November 28, 2011
The past 30 years have seen a boom in the number of megachurches in the U.S., from just a handful in the 1970s to thousands today -- but some fear the "megachurch bubble" may soon burst, The Tennessean reports. Most megachurches, which earn the label around the 2,000-attendance mark, are led by pastors nearing retirement age. Churches often shrink when a longtime pastor leaves, and many megachurches have operating expenses too big to sustain if they lose members. Skye Jethani of Leadership magazine compared megachurches to the housing market crisis -- one example of which is the recent collapse of the Crystal Cathedral near Los Angeles, which is being sold to pay off more than $40 million in debt. However, some researchers who study megachurches are skeptical that a bubble exists. Sociologist Scott Thumma said all churches were vulnerable during pastoral or demographic changes, but that "good megachurches" would have no problem adapting. People have predicted the end of megachurches for years, he said, but he believes they are here to stay.