A megachurch is a church with a very large membership that also offers a variety of educational and social activities. Most megachurches are Protestant, and particularly Evangelical, although the word denotes a type of organization, not a denomination. The Hartford Institute for Religion Research defines a megachurch as any Protestant Christian church that draws 2,000 or more people in a weekend.

The first megachurch was 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 21st century, megachurches became widespread in the United States and a growing phenomenon in several African countries and Australia. In the late 2000s and early 2010s, they shifted away from traditional church architecture, with most newer ones having stadium-type seating.[citation needed]


Baptist Metropolitan Tabernacle, in London, England

The origins of the megachurch movement, with many local congregants who returned 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 was founded in 1861 in London by Charles Spurgeon at the Metropolitan Tabernacle, which had a 6,000-seat auditorium.[3]

The first megachurch in the United States was the Angelus Temple, founded in 1923 by Aimee Semple McPherson in a 5,300-seat auditorium in Los Angeles.[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] These large congregations are a significant development in Protestant Christianity.[10]

Most of these churches build their buildings 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 as decoration for believers and to signal to potential new members.[13]

A 2020 study by the Hartford Institute 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 most U.S. megachurches are in Florida, Texas, California, and Georgia.[15]

Churches that gather more than 10,000 people every Sunday have been dubbed gigachurches.[16][17] In 2015, there were about 100 gigachurches in the United States. [18]

Several megachurch pastors also preach on television or radio programs, thereby also being televangelists. Aimee Semple McPherson was a pioneer of radio evangelism and a founder of an early megachurch. Robert Schuller, Oral Roberts, Jerry Falwell, Joel Osteen, and T. D. Jakes developed both megachurch and television audiences.

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 Dream Center Headquarters in Los Angeles
Worship at Lakewood Church in Houston
Show on the life of Jesus Christ at Igreja da Cidade, affiliated to the Brazilian Baptist Convention, in São José dos Campos

In 2010, the Hartford Institute's database listed more than 1,300 megachurches in the United States. About 50 churches on the list had average attendance exceeding 10,000, and one had 47,000.[21] On one weekend in November 2015, around one in ten Protestant churchgoers in the U.S.—about 5 million people—attended service in a megachurch.[22] Some 3,000 individual Catholic Church parishes have 2,000 or more attendants for an average Sunday Mass, but they are not called megachurches as that is a 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] In 2007, the largest megachurch in the world by attendance was South Korea's Yoido Full Gospel Church, an Assemblies of God (Pentecostal) church, with more than 830,000 members.[24][25]

Graha Bethany Nginden, is a megachurch which is one of the largest churches in Surabaya, Indonesia and Southeast Asia. The Church is affiliated with Bethany Indonesian Church.



Australian scholar Sam Hey wrote in 2011 that "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[clarification needed] of affirmative action.[30]

A study by the Hartford Institute published in 2020 found that 60 percent of American megachurches were members of a Christian denomination.[31] 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.[32]

Some megachurches and their pastors have been accused by critics of promoting prosperity theology, 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". Hirr.HartSem.edu. Archived from the original on November 1, 2015. Retrieved 6 February 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". www.USAChurches.org The Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved 29 August 2017.
  6. ^ Baird, Julia (23 February 2006). "The good and bad of religion-lite". Retrieved 5 November 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 6 February 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. ^ Maria Baer "US Megachurches Are Getting Bigger and Thinking Smaller" christianitytoday.com, 19 November 2020
  15. ^ Kim, Allen (27 April 2019). "What is a megachurch?". CNN. Retrieved 30 March 2021.
  16. ^ Tribune, Jeff Strickler Star. "What makes a gigachurch go?". Star Tribune. Retrieved 2023-12-18.
  17. ^ Stanley D. Brunn, The Changing World Religion Map: Sacred Places, Identities, Practices and Politics, Springer, USA, 2015, p. 1683
  18. ^ Multisite 2016: What’s New and What’s Next? outreachmagazine.com, Jim Tomberlin, 31 December 2015
  19. ^ Ukah, Asonzeh (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.
  20. ^ Taylor Berglund (2018) World's Largest Church Auditorium Dedicated in Nigeria, charismanews.com
  21. ^ "Hartford Institute for Religion Research, database of Megachurches". Hirr.HartSem.edu. Retrieved 6 February 2010.
  22. ^ "The megachurch boom rolls on, but big concerns are rising too". Religion News Service. 2 December 2015. Retrieved 1 February 2016.
  23. ^ "Redirect". www.SecularHumanism.org. Archived from the original on June 19, 2010. Retrieved 29 August 2017.
  24. ^ a b "O come all ye faithful". Special Report on Religion and Public Life by The Economist. 3 November 2007. p. 6. Retrieved 5 November 2007.
  25. ^ "In Pictures: America's 10 Biggest Megachurches". Forbes. 26 June 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 5 February 2022.
  27. ^ "About". International Network of Churches. Retrieved 5 February 2022.
  28. ^ a b "Hillsong becomes a denomination". Eternity News. 19 September 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, chron.com, July 2, 2006.
  31. ^ Bird, Warren; Thumma, Scott; Megachurch 2020 : The Changing Reality in America’s Largest Churches, hirr.hartsem.edu, 2020.
  32. ^ 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
  33. ^ Biema, David Van (3 October 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. 1 December 2017. Retrieved 30 March 2021.
  35. ^ "The Worst Ideas of the Decade". www.washingtonpost.com. 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'". nydailynews.com. Retrieved March 30, 2021.
  37. ^ Rojas, Rick (17 April 2019). "Let He Who Is Without Yeezys Cast the First Stone". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 30 March 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 30 March 2021.