Historicizing the megachurch


The dominant view of megachurches claims they represent a new religious form, born in the United States in the 1970s and 80s. Contrary to this position, this research demonstrates that megachurches enjoy a long history in Protestantism. An important example from the 16th Century Huguenot architect Jacques Perret reveals an early Protestant vision for a large, multi-functional worship space. Soon after, this vision became realized in bricks and mortar. Revivalism and the Institutional Church Movement of the 19th and early 20th Centuries provide further connections between megachurches and the past. Revivalism provided the motivation for Protestants to go out and reach the masses, and the Institutional Church Movement provided the infrastructure to attract, convert, and nurture them. The demographic shifts that occurred following WWII led to the proliferation of churches in post-war America. This meant that large churches became increasingly visible, but journalists and social commentators mistook their increase in prevalence for lack of historical precedent. Pastors and other leaders, capitalizing on the appeal of innovation, reinforced this view. This research offers an important corrective that helps situate megachurches in the United States in their proper context.

Journal of Social History