13. September 2013 07:18
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Megachurches, made possible by a perfect storm of exponential population growth, more freedom to worship than at any time in history and charismatic leadership, are a rapidly spreading phenomenon of modern religion. A megachurch is defined as a church with an average weekly attendance of over 2000. The number of megachurches has increased from 10 in the 1970s to over 1600 in 2013. Although megachurches make up less than one percent of all churches, they serve over 10 percent of all regular church-goers. They also draw in an estimated $7.2 billion annually, all of which is exempt from taxation. Megachurch members are overwhelming white, although several notable African-American megachurches have come to the forefront in recent years. States below the Mason-Dixon Line lead the way in the number of megachurches, although California, with its large population base, also makes a respectable showing.
Megachurches not only provide for the religious needs of their members, many megachurches offer fitness centers, game rooms and other extras to draw in new members and serve their local communities. America was founded on free market competition, so it is not surprising that some of those same principles have spread to religious organizations and churches. However, megachurches are not a strictly American institution; the largest church in the world is located in South Korea and claims to serve over 850,000 members. Much like big-box stores are accused of hurting smaller businesses, megachurches are often blamed for drawing away members of other churches in numbers significant enough to lead to the closure of some churches. On the other hand, six percent of attendees of megachurches represent people who have never attended church on a regular basis.
Most megachurches are founded and led by a single pastor. Some megachurches also have a presence on local and national television, which spreads their popularity further afield and draws in additional funds. The fact that some megachurch pastors have apparently strayed from the Biblical principles of austerity and poverty seems not to trouble the faithful who attend their weekly services, watch on television, buy their books and open wallets to provide donations. Multimillion-dollar estates, private jets and luxury vehicles are among the perks enjoyed by several well-known megachurch ministers, although many do fund charities and engage in other types of charitable giving.