By Margarita Nahapetyan
The National Survey of Megachurch Attendees, a newly released U.S. survey by Leadership Network and Hartford Seminary's Hartford Institute for Religion Research, has revealed that compared to attendees of a typical Protestant church, individuals who attend megachurches are more likely to be young, single, wealthy and more educated.
Carried out from January to August 2008, the survey results are based on responses from nearly 25,000 worshipers at 12 carefully selected megachurches all across the United States. Additional site visits, interviews, staff surveys and other information that has been gathered for the study purposes, also contributed to the findings. The new report, titled "Not Who You Think They Are: The Real Story of People Who Attend America's Megachurches," is claimed to be the largest national representative study of megachurch attendees conducted by any researchers to date.
Among the most significant survey findings are:
The majority of megachurch attendees - 62 per cent - are under the age of 45 years, while 35 per cent of those in a typical congregation fall into the 18 to 44 years age group.
About 30 per cent of megachurch attendees are single, unmarried individuals. In a typical church, singles account for just 10 per cent of all worshipers. 80 per cent of those in a typical congregation are married or widowed.
Megachurch attendees appear to be both more educated and more well-to-do, compared to worshipers in other churches.
The majority of megachurch attendees are not necessarily new to Christianity, but nearly 25 per cent had not recently attended another church prior to coming to a megachurch.
Newcomers in most cases start attending a megachurch at the invitation of family members, co-workers or close friends. Only 19 per cent said that they saw the church or viewed media about it and came on their own. And 16 per cent said they viewed the church's website before attending.
The real attraction for the majority of megachurch attendees seems to be the church's reputation, worship style and senior pastor.
Long-term attendance is a result of an appreciation for the church's music and arts, social and community outreach, and adult-oriented programs.
45 per cent of megachurch attendees never volunteer at the church.
Forty-five per cent strongly agreed that their spiritual needs were being met and only 14 per cent of the worshipers expressed a level of dissatisfaction with their spiritual growth at the megachurches.
The survey also found that regular attendance, involvement, and financial donations increased over the time. Fewer people reported "much growth" in their faith after 5 years of attendance. However, these individuals were still more likely to experience satisfaction in spiritual growth, compared to those who attended the churches of all sizes.
Scott Thumma, M.Div., Ph.D., professor of sociology of religion at Hartford Seminary and a principal author of the survey report, said that the study demonstrated that megachurch attendees are a distinct group of people - often with younger age than worshipers at churches of other sizes - with complex patterns of involvement. They draft their own special, customized spiritual experiences through the multitude of ministry choices and diverse ways for involvement that megachurches offer.
"Participants interact with the megachurch on their own terms in order to meet their individualized needs, rather than following some prescribed or idealized plan created by the church's leadership," Thumma said.