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A Profile of Megachurch Participants

Megachurch attenders participate more actively than most people assume, a new study shows.

A 2008 survey by the Hartford Institute for Religion Research and The Leadership Network finds that people who attend megachurches tend to be younger, single and wealthier than those who attend smaller churches. The survey also finds that contrary to perception, the majority of those attending a megachurch are not new Christians but have a prior history of church attendance, and that participants interact with the church on their own terms.

Not Who You Think They Are: The Real Story of People Who Attend America’s Megachurches,” by researchers Scott Thumma and Warren Bird is the largest nationally representative study of megachurch participants conducted to date. It is based on 24,900 questionnaires filled out at 12 representative megachurches across the country in early 2008.

The survey’s results offer a fuller picture of the attitudes and spiritual habits of the people in megachurches.

Key findings include:

• The average age of megachurch participants is 40 years old, compared to the average church members at smaller churches, which is 53 years old.

• Only 6 percent of megachurch participants said they had never attended church services before.

• Nearly 55 percent of people attending megachurches say they volunteer in the life of the church, and roughly 70 percent say they contribute more than a small amount of money to their church.

• Sixty percent of those attending megachurches are engaged in a small group, a mainstay of megachurch programming.

The survey’s authors conclude that megachurch participants are far from the detached anonymous spectators many people assume. Most participants engage in personal Bible reading and prayer and 87 percent of megachurch attendees said they invited their friends to services. Indeed, only 14 percent of participants said they were dissatisfied with their spiritual growth.

Furthermore, the longer people attend a megachurch the more involved they become and the greater their financial contributions.

“Participants interact with the megachurch on their own terms, to meet their individualized needs rather than on some prescribed or idealized plan created by the churches’ leadership,” the authors write in the 2008 report.

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