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General Interest

Biggest Megachurch Sanctuaries?

By May 15, 2012 No Comments

by Warren Bird

If you do an internet search for “biggest churches” or similar, you will find lots of websites listed. The vast majority deal with facilities, not people. They track the most square footage, the most acreage, the tallest buildings, the highest steeples, the costliest construction, the longest times from groundbreaking to final completion, and the like.

Some mention big gathering halls for religious conventions, such as the Redeemed Christian Church of God which in 2013 opened a 100,000-seat pavilion that it built for semi-annual all-church conferences. But at this point, it’s not being used for weekly worship.

I’m most interested in the way churches serve people’s spiritual needs, so my curiosities about “biggest buildings” mostly surround how the facilities are actually used today. Among U.S. Protestant churches today, the trend is definitely away from constructing giant sanctuaries. In fact, average seating in a typical megachurch is surprisingly small, according to a national survey of megachurches (“A New Decade of Megachurches,” page 5) that I conducted through Leadership Network along with co-researcher Scott Thumma of the Hartford Institute for Religion Research:


While megachurches have very large attendance figures, they often do not have massive sanctuaries. In fact, when we asked the seating capacity for each church’s largest worship area, the average in megachurches is 1,778 seats, with a median of 1,500. As in our previous surveys, it is apparent that megachurches make excellent use of multiple services to increase their capacity, and many also are multisite (one church in two or more locations). While virtually all have multiple Sunday morning services, 48% have one or more Saturday night services, and 41% have one or more Sunday night services. Megachurches hold on average 5.5 services from Friday through Sunday.

Since really big worship areas continue to make the news, I’ve compiled a list of all known Protestant sanctuaries in the United States with seating capacities over 5,000. Out of 1,650 megachurches – congregations with weekly attendances of 2,000 or more adults and children, only about 2% – fewer than three dozen – exceed 5,000 in seating capacity. Click here for an illustrated list of all churches that seat 5,000 or more, and kindly report any corrections or oversights to me at DrBirdAssistant@gmail.com.

Additional Fun Facts about Megachurches

For more blogs in this “megachurch” series, see also “World’s First Megachurch?”“Youngest Megachurch Pastor?” , “Megachurch Languages?”,  “Megachurch Books?”, and “How Many Megachurches?” 



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Warren Bird

Author Warren Bird

Warren Bird, Ph.D. has been named a Leadership Network Senior Fellow in light of his exemplary service 2006-2018 as Director of Research and Intellectual Capital Development at Leadership Network. He currently serves as SVP of Research for ECFA.org (the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability). An ordained minister with background as both a pastor and seminary professor, Warren is an award-winning author or co-author of 33 books for ministry leaders including Hero Maker with Dave Ferguson, How to Break Church Growth Barriers with Carl George, and Next: Pastoral Succession that Works with William Vanderbloemen. Other recent titles are Better Together: Making Church Mergers Work with Jim Tomberlin, and Wisdom from Lyle E. Schaller. Some of Warren’s recent online reports include "Leadership Network/Generis Multisite Church Scorecard," and "The Heartbeat of Rising Influence Churches." See also research reports at leadnet.org/megachurchleadnet.org/salary and leadnet.org/portable. He is widely recognized as one of the nation's leading researchers of megachurches, multisite churches, church plants (new churches), large church compensation and high-visibility pastoral succession. He also oversees the world's only active, sortable list of global megachurches. Follow him on Linkedin, or on Twitter @warrenbird.  Click here to subscribe to Leadership Network Advance to get updates from Leadership Network.

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