Megachurches Make You High

According to a new study, attending worship at a megachurch is similar to getting high:

By: Stephanie Pappas, LiveScience Senior Writer

Published on LiveScience

DENVER — More and more Americans are spending their Sundays at megachurches, enormous churches with congregations numbering in the thousands. Despite the size of these churches, members don’t get lost in the crowd, new research finds.

In fact, a new study of 12 representative megachurches spread across the country finds that the size of these churches is a major part of their appeal. Members report that the experience of worshiping with thousands is intoxicating, the researchers find.

“It’s an addicting experience, it’s so large, it’s so huge,” said study researcher Katie Corcoran, a graduate student in sociology at the University of Washington. “One respondent said you can look up to the balcony and see the Holy Spirit go over the crowd like a wave in a football game.”

Read the rest: Megachurch Study Suggests Big Congregations Make Worship ‘Intoxicating’ Experience.

I have been to megachurches, of course, and they always make me cynical. But I’m sure that some readers happily attend them, so tell us what you like about your megachurch.

  • Phil Miller

    It seems to me that interviewing people who are actually members of megachurches is going to skew your results quite a bit. Personally, the biggest church I’ve been part of ran at max probably around 750 or so in a service, and I think that was probably too big. I was on staff and on the worship team there, so I think that’s part of the reason why I’ll probably never attend one again. Seeing all the work that is required to put on a big service is kind of depressing. It’s so much energy spent for something that really doesn’t matter that much.

    • Frank

      Tell that to the thousands and thousands who connect with God through the worship, teaching, serving and relationships developed in the church. If Sunday is not that important to you then the problem is with you not the church.

      • Phil Miller

        Chill, dude.

        I didn’t say that being part of a church itself isn’t important. I just think that what happens on a typical Sunday morning service at a megachurch (or many evangelical churches) isn’t all that important. Ask the average attendee what the pastor’s sermon was about the next day, and most probably wouldn’t even remember. As far as group worship experiences, they have their place. I just think that far too much time, energy, and money is spent on things like A/V and production.

        • Frank

          I am just wondering why you would denigrate something that obviously works and obviously draws people closer to God. If it’s not important to you once again the problem is not with the Sunday service but with you and your heart?

          Yes some services are more like shows than others but to dismiss the Sunday service as unimportant has no basis in reality.

          • Phil Miller

            I think you and I would have different definitions of what the phrase “obviously works” means, or at to what goal the work is heading toward.

            Does a service at a megachurch “work” in making people there feel better? Maybe.

            Does it work in producing better disciples of Christ throughout the week? I have my doubts.

          • Frank

            Ok that’s more fair. But to discount peoples very real experiences of God and discipleship through the Sunday service seems petty and small minded.

  • Stephen Hood

    If the experience was supposed to make me feel high, they must have been using some really low grade ditch weed.

  • Curtis

    Seems to be a worthless survey. How can they reach any conclusion about megachurches if megachurches are the only churches they survey? It is just as likely that all churchgoers have strong positive feelings about the church they attend; I don’t see how they can conclude it has anything to do with the size of the church based on this survey.

    In addition, their use of addiction vocabulary is troubling. For anyone who has been impacted by real addiction, casually throwing around terms like “intoxicating” and “addicting” is a real turn off, and generally a sign that they don’t have anything of substance to say. I don’t think they mean these people are actually addicted to church. So what do they really mean? What is their point?

  • KJ

    In my experience….
    - what is great about church is often even better in a mega church.
    - what is problematic about church is often even worse in a mega church.
    - I believe mega churches are actually BETTER at crisis care, counseling, etc because they often have a full time (or two, or three) pastor assigned to such duties.

    I don’t think any church can “make me cynical”….but one can certainly reinforce the cynicism I already have about a particular theology, methodology, etc.

  • http://djword.blogspot.com Rick Bennett

    Douglas Rushkoff talked about this in his book Coercion almost 10 years ago. He actually compared what went on a a Promise Keepers Rally to a Jets Football game to a Nazi Rally. All of them are very different, but use emotions to reach the same emotional high and touch the same synapses through similar means.

    This type of worship is the same thing, categorically/ scientifically speaking.

  • http://www.nateweatherly.com Nate W.

    I used to feel cynical about large churches, until, by grace, I realized that they are full of real individual people, just like me, striving after peace, love, and rest.

    I attend a large multi-campus church, but when I see the hundreds of people there I see hundreds of individuals loved by God infinitely, each on their own unique path, simply doing what they know to do as best they can. Large church, small church, house church, no church, it doesn’t MATTER. Who are you sitting next to? He/She is your neighbor. They are there. You are there. Love them as best you know how. It’s the exact same thing in every church. If we all did that there would be no difference between large and small churches.

    Let’s try to stop blaming the structures and splitting and start living fully exactly where we are. It’s possible in ANY church!

  • http://djword.blogspot.com Rick Bennett

    Here is a link to that book I mentioned.

    http://www.rushkoff.com/coercion/

  • http://nathancreitz.net Nathan Creitz

    I’m not saying mega or even “bigger-than-normal” churches are bad, but I’ve seen too many members of large churches feel too safe. Of course, this can happen in a small church too but the impression in a large church is that Christianity is safe, normal, and comfortable. Instead, when we are facing opposition, criticism, and even persecution, we recognize our mission is one of sacrifice and danger. Again, this isn’t a “large church problem” it’s an American church problem but I think large churches especially must resist the temptation to get comfortable in their own buildings.

  • Sam

    i work for a large multi-site church…it’s neither intoxicating nor addictive. It’s a machine. As I look out over the “audience” from the various camera shots in the control room that I run, I see individual people that are just as disengaged in worship and during the sermon as a grade school play.

  • Mary

    Nothing wrong with mega-churches ….. however, “safety in numbers” comes to mind … safety from the hard work of a faith community where you know almost everyone and have probably seen their kids do and say bad things; … safety in the “Us” with a capitol U; …safety from having to do much of the discipleship yourself when there are too many jobs for Bible school and not enough faces to do the work; … safety in corporate beliefs that do not require nor encourage you to pray and decipher God’s meaning and will yourself
    ‘peoples’ very real experiences of God and discipleship’ can be found in many settings.
    I just prefer a place, a heart for, and anticipation of the Spirit’s to stirrings
    rather than the calculation and staging of it.

  • http://charityjilldenmark.wordpress.com Charity Jill

    There have been a couple of times in my life where I have needed the anonymity and “christianity-lite” messages of the bigger churches, just to get me back in the swing of things…during the times I needed “spiritual milk.” After awhile I would need to go find a smaller, more intimate church body whose operations were more in line with what I believe the church should be…but then again, most of the sermon podcasts I listen to are by pastors of bigger churches. So, I’m not really sure what I prefer anymore…

  • http://www.rjaypearson.com R. Jay Pearson

    Tony, having visited my own fair share of megachurches, I share your cynicism.

  • http://www.nateweatherly.com Nate W.

    Yes, mega churches can and often do contribute to disengaged, consumeristic, opiated masses. Yes, inch deep and half hour long praise songs may do far more to whitewash rotting hearts then mend them.

    But cynisim is far more corrosive to the kingdom than any mega church.

    We have the church we deserve. The path to change is entering what is broken and living within as if the structure cannot bind you. Cynicism binds. Love frees.

    Again, who is your neighbor? Love them where they are. Render to the mega-church belongs to the mega-church.

  • http://www.ChecksChristian.com IamChristian

    Not so sure about this…megachurchs feel more like a concert venue than an actual church…at least from my past experience.

    • http://www.rjaypearson.com R. Jay Pearson

      Exactly. In the vast majority of my experiences in megachurches, their function, if not their very objective, is to entertain and evoke emotional response.

  • http://www.nateweatherly.com Nate W.

    The problem is this: we talk about these churches as if they are institutions that can be critiqued apart from making judgements about the heart of every person involved, from the pastor and his team, to the custodians, to the person in row “S” seat 21. Seek first to understand the heart of any single person involved with any church (instea of presuming to know their minds) and at the bottom of it all, i you adk enough questions and have ears to hear their answers, you will find someone exactly like you. Do this with every person in the church and you will find it impossible to lump them all together as “people who go to mega churches”. Church is not a venue, it is people agreeing that they all seek the same thing And humbly joining to seek together (whether they realize what the actual thing they seek truly is or not).

    That’s not to say that people in churches do not behave in ways that oppress others and garden hearts, but that the road to change isn’t in WITHDRAWING and CRITIQUING, but in following Christ who ENTERED INTO and LOVED.

    Can’t we see that cynicism is bred from an even deeper consumerism than loving to worship in a mega-church? To critique from the safety of the outside (let alone the Internet) is far more individualistic, consumeristic, and corrosive than to love worshiping with others, regardless of the practices and beliefs of the structure.

    What the church needs is a non-violent insurrection from within, not corrosive critique. The ineffective structure of the “church” needs to be died for, not crucified.

    • Dan

      I think cynicism for cynicism’s sakes, is garbage. So I understand that point. However, this is not an issue of critiquing an invdividual’s motives or heart. I know for a fact most of these people have very sincere hearts. They want community, they want to connect with Christ and follow him, etc. This is not the issue. The issue at hand is the ever growing problem of the cycle we’ve caught ourselves in. We want to connect with God, so what does the church tell us? Go to church… consume the songs and get involved in a small group. We want community, so what does the church tell us? Get involved in small groups and discipleship groups. Nothing is wrong with these things individually. The problem comes when we become so addicted to these expressions of faith that we cannot function without them. Ask the average person to stop going to church for a month and find God outside the structure, and they would most likely be unable to do so. THAT is the problem. The expressions have become the idol we look to. The structures become the very thing that separate us from forming holistic relationships with The Christ. Alot of people want to sit back and say, “hey, at least some people are coming to christ. At least were growing a bit. At least were still here.” And there are a lot of good things these churches do. But the small amount of good, doesn’t cover the large amount of growing need we are unable to even begin to fathom. We are called to higher purpose than leading a mass in songs and teaching each week. That is what this is all about, regardless of how our intentions lead us. I’m loosing faith that there can be massive change from within the structure called “church.” Change will most likely come from outisde church structure, but from within the organic living Body we are. Don’t justify your traditions for the sake of traditions, and forget the wild beings we are called to be.

  • Jay

    Nate W, Thanks for your input. In the midst of a lot of experience-based opinions, you’ve written with Christlike maturity. You have a lot of wisdom with this subject and we needed to read it.


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