How do I found a mega-church

Church congregations as religious “market players”?

Megachurches are getting more and more popular in the USA. Why? Sociologist Prof. Dr. Thomas Kern from the University of Bamberg names three reasons for their success in his study: less attachment to church traditions, religious self-realization and low access barriers for new members. The sometimes rapidly growing communities adapt their supply to demand. Building on these previous findings, Kern will address the question of "How do religious markets arise?" From October 2019.

Up to 40,000 Americans flock to the largest congregation in the USA, the Lakewood Church in Houston, whose buildings are the size of medium-sized German football stadiums. There are now an estimated 1,700 megachurches in the United States. These are evangelical congregations with more than 2,000 Sunday visitors. There are also some in Europe, such as Great Britain and the Netherlands. The chair for sociology, especially sociological theory, at the University of Bamberg has scientifically examined its success. For their case study, chair holder Thomas Kern and research assistant Dr. Insa Pruisken over 70 employees from four parishes in Texas in 2013 and 2014. They also interviewed church members online and evaluated community guidelines, among other things. The study was funded by the German Research Foundation (DFG).

New needs, new offers

Her first finding: Young people in particular often feel only loosely connected to the ethnic groups and religious traditions in which they grew up. "Those who no longer identify so strongly with the religious background of their own family, but still want to remain Christian, can sometimes be kept in the church by the religious 'pop culture'", explains Kern.

Second, religious self-actualization and spiritual experiences move to the fore, traditional rituals and liturgical elements in the background. "In order to increase the subjective well-being of the visitors, megachurches rely on popular music, entertaining and everyday sermons and children's services with varied programs", explains Pruisken. There are age-appropriate offers for every family member, starting with small children.

Third, the barriers to entry for new members are falling. Religious content such as sermons is digitized and distributed via social media. “The cultural demarcation between the religious and the secular world is tending to be dismantled in this way,” says Pruisken.

Kern sees this as a new social development that is having an impact on Protestantism in the USA as a whole: “A new institutional logic seems to be taking hold that follows the rules of a market.” Local communities would develop into religious competitors with their own identities and goals . They perceive the believers more often as a religious “audience”, to whose demands they would have to adapt their range of services.

How do religious markets arise?

In a new research project starting in October 2019, Kern and Pruisken are investigating why a market logic has developed in Protestantism in the USA and how the participation of parishioners is changing. The German Research Foundation (DFG) is funding the project with around 400,000 euros until 2022. In it, the researchers compare the religious market formation of two American metropolitan regions: Houston and Minneapolis-St. Paul.

You can find a detailed article about megachurches in the “uni.vers research 2019” magazine of the University of Bamberg: www.uni-bamberg.de/univers-forschung/2019

Publication:
Thomas Kern and Insa Pruisken. 2018. What is a religious market? On the change in religious competition in the USA, Zeitschrift für Soziologie, https://doi.org/10.1515/zfsoz-2018-1002.

Picture: Thomas Kern researches megachurches in the USA.(2.3 MB)
Source: Tim Kipphan / University of Bamberg

Further information for media representatives:

Contact for questions regarding content:
Prof. Dr. Thomas Kern
Holder of the chair for sociology, especially sociological theory
Tel .: 0951 / 863-2620
thomas.kern (at) uni-bamberg.de

Media contact:
Patricia eighth
Press officer
Tel .: 0951 / 863-1146
patricia.achter (at) uni-bamberg.de