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A megachurch is a church with an unusually large membership that also offers a variety of educational and social activities, usually Protestant, including Evangelical. The Hartford Institute for Religion Research defines a megachurch as any Protestant Christian church having 2,000 or more people in average weekend attendance. The megachurch is an organization type rather than a denomination.

The concept originated in the mid 19th century, with the first one established in London, England, in 1861. More emerged in the 20th century, especially in the United States, and expanded rapidly through the 1980s and 1990s. In the early 21st century megachurches were widespread in the US and a growing phenomenon in several African countries, Australia, and elsewhere. In the late 2000s and early 2010s, they became more untraditional, with most newer ones having stadium type seating.


Baptist Metropolitan Tabernacle, in London

The origins of the megachurch movement, with many local congregants who return on a weekly basis, can be traced to the 19th century.[1][2] There were large churches earlier, but they were considerably rarer.

The first evangelical megachurch, the Metropolitan Tabernacle with a 6,000-seat auditorium, was inaugurated in 1861 in London by Charles Spurgeon.[3]

In the United States, in 1923, the Angelus Temple was inaugurated in 1923 with a 5,300-seat auditorium in Los Angeles by Aimee Semple McPherson.[4]


A megachurch has been defined by Hartford Institute for Religion Research (2006) and others as any Protestant Christian church which at least 2,000 attend in a weekend.[5][6][7][8] The OED suggests that megachurches often include educational and social activities and are usually Protestant and Evangelical.[9] Globally, these large congregations are a significant development in Protestant Christianity.[10]

Most of these churches build their building in the suburbs of large cities, near major roads and highways, to be visible to as many people as possible and easily accessible by car.[11][12] Some install a large cross there with a view to evangelization and the edification of believers.[13]

A study by the Hartford Institute for Religion Research published in 2020 found that 70 percent of American megachurches had a multi-site network and an average of 7.6 services per weekend.[14] The study also found that the majority of US megachurches are located in Florida, Texas, California and Georgia.[15]

In some of these megachurches, more than 10,000 people gather every Sunday. These are called Gigachurch.[16][17] In 2015, there were about 100 gigachurches in the United States. [18]

By region


The Glory Dome, affiliated with Dunamis International Gospel Center, with 100,000 seats, in Abuja, Nigeria

Megachurches are found in many countries of Sub-Saharan Africa, including Tanzania, Nigeria, South Africa, Ghana, Kenya, and Uganda.[19] The largest church auditorium, The Glory Dome, was inaugurated in 2018 with 100,000 seats, in Abuja, Nigeria.[20]

The Americas

Dream Center Headquarters in Los Angeles.
Show on the life of Jesus at Igreja da Cidade, affiliated to the Brazilian Baptist Convention, in São José dos Campos, Brazil, 2017

United States

In 2010, the Hartford Institute's database listed more than 1,300 such megachurches in the United States; according to that data, approximately 50 churches on the list had average attendance exceeding 10,000, with the highest recorded at 47,000 in average attendance.[21] On one weekend in November 2015, around one in ten Protestant churchgoers in the US, or about 5 million people, attended service in a megachurch.[22] 3,000 individual Catholic parishes have 2,000 or more attendants for an average Sunday Mass, but they are not called megachurches as that is a specifically Protestant term.[8]

In the United States, the phenomenon has more than quadrupled in the two decades to 2017.[23]


In 2007, five of the ten largest Protestant churches were in South Korea.[24] The largest megachurch in the world by attendance is South Korea's Yoido Full Gospel Church, an Assemblies of God (Pentecostal) church, with more than 830,000 members as of 2007.[24][25]


According to Australian scholar Hey (2011), "in Australia, almost all megachurch developments are Pentecostal, or charismatic and neo-Pentecostal offshoots".[26]

One of the first megachurches in Australia was the Christian Outreach Centre (COC),[26] now the International Network of Churches.[27][28]

Hillsong Church, was founded in 1983 in Sydney, New South Wales out of two Christian Life Centre churches and has since planted churches all around Australia and the world. [29] Another significant Australian international Pentecostal network is the C3 Global Network, founded in 1980.[28]


In 2005, Baptist Pastor Al Sharpton criticized megachurches for focusing on "bedroom morals", statements against same-sex marriage and abortion, by ignoring issues of social justice, such as the immorality of war and the erosion of affirmative action.[30]

In 2018, American professor Scot McKnight of Northern Baptist Theological Seminary criticized nondenominational megachurches for the weak external accountability relationship of their leaders, by not being members of a Christian denomination, further exposing them to abuse of power.[31] However, a study by the Hartford Institute for Religion Research published in 2020 found that 60% of American megachurches were members of a Christian denomination.[32]

Some megachurches and their pastors have been accused by critics of promoting a "prosperity gospel", where the poor and vulnerable are encouraged to donate their money to the church rather than saving it, in the hopes that God will bless them with wealth.[33][34][35] This in turn increases the wealth of the pastors, with some revealed to wear designer clothing during sermons and own luxury vehicles.[36][37][38]

See also


  1. ^ Loveland & Wheeler 2003, p. 35.
  2. ^ "Exploring the Megachurch Phenomena: Their characteristics and cultural context". Archived from the original on November 1, 2015. Retrieved February 6, 2010.
  3. ^ Hunt 2019, p. 50.
  4. ^ Kurian, George Thomas; Lamport, Mark A.; Encyclopedia of Christianity in the United States, Volume 5, Rowman & Littlefield, 2016, p. 1471.
  5. ^ "Church Sizes". Retrieved August 29, 2017.
  6. ^ Baird, Julia (February 23, 2006). "The good and bad of religion-lite". The Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved November 5, 2006.
  7. ^ Turner, Bryan S.; The New Blackwell Companion to the Sociology of Religion, John Wiley & Sons, 2010, p. 251.
  8. ^ a b "Megachurch Definition". Hartford Institute for Religion Research. Archived from the original on May 14, 2016. Retrieved February 6, 2010.
  9. ^ "megachurch". Oxford English Dictionary (Online ed.). Oxford University Press. (Subscription or participating institution membership required.)
  10. ^ Loveland & Wheeler 2003, p. 3.
  11. ^ Hunt 2019, p. 77.
  12. ^ Wilford, Justin G.; Sacred Subdivisions: The Postsuburban Transformation of American Evangelicalism, NYU Press, 2012, p. 78.
  13. ^ Loveland & Wheeler 2003, p. 156.
  14. ^ Baer, Maria; US Megachurches Are Getting Bigger and Thinking Smaller,, November 19, 2020.
  15. ^ Kim, Allen (April 27, 2019). "What is a megachurch?". CNN. Retrieved March 30, 2021.
  16. ^ Jeff Strickler, What makes a gigachurch go?,, USA, July 19, 2008
  17. ^ Stanley D. Brunn, The Changing World Religion Map: Sacred Places, Identities, Practices and Politics, Springer, USA, 2015, p. 1683
  18. ^ Jim Tomberlin, Multisite 2016: What’s New and What’s Next?,, USA, December 31, 2015
  19. ^ Ukah, Asonzeh (February 6, 2020). "Chapter 15: Sacred Surplus and Pentecostal Too-Muchness: The Salvation Economy of African Megachurches". Handbook of Megachurches. Brill Handbooks on Contemporary Religion, Volume 19. Brill. pp. 323–344. doi:10.1163/9789004412927_017. ISBN 9789004412927. S2CID 213645909. Retrieved February 5, 2022.
  20. ^ Berglund, Taylor; World's Largest Church Auditorium Dedicated in Nigeria,, December 7, 2018.
  21. ^ "Hartford Institute for Religion Research, database of Megachurches". Retrieved February 6, 2010.
  22. ^ "The megachurch boom rolls on, but big concerns are rising too". Religion News Service. December 2, 2015. Retrieved February 1, 2016.
  23. ^ "Redirect". Archived from the original on June 19, 2010. Retrieved August 29, 2017.
  24. ^ a b "O come all ye faithful". Special Report on Religion and Public Life. The Economist. November 3, 2007. p. 6. Retrieved November 5, 2007.
  25. ^ "In Pictures: America's 10 Biggest Megachurches". Forbes. June 26, 2009.
  26. ^ a b Hey, Sam (2011). God in the Suburbs and Beyond: The Emergence of an Australian Megachurch and Denomination (PhD). Griffith University. doi:10.25904/1912/3059. Retrieved February 5, 2022. PDF.
  27. ^ "About". International Network of Churches. Retrieved February 5, 2022.
  28. ^ a b "Hillsong becomes a denomination". Eternity News. September 19, 2018.
  29. ^ Sam Hey, Megachurches: Origins, Ministry, and Prospects, Wipf and Stock Publishers, USA, 2013, p. 66-67, 265-266
  30. ^ Associated Press, Megachurches have wrong focus, black leaders say,, July 2, 2006.
  31. ^ Wellman, James Jr.; Corcoran, Katie; Stockly, Kate; Ficquet, Éloi; High on God: How Megachurches Won the Heart of America, Oxford University Press, 2020, p. 212
  32. ^ Bird, Warren; Thumma, Scott; Megachurch 2020 : The Changing Reality in America’s Largest Churches,, 2020.
  33. ^ Biema, David Van (October 3, 2008). "Maybe We Should Blame God for the Subprime Mess". Time magazine. ISSN 0040-781X. Retrieved March 30, 2021.
  34. ^ "How Megachurches Blurred the Line Between Religion and Riches". HowStuffWorks. December 1, 2017. Retrieved March 30, 2021.
  35. ^ "The Worst Ideas of the Decade (". Retrieved March 30, 2021.
  36. ^ Niemietz, Brian. "Megachurch preacher buys wife a $200,000 Lamborghini, tells parishioners 'Don't confuse what I do with who I am'". Retrieved March 30, 2021.
  37. ^ Rojas, Rick (April 17, 2019). "Let He Who Is Without Yeezys Cast the First Stone". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved March 30, 2021.
  38. ^ Stevens, Alexis; The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. "Creflo Dollar's ministry says he will get his $65 million jet". The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Retrieved March 30, 2021.