacher-thieves are disgusting and nauseating and quite obviously have deserved their seedy reputations and downfall. Even the visibly cutesy "Smiling Pastors," like Joel Olsteen can be seen through by anyone with an IQ of 70. In short, they are B-A-D....but extremely wealthy. Let us not exclude the Pope!

      I searched your list, looking for one mega-church leader I am familiar with and did not see him included. Dr. Michael Yuseff, founder and President of "The Living Way Ministries." Several years back, I inadvertently caught a radio broadcast of his and was compelled to listen to it's entirety, for some unusual reason.

      Afterward of course, as I most often do with someone I discover for the first time, I researched. I must say he has a fascinating story attached. His multi-million dollar church (physical building) is located in Atlanta Georgia, "The Church of the Apostles,"

      Dr. Yuseff's most interesting history is that he was at one time a devout Muslim-turned-VERY devout Christian, ( from a wealthy Egyptian family.)

      Because of my curiosity, on a visit with my Son & family in Georgia, I asked him to take me to this church on a Sunday morning. So, I found myself & my son and his wife in this massive circular, multi-level, exquisite---(eye-popping) building that resembled a palace, Filled to capacity...as in standing-room only, thousands of parishioners, peering down from the nose bleed level, to the altar in the center of the first floor.

      OK, I admit it. I was in awe.

      The music was fabulous and the sermon inspiring. In general, I was glad I had the experience. My son and DIL were impressed as well. Yuseff is definitely a powerful and charismatic preacher! I swear I could see a bright aura surrounding this man. He appeared larger than life and his voice literally BOOMED via their sound system! I kept peeking at the ceiling, expecting Angels to float down!! :) Woooooooooo. I was a little spooked. LOL

      Once again, Chris.....very well-presented! Thank you. Peace, Paula

    • cam8510 profile image
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      Chris Mills 3 months ago from Maple City, Michigan

      Samuel, I appreciate the visit to my article. The pastors certainly know how to raise money. That may be the primary role in these churches. But they, of course, would claim that bringing people closer to God is their main calling.

      Alan, I agree with you. It takes a lot of willing accomplices to build a church which draws tens of thousands on a regular basis.

    • jonnycomelately profile image

      Alan 3 months ago from Tasmania

      Sam, I would not lay all the blame at the pastor's feet. He will not turn down a bounty, of course.

      A big proportion of the Jesus-hallelulia phenomenon highlights the gullibility of a mega-section of the American people.

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      Samuel Foley 3 months ago

      Just take a look at videos of these televangelists preaching about tithes. Sure, tithing is important, but most of these guys are monsters when it comes to making a fortune with a silver tongue.

    • cam8510 profile image
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      Chris Mills 2 years ago from Maple City, Michigan

      jonnycomelately, It's good to see you back in this hub after two years. This hub has been low on comments and high on page views, at least for one of my hubs. Currently it has a total of 5105 pageviews and has been given Editor's Choice status.

      I appreciate your comment today. The salary and home of a pastor should communicate that he/she understands their own message. Of course, in regard to those who disseminate the prosperity doctrine, that would give them permission to live as high on the hog as they could rise. But to those preaching an honest interpretation of the Bible, a simpler lifestyle is demanded.

    • cam8510 profile image
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      Chris Mills 2 years ago from Maple City, Michigan

      alex, I don't believe that big is bad and small is good in regard to churches anymore than I believe that is true regarding any other institution. But big does invite corruption and mismanagement. Look at the news these days regarding the Red Cross and its performance in Haiti following the earthquake five years ago. This is an example, at the very least, of mismanagement and, at the most, corruption. Size does feed this phenomenon.

      As for the home of any pastor, yes, I expect it to demonstrate an attitude of humility and servanthood. I was a pastor for seven years, so I feel free to speak to that matter. The pastor is paid from the donations of the church attendees. Should a pastor live above the median standard of living represented in his church? I think that is a good guideline. Others say pastors should make the equivalent of what they could make in the business world where similar responsibilities are performed. The fact is there is no equivalent to a pastor in the business world.

      I've already said that large churches have the potential to do an enormous amount of good because of their size. Many of these large churches are doing big things for their communities.

      As the author of this article, I believe I have maintained a middle of the road perspective on the topic. I have criticized and I have given credit where it was due.

    • jonnycomelately profile image

      Alan 2 years ago from Tasmania

      Ok, Alex, so a Big Con deserves a Big Salary and a Big House to live in.

      I only hope Big Daddy up there approves.

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      alex 2 years ago

      so why do you guys want the church to be small ,fastfood joints wants more costumers the world population is increasing, face book have more 2 billion costumers ,but when it comes to the church we should be small and the pastors poor,

    • cam8510 profile image
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      Chris Mills 2 years ago from Maple City, Michigan

      cg, Thanks for reading my article on Mega Churches. Your comment about the homes of these men and women does have some merit. Google the phrase "mega church pastors and their homes" and you will find some of them. In my research for this article, I was impressed by some of the pastors who choose to live more humbly. Thanks again for reading.

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      cg 2 years ago

      These mega churches are run by a bunch of brainwashing crooks who care about money and power. Take a look at the lavish mansions they live in.

      Vatican is the same thing.

    • cam8510 profile image
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      Chris Mills 3 years ago from Maple City, Michigan

      b.crowe, It is a pleasure having you visit my hub and thanks for commenting as well. I find it strange that the prosperity doctrine attracted and held any people at all. You'd think the people would see that it didn't work for anyone but the pastor.

    • b.crowe profile image

      Bridgette Crowe 3 years ago from Morrow La

      I always felt lost in the mega church. Sometimes felt awkward and unworthy, specially when they preached heavy on blessed life and prosperity. The political banter was the big turn off. I realize this does not qualify for all lg churches but it sure has set the standard in many.

    • cam8510 profile image
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      Chris Mills 3 years ago from Maple City, Michigan

      mocity, I just found your comment. I am sorry that it slipped by me. First of all, I hope you can see the objectivity with which I wrote this hub. As in most of my articles dealing with Christianity, my goal is understanding, not condemnation. The Church of Jesus Christ, from day one to today has never been perfect, but who really expects it to be? Humans are involved, therefore it is imperfect. No surprises there. Yes, the comments have been one sided, and I anticipated that response as well. Most non believers, it seems to me, look upon the mega church phenomenon with suspicion.

      I see a great deal of good coming from MCs. The good emanates precisely from the same place as the bad; power and money. On the good side, MCs have incredible wealth with which to impact the world in very practical ways. I have no doubt a lot of money is going toward some very good purposes. Even where power and money have corrupted, there is likely to be some good being done.

      Christians find a community in MCs which give them support and friendship. They are provided avenues and tools for doing good in their communities. There is much more I'm sure. But hopefully this helps you to see that as the author of this article, I am not one sided. I believe I have an objective, valid understanding of these institutions. I have shared my own credentials for being qualified to write this article in other hubs. Thanks for reading and commenting.

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      mocity 4 years ago

      I have read through most of the comments and I must say that it saddens me to read what appears to me as biased, one sided views. I am a follower of Christ Jesus or what most would classify as Christian and I too grew up in a small little Church but as an adult I frequent what you call mega Churches and I find the innovation to be a good thing. I believe that it depends on what is behind why you attended the Church, mega or not. Of course there is some corruption or bad leadership in some, where money, fame and influence is involved there always will be. Mega Churches are not for everybody but the multi site idea is nothing new. The Catholic Church as well as other religions have been doing it for years. I personally think that it is great and to God be the glory. Multi site allows for a greater impact to be Made, all the offering go back to centralized location with is what the Catholic Church for centuries have perfected. I never see any positive reports about the impact and the giving that mega churches or any Church for that matter do. Over half the Churches on your list impact there communities and the world greatly. What you consider showmanship my be a life changing message to someone else.

      When

    • cam8510 profile image
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      Chris Mills 4 years ago from Maple City, Michigan

      Back up a little and tell me your story, it sounds very interesting. I'd like to hear it. If you prefer, you can go to the fan mail page. You will see an email option there. Send me some of your story that way.

    • Michael-Milec profile image

      Michael-Milec 4 years ago

      Oh, Chris brother, there is so much to share : while living under communistic dictature, in order to be able to" share the truth" ( under no circumstances without proper diploma) my master degree of divinity didn't rob me of my Faith, ( bein very active and popular for period of time after the ordination) -got the " special " visa entry into the USA , only to be out due to the submission to the will of God not of the dictature of a man. ( sorry, if you feel to take this out, it's OK)

    • cam8510 profile image
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      Chris Mills 4 years ago from Maple City, Michigan

      Michael, I appreciate your comments and insights. I agree that there is a lot of ego in these mega churches. I can understand the excitement though. Everybody wants to be part of something bigger than themselves, something successful. I try not to be too critical. Maybe I'm jealous. I was a pastor for seven years. My church started with twelve people and it was around eighty when I left. Thanks for stopping and reading/commenting. I enjoy your input.

    • Michael-Milec profile image

      Michael-Milec 4 years ago

      Once again well prepared , much information providing article. Clearly exposed man- made business less of what has been reported in the Book of Acts of "church", less of God , more about wide spread public excitement and interest. That's my understanding of mega churches. Due to the lack of personal search for the truth and right-standing with God and a felloman , people " hungry " for the God and godliness and up prey to certain individuals whose interst is their " ego ".

      My experience in " birth land " is less with the traditional churchism and more of personal relationship with the living Lord Jesus. This sounds crazy, is weird to talk about, however it took me through life safe and sound , happy and healthy up to this very hour. ( on my own since age 15)

      More and more individuals dare to talk of similar experience on the street , or the market place. See, if there is God who loves his creation- man, if he provided redemptive price for bringing fallen mankind back, than there is God who wil communicate the way He chooses and let you know His will for you.

      Don't take me wrong, the communities of faithful ones are necessary , many benefit from them, but it ought to be/ IS under the jurisdiction of the Allmighty and not of a man.

      Thanks, Chris.

      Voted up and valuable. Keep up with good work

      ( Michael)

    • cam8510 profile image
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      Chris Mills 4 years ago from Maple City, Michigan

      Unfortunately I don't see a lot of difference between the things you have mentioned and the mega churches. I do think that they have a philosophy that drives them. They are attempting to be relevant to the contemporary culture. But when there is that much money, power and fame, I'm not sure the leadership can maintain a purity of principle.

      The response to this hub seems to be average for me, which is fine. I just keep writing what I am interested in and in my own style. Thanks for showing up. I always appreciate your presence and thoughtful comments.

    • jonnycomelately profile image

      Alan 4 years ago from Tasmania

      Is there any fundamental difference between a Mega church, an

      Amway meeting and a Landmark Forum?

      Again, for some one wanting to make a big pot of money, is there any difference between a football match, a big Casino filled with people pushing buttons and a Mega church?

      Cam8510, thanks for this Hub. Not many seem to be interested, but you got at least a few responses/

    • cam8510 profile image
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      Chris Mills 4 years ago from Maple City, Michigan

      Excellent story. That happened to me once. I was in Papua New Guinea right after college for a summer mission tour. I hiked with a Missionary and three men acting as pack carriers. We traveled through a rainy muddy stretch one day. We arrived at a village where we were to eat and sleep in the pastor's house. He washed our feet as we entered. I objected, but he proceeded. It doesn't always turn out that way. I'd like to think I would do as the Vicar did.

    • jonnycomelately profile image

      Alan 4 years ago from Tasmania

      I am reminded of the story which came out of Britain several years ago.

      Some "hippies" were camped down the road from a small country church.

      On Sunday morning, they all turned up at the church and walked in, bare-footed and sat at the back of the church for the entire service.

      Later, several members of the regular congregation complained to the vicar, primarily about them likely to leave nasty dirty marks on the carpet! For want of any better excuse, presumably.

      The next Sunday, as the hippies entered the church, the vicar was at the door to welcome them, kneeling down to wash their feet for them in a bowl of water.

    • cam8510 profile image
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      Chris Mills 4 years ago from Maple City, Michigan

      jonnycomelately, it's a good question. I did see that very scenario at a church once with five hundred or so in attendance. As the organist was playing he walked up and stood beside her to watch. Somebody went up and walked him to the front pew and sat with him for the service. The guy came back for weeks and sat with the same man. There were other reactions as well. Not as good as the first. I have a feeling there would be that same mix many places. But in the megachurches, he wouldn't get to the organist, or guitarist. Good question.

    • jonnycomelately profile image

      Alan 4 years ago from Tasmania

      I wonder what the response of those people up on stage would be (and the majority of those in the "audience" would be) if a lowly person; a down on his/her luck, dirty, long-haired, hungry, pleading person who for some reason had missed out on any state-provided welfare, was to walk into the arena, asking for help.

      Would "they" first offer him/her basic needs of food, water, friendship? Or would they offer him/her "Jesus?"

      Would they require that he/she become "saved" first? Would they require "nice" clothing? Would they require him/her to be washed and smell clean?

      Would there be real love displayed, unconditionally, as a fellow human being? Or would any love be given - at a cost?

      The whole showmanship arena disgusts me.

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      Chris Mills 4 years ago from Maple City, Michigan

      ALUR, Like you, I am not of the Christian faith. There is something about preaching in a "Church building" that has a negative effect on the message. It makes it academic. It isolates the message from the real world and real life. I prefer my communion with my higher power to be part of my day to day life. This works for me, although I do know people who still swear by Church.

    • ALUR profile image

      ALUR 4 years ago from USA

      Though I am not of the Christian faith, thanks for sharing. What I fear most about religion is man/woman and dogma. If one truly preaches the word of God, then it need not be in a Church but in moral actions regardless of being behind a pulpit or on the radar or a fundamentalist. The true calling of a believer is tolerance.

    • cam8510 profile image
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      Chris Mills 4 years ago from Maple City, Michigan

      Hi Laura, nice to see you again. Those are the people these churches attract. Young professionals and their families. I do no one Church near me where I have attended occasionally, that is quite large for our area. There are about 1200 or so I think on each Sunday. It seems to be a good mix of professionals and working class. I'm sure that depends largely on where the Church is. Yes, there does seem to be a lot of showmanship. I did enjoy the preaching at that particular Church. Very practical. Thanks for stopping by.

    • LauraVerderber profile image

      Power Ball Pythons 4 years ago from Mobile, AL

      My husband calls this style "PowerPoint Jesus". I liked the old lady who played every Sunday on the organ while volunteers sang in the choir in my old Catholic church. It was certainly not as technologically advanced, and I think more personal. I think at these mega churches there is a crowd/mob pressure to join in the hysteria and come down in front of everyone to be saved. It's rather distasteful showmanship. I also think there's a lot of money being funneled around. I know several college students who want to be lawyers. They aren't religious but they go because their families do and it gives them connections.

    • LauraVerderber profile image

      Power Ball Pythons 4 years ago from Mobile, AL

      Interesting article. I always about these. I too grew up in a Catholic church. It was very private, beautiful, quiet, and contemplative. My friend brought me to a Protestant Church and I thought we at a football rally but no, it was a mega church. I think people like that because it can be a fun, social event but it is certainly not for me.

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      Chris Mills 4 years ago from Maple City, Michigan

      billybuc, Thank you for visiting. I just got this one up. I am with you. I am not comfortable with the big show. I attended a Church recently which had about 1200 and a lot of what I wrote about in the article was in that Church. Thanks for the compliment. I always appreciate the good feedback.

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      Bill Holland 4 years ago from Olympia, WA

      It's all about the bling, isn't it? :) How do I feel about these megachurches? It smells too much like show business to me, and I readily admit I may be cynical in stating that.

      I grew up in the same Catholic parish and was there for 24 years...everyone knew everyone, and you could count on everyone chipping in to volunteer where needed. Maybe my background is keeping me from appreciating these megachurches. :)

      Great job of compiling information on this subject.