SAN ANTONIO — Do you know how a “megachurch” is defined?
A Protestant church with more than 2,000 members.
Why only Protestant churches? Because Protestant churches — especially evangelical churches — are very different from one another. And megachurches, as a panel of experts are telling us just now, are very different from smaller or more traditional Protestant churches.
Scott Thumma, a leading megachurch expert at the Hartford Institute for Religion Research, explained that megachurches have the professional staffs and resources to put their members to work and help them grow their faith. They see their own vast memberships as a mission field.
“Large churches have structures to move people — from a nominal Christian to a committed follower of Christ,” he said. “Smaller churches don’t have that discipleship program nearly as well defined.”
Most of the large congregations in the Lower Hudson Valley are Catholic parishes. But people don’t think of mega-parishes as a different breed because Catholic parishes, great and small, pretty much do things the same.
Catholic life centers around the Mass. There are more Masses in larger parishes. Most parishes have the same range of ministries.
But I wonder if the real big parishes in, say, northern Westchester are adopting any megachurch strategies simply to reach people, so individuals don’t get lost. I think I’ll ask them when I get the chance.
In the rest of the country, meanwhile…megachurches have really transformed Protestant life. They are cities unto themselves that are incredibly focused and organized, like soul-saving corporations.
In fact, the Rev. Ricky Hill, chief operations officer at Friendship-West Baptist Church of Dallas, just said this:
This is a business, y’all. We have the best boss in the world, but it’s still a business…We’re trying to address social services needs and social justice issues.