June 11, 2009
(RNS) -- Megachurches are most attractive to younger adults, and almost all who arrive at their sanctuaries have darkened a church's door before, a new survey shows.
The study by Leadership Network and Hartford Institute for Religion Research, released Tuesday (June 9) found that almost two-thirds (62 percent) of adults who attend Protestant megachurches are younger than 45, compared to 35 percent of U.S. Protestant congregations overall.
Researchers found that just 6 percent of those attending a megachurch -- defined as a congregation attended by 2,000 or more each week -- had never attended a worship service before arriving at their current church. Almost half (44 percent) had come from another local church, 28 percent had transplanted from a distant congregation and 18 percent had not attended church for a while.
"It appears that megachurches draw persons who want a new experience of worship -- contemporary, large-scale, professional, high-tech," said Scott Thumma, co-author of "Not Who You Think They Are: The Real Story of People Who Attend America's Megachurches."
"For the nearly 30 percent coming from a distant church previously ... they want a place to plug in immediately to a community, missions and small groups."
Thumma said he was surprised at how much megachurch attendees invite others to worship with them; just 13 percent said they had not invited anyone in the past year.
In comparison, a different survey by the Hartford Institute for Religion Research found that 45 percent of attendees of mostly mainline Protestant churches had not invited anyone in that same time frame.
"That is radically different from anything I have experienced in other churches," said Thumma, a sociologist of religion at Hartford Seminary, "and goes a long way to explain why these congregations are growing at such rapid rates."
The new study was based on responses to questionnaires by 24,900 attenders at 12 megachurches. Drawn from a possible total of 47,516, it had a 58 percent response rate, and was supplemented by researcher visits, interviews and staff surveys.
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