megachurches on the slide?

is the age of the megachurch showing signs of beginning to pass? here is a fascinating look at this question in USA Today.

statistical blip or the start of a trend?

On paper, megachurches look like a trend still on the rise. Their total number rose from 600 in 2000 to more than 1,250 in 2005, says sociologist Scott Thumma of the Hartford Institute for Religion Research in Hartford, Conn.

On Outreach magazine’s 2008 list of the largest 100, even the smallest says more than 7,000 people attend. But some of the biggest, including Joel Osteen’s Lakewood Church in Houston, with 43,500, showed slight declines.

Experts see more troubling concerns than slowing growth: No measurable inroads on overall church attendance and signs that many churchgoers are spectators, not driving toward a deeper faith.

“You can create a church that’s big, but is still not transforming people. Without transformation, the Christian message is not advanced,” says Ed Stetzer, head of Lifeway Research in Nashville, which did the Outreach study.

The unchurched remain untouched. While the number of people who say they attend at least once a week hovers around 30% year after year, the number who say they “never” go to church climbs.

emphasis added.

this is a fascinating comment from Bill Hybels of Willow Creek:

Willow is still “seeker-obsessed,” says Hybels. “But today’s seekers are different” than years ago.

Today, he says, “I don’t think anyone is wandering around looking for a mild dose of God. … They want to know: ‘What would a life centered on Christ look like in my life? What would that feel like? How do I go about it?’ “

hat tip to Ligon Duncan at Reformation 21.

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