American evangelicals have created several enclaves and headquarter cities in the last two decades. Wheaton, Illinois has long been viewed as the evangelical Vatican, but then in the 1980s many large parachurch organizations moved to Colorado Springs, and then some relocated again to Orlando, Florida.
Now Dallas is becoming a new center due to the proliferation of another distinctive evangelical institution — megachurches. Christianity Today (May 21) reports that the rapid growth and large size of such congregations as First Baptist Church in Dallas, Highland Park Presbyterian, the African-American Oak Cliff Bible Church and the Potter’s House; the presence of seminaries like Dallas Seminary and Criswell College, and the establishment of prominent parachurch groups all point to an evangelical groundswell with significant national influence.
The reasons for such a concentration of evangelicalism in Dallas are legion, but most scholars cite the entrepreneurial style of religion in the city as accelerating the evangelical growth. Although Dallas is still not recognized as an evangelical center in the way that Wheaton and Colorado Springs is, Darrel Bock of Dallas Seminary calls the city the “stealth capital of evangelicalism. It represents a conglomeration of several movements . . . if you actually measure the influence of the leaders, churches and institutions it has produced, it would certainly belong among those other towns.”
The Dallas Morning News (April 20) weighs in on the Dallas phenomenon and notes how non-evangelical churches — from the large gay and lesbian Cathedral of Hope to the thriving Hispanic Catholic cathedral and Temple Emanu-El, one of the five largest U.S. Reform Jewish synagogues, are also part of the unique Dallas scene. Church historian Bill Leonard thinks Dallas’ remaining “frontier culture” explains the religious growth.
“It remains a place where immigrants — and those may be immigrants from Michigan — come in and find religion as a way to connect with the culture.”