Although megachurches are portrayed as the quintessential suburban—or post-suburban—religious organization (see book review on pages 10-11), in other parts of the world they are flourishing in the “relatively recent dense urban areas, often with a new and/or rapidly growing Christian population,” according to Scott Thumma and Warren Bird.
These researchers presented a survey of global megachurches at the November conference of the Society for the Scientific Study of Religion (SSSR) in Phoenix, which Religion Watch attended. They find urban megachurches are most prevalent in South Korea (17 percent of all churches), Nigeria (8 percent), China (6 percent) and Brazil (5 percent). They cluster into two dominant models: very large single-site churches on a small plot of land or that of many smaller churches linked together as a single multisite congregation. Based on information that Thumma and Bird obtained from one-third of the global megachurches, three-quarters had multiple site locations, but thought of themselves as a very large single church.Similar to the U.S., the researchers also find a clear pattern of between the size of a religious structure and an area’s population concentration.
As the size of the community increases, the scale of all its institutions grows. There may be more similarities than differences between American and urban megachurches in the near future, since there is a growth in the global networks that connect these congregations. Thumma and Bird find that over 40 percent of non-U.S. megachurches for which they have information have a branch of their congregation in the U.S., “while quite a few American megachurches have church plants, television ministries and conference tours to spread their influence internationally.”
They conclude that the “megachurch phenomenon can be seen as representing a new model of faith community for a contemporary megametropolitan social reality. This model of church provides the necessary characteristics, structures, programs and adaptability to address the challenges of a highly urbanized area for a population of dislocated and under-equipped migrants.”