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Imagine a congregation where 10,000 people gather each week for worship, where church budgets are $15 million a year and where thousands of people volunteer for programs weekly. Welcome to the world of megachurches. The past thirty years have seen a proliferation of these massive congregations throughout the nation. There are over 1,500 of these congregations in the U.S., and while less than half a percent of all congregations, they attract more attention than all other religious communities in the nation combined. This course will look at the phenomenon to understand the common characteristics of megachurches, how they function, why they are attractive. In so doing, we will focus on what lessons can be learned and used effectively by churches of all sizes and denominational traditions.
Monday, June 4 – Friday, June 8, 9:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. (Monday, Tuesday and Thursday), 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. (Wednesday) and 9:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. (Friday)
Notes: schedule envisions 3 afternoon field trips (Mon, Tue, Thu), each followed by class dinner debrief. Wed is a shorter day to give us all a mid-course break and Friday allows time to commute back home. Each day we’d offer lunchtime educational videos about megachurches for those who bring bag lunches. July (date TBA): one hour interactive f/up session online.
Primary: Warren Bird, Adjunct Professor of Religion and Society, firstname.lastname@example.org (845) 368-4379
Dr. Bird (www.leadnet.org/warrenbird) is one of the nation’s leading scholars on megachurches. He has co-authored 24 books for ministry leaders, one of them with Hartford’s Scott Thumma. Many of his books draw from megachurches. He has also written a number of research reports on megachurches (several with Scott Thumma). An ordained minister, his pastoral experience includes churches that range from small churches to a megachurch.
Frequent Guest Presenter: Scott Thumma, Professor of Sociology of Religion, email@example.com (860) 509-9571
- Describe the megachurch phenomenon as it appears in contemporary U.S. society.
- Understand the role megachurches are playing the contemporary American religious context.
- Explore the key characteristics of these churches and how they address changes that have taken place in American society in the past few decades, which congregations of all sizes also face.
- Understand basic sociological concepts and theories relevant to the megachurch phenomenon.
- Class presentation on a megachurch or aspect of the phenomenon 20 percent
- Attendance and class discussion – active participation 35 percent
- Reading summary 20 percent
- 15-page paper exploring a theme 25 percent from the course - due after the course, topic and date to be determined.
- Those taking the course for D.Min. credit will be provide an extra book report and a 20 page final paper, negotiated during the week of classes.
Further instruction on requirements will be posted as the course date approaches or in class. The final paper should conform to the Seminary’s “General Guidelines for a Research Paper.”
Grading Scale (within letter grades there will be +’s and –‘s)
below 70% F
Expectations - Given that this is a 5 session, one-week course, I would strongly suggest that students NOT miss any class meetings, even for a few hours. One absence, with a very good reason and, ideally, prior approval, might be tolerated but anyone who misses more than one class period will lose a full letter grade or more off their final grade.
Please come to class well prepared. Since we only meet five times within one week, and I will be basing over a quarter of your grade on participation, come prepared by having done the readings and engage in the discussion.
The majority of the reading assignments for the week must be completed prior to the class meetings. You will need to read and take good notes in order to refer to them during our week of class meetings. During the evenings between class meetings, there may be exercises using the web or short articles to read for the following day.
*** NOTE: I welcome auditors in the class but I expect any auditor to do the vast majority of the reading and participate in the class discussion as well as encourage auditors to do a class presentation. ***
If anyone has any questions, suggestions, difficulties, or comments please use the contact information on the first page of this syllabus.
The standard Seminary policies regarding plagiarism and writing style apply to this course. For more information about these policies see the student handbook or the Seminary’s web site.
Pre-Class reading summary – Bring to the first class, a 2-4 page comparison and review of 2 articles you choose from those listed as required reading. Briefly summarize each of the two articles, evaluate their arguments and content, and then compare the findings and ideas within the two articles.
Research project - Each student will choose either a megachurch to research or an aspect of the phenomenon to explore across several megachurches. The student will gather information about this aspect of the phenomenon or church for presentation to the class on the last two days of the course. The purpose of this presentation is twofold: 1) to uncover primary sources related to this phenomenon, and 2) to introduce more information about the phenomenon or congregation to the class. The primary source might include a church’s confessional statements, published materials from the organization, sermons, videos, news reports, web material and other items that furnish information about the church or phenomenon.
Students will use this material, plus other scholarly sources to write a 15 page research paper on a topic related to this phenomenon or an exploration of one megachurch, its history, growth, breadth of ministry and leadership. This paper must explore information about the phenomenon in relation to larger patterns of culture and societal changes that have taken place in America in the past decades and relevance for the future of religion in the US. Please be prepared to sign up for a presentation topic by the end of the third day of class and a preliminary idea of your final paper by the end of the course.
Schedule of Topics and Readings
NOTE: the REQUIRED readings for this course MUST BE read before the first meeting date. Please come to our first class prepared to discuss the readings.
Thumma, Scott and Travis, Dave
2007. Beyond Megachurch Myths: What We Can Learn from America's Largest Churches. Jossey-Bass-Wiley Leadership Network Series.
Miller, Donald E.
1997. Reinventing American Protestantism: Christianity in the New Millennium. Berkeley: University of California Press.
Sargent, Kimon H.
2000. Seeker Churches: Promoting Traditional Religion in a Nontraditional Way. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press.
Online articles – on the web or the SonisWeb course site
Bird, Warren and Thumma, Scott, “New Decade of Megachurches,” www.leadnet.org/megachurches
Thumma, Scott. 2008. “Megachurches Today 2008 - Changes in American Megachurches” Available electronically at http://hirr.hartsem.edu/megachurch/Changes%20in%20American%20Megachurches%20Sept%2012%202008.pdf
Thumma, Scott and Warren Bird. 2009. “Not Who You Think They Are: The Real Story of People Who Attend America’s Megachurches,” www.leadnet.org/megachurches
Eiesland, Nancy L. 1994 "Contending with a Giant: The Impact of a Mega-church on Exurban Religious Institutions." In Contemporary American Religion: An Ethnographic Reader. Penny Edgell Becker & Nancy L. Eiesland (eds.) AltaMira Press. Available electronically on sonisweb site
Chaves, Mark 2006, “All Creatures Great and Small: Megachurches in Context.” Review of Religious Research, 47:329-346. Available electronically on sonisweb site
Tucker-Worgs, Tamelyn. 2001 “Get on board, little children, There’s room for many more: The Black Megachurch Phenomenon.” The Journal of the Interdenominational Theological Center, Vol XXIX Nos. 1&2 Fall 2001/ Spring 2002. Available electronically on sonisweb site
Mighty Fortresses: Research note about megachurches and demographic context Available electronically on sonisweb site
Recommended: if you want more information or have a ton of time on your hands.
Books (in recommended order):
Thumma, Scott and Warren Bird.
2011. The Other 80 Percent: Turning Your Church’s Spectators into Active Participants. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
Schaller, Lyle E.
2000. The Very Large Church. Nashville: Abingdon.
1992. The Seven Day a Week Church. Nashville: Abingdon.
Lower priority would be Schaller’s
1985. The Middle-Size Church: Problems and Prescriptions. Nashville: Abingdon.
1980. Multiple Staff and the Larger Church. Nashville: Abingdon.
2005. A Mosaic of Believers: Diversity and Innovation in a Multiethnic Church. Bloomington, Indiana: Indiana University Press.
2007. The Megachurches and the Mainline. Remaking Religious Tradition in the 21st Century. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Pritchard, G. A.
1996. Willow Greek Seeker Services: Evaluating a New Way of doing Church. Baker Books: Grand Rapids, Michigan.
Barnes, Sandra L.
2010. Black Megachurch Culture: Models for Education and Empowerment. New York: Peter Lang.
2011. The Black Megachurch: Theology, Gender and the Politics of Public Engagement. Waco, TX: Baylor University Press.
Free rider article – Available electronically on sonisweb site
Congregational Economies of Scale – Available electronically on sonisweb site
Thumma, Scott. 2010. “Ten Mega-Tips for Ministries of Any Size” Outreach. http://www.churchleaders.com/outreach-missions/outreach-missions-articles/156871-10-tips-from-large-churches-for-ministries-of-any-size.html?utm_source=newsletter&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Daily-Update
Thumma, Scott. 2005. “Megachurches Today 2005” Available electronically at http://hirr.hartsem.edu/org/faith_megachurches_research.html
Thumma, Scott. 2000. “Megachurches Today: Summary of Data from the Faith Communities Today Project.” Available electronically at http://hirr.hartsem.edu/org/faith_megachurches_FACTsummary.html.
Thumma, Scott. 1998 “Exploring the Megachurch Phenomena” Available electronically at http://hirr.hartsem.edu/bookshelf/thumma_article2.html
Finke, Roger. 1994. "The Quiet Transformation: Changes in Size and Leadership of Southern Baptist Churches." Review of Religious Research 36:3-22. Available electronically on sonisweb site
Pinto, Leonard J. and Kenneth E. Crow. 1982. "The Effects of Size on Other Structural Attributes of Congregations within the Same Denomination." Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion 21:304-316 Available electronically on sonisweb site
Stonebraker, Robert J. 1993. “Optimal Church Size: The Bigger the Better.” Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion 32:231-241. Available electronically on sonisweb site
Wilken, Paul H. 1971. “Size of Organizations and Member Participation in Church Congregations.” Administrative Science Quarterly 16:173-179. Available electronically on sonisweb site
Zaleski, Peter and Charles Zech. 1992. “Determinants of Contributions to Religious Organizations.” The American Journal of Economics and Sociology 51:459-472. Available electronically on sonisweb site
Hougland, James G., Jr., and James R. Wood. 1980. "Control in Organizations and the Commitment of Members." Social Forces 59:85-105. Available electronically on sonisweb site
Martin, Nancy, 2007. “Small groups in big churches” Available electronically on sonisweb site
Stark, Rodney, 2008. megachurch attender chapter from What Americans Really Believe Available electronically on sonisweb site
Barna Group, 2009. “How Faith Varies by Church Size,” http://www.barna.org/barna-update/article/12-faithspirituality/289-how-faith-varies-by-church-size
“World’s Largest Church” http://www.pbs.org/wnet/religionandethics/episodes/january-27-2012/yoido-full-gospel-church/10162/
BET “Exalted” series covering three megachurch pastors: Charles Blake, Paul Morton, Kenneth Ulmer, http://www.tvguide.com/detail/tv-show.aspx?tvobjectid=290655&more=ucepisodelist&episodeid=7192257
NOTE: This schedule of topics is very tentative at this point. It will change prior to, and probably during, the summer class.
Introduction to the Megachurch, basic characteristics and how this phenomenon fits into American society.
The first day provides an overview of the megachurch phenomenon: The number and location of megachurches across the United States, common characteristics, and how they function. Based on the 2010, 2008, 2005 and 2000 national studies as well as my other work.
How They Grow and Succeed
Image is everything?
What can their success teach us?
Megachurch site visit in the afternoon
Megachurch Attenders – who are all these people?
The second day will focus on the latest research on who attends these congregations and the quality and depth of their spiritual lives. “Megachurch Attender Report” Available electronically on sonisweb site
Where do they come from?
What attracts them?
Why do they stay – or go?
Integration of members
Commitment and Participation in the Megachurch
Megachurch site visit in the afternoon
What megachurches do, and how they do it.
Megachurch site visit in the afternoon
Challenges, New Trends & Implications
New Forms and Functions
Thumma, Scott and Travis, Dave, Beyond Megachurch Myths: What We Can Learn from America's Largest Churches. Jossey-Bass-Wiley Leadership Network Series, 2007. Buy now
Miller, Donald E., Reinventing American Protestantism: Christianity in the New Millennium. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1999. Buy now
Sargent, Kimon H., Seeker Churches: Promoting Traditional Religion in a Nontraditional Way. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 2000. Buy now