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UW Megachurch Study

UW Megachurch Study

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Published by Keegan Hamilton

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Categories:Types, Research
Published by: Keegan Hamilton on Aug 22, 2012
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial


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'God is like a Drug...': Explaining Interaction Ritual Chains in American Megachurches
James K. Wellman Jr.Associate Professor and Chair Comparative Religion ProgramJackson School of International StudiesUniversity of WashingtonBox 353650Seattle, Washington 98195 jwellman@u.washington.eduKatie E. CorcoranPh.D. CandidateDepartment of SociologyUniversity of WashingtonBox 353340Seattle, WA 98195-3340Kate Stockly-Meyerdirk Graduate StudentComparative Religion ProgramJackson School of International StudiesUniversity of WashingtonBox 353650Seattle, Washington 98195James K. Wellman Jr. and Kate E. Corcoran are members of the SSSR.April 8, 2012Word Count: 11,178Acknowledgements: Direct Correspondence to James K. Wellman Jr., Comparative ReligionProgram, Jackson School of International Studies, University of Washington, 401 Thomson Hall,Box 353650, Seattle, WA 98195 (jwellman@u.washington.edu). We would like to thank StevenPfaff, Marion Goldman, and Jason Wollschleger for their valuable feedback on earlier drafts andScott Thumma and Warren Bird for making the data available to us.Statement regarding data: Scott Thumma and the Leadership Network scholar, Warren Bird,gathered the core data for the current study. The data is being used by permission and is not publically available at this time.
'God is like a Drug...': Explaining Interaction Ritual Chains in American Megachurches
This paper applies "interaction ritual theory" (Collins 2004) to American megachurches. We propose that megachurches are successful interaction ritual venues and powerful purveyors of emotional religious experience. We predict that these interaction rituals will result in positiveemotional energy for participants, membership feelings, membership symbols charged withemotional significance, and heightened spirituality. Drawing on recent work in cognitive scienceand evolutionary psychology, we provide a biological foundation for understanding emotionalenergy and its impact on decision-making. We use mixed-methods to test our hypotheses. From acensus of 1,250 known megachurches in America, 12 were selected that closely represent thenational megachurch profile. At each church, services were observed, interviews and focusgroups were conducted, and attendees participated in an all-congregation survey. We triangulatethese data sources to provide a more comprehensive picture of the megachurch interaction ritual.The combined qualitative and quantitative results provide strong support for our predictions.
3The emergence of megachurches has transformed the American religious landscape(Chaves 2006, 2011). American Christianity has shifted from a smattering of mainline andevangelical Protestant denominational churches, befitting small-town American life, to averitable cavalcade of post-modern, post-suburban, post-denominational megachurches(Thumma 2007; Ellingson 2009; Wilford 2012). Since the 1970s, these high-profile, high-energy, and highly popular megachurches have been growing, both in number andcongregational size, at an unprecedented rate. The total number of megachurches in the UnitedStates alone has increased from 350 in 1990, to over 600 in 2000, and there are now over 1,200,with no indication of slowing down (Hartford Institute for Religion Research). Although themedian congregation size of the typical American church is 75, more than 50 percent of allchurchgoers attend the largest ten percent of churches in America (Thumma and Travis 2007).While not a particularly new style of worship (see the evangelist Aimee Semple McPherson’sAngelus Temple, Sutton 2007; as well as twentieth century forms of mainline megachurches,Wellman 1999), this large, charismatic, stylistically avant garde, yet typically theologically and politically conservative church format has all but taken over the religious market in many partsof the United States (Miller 1997; Sargeant 2000; Ellingson 2008; Wellman 2008).Megachurches have not only become potent players in American culture and politics (Vaughan1993; Thumma 2000; Loveland and Wheeler 2003; Twitchell 2004), but also in their localreligious markets, where they affect growth rates of nearby congregations (Eisland 1997;Wolleschleger and Porter 2011).In light of past research theorizing and documenting the negative effect of increasingcongregational size on organizational vitality and various forms of member commitment (Pintoand Crow 1982; Finke 1994; Stark and Finke 2000; Dougherty 2004; Finke, Bahr, and Scheitle2006), the widespread success of megachurches requires further investigation. Moreover,considering the impact megachurches are having on American culture, politics, and localreligious markets, it is important to understand why they have such a large appeal. Ellingson's(2010) review of the megachurch literature identifies two major limitations of previous research.

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dm_shank added this note
There is the oxytocin
Steve-O added this note
The tendency is for a magachurches to dominate the Christian landscape today. The programs must be systematic and stylistic. Nothing bad in and of itself. However, this movement drowns out the Holy Spirit. Christ spent three years training His disciples. They brought the Acts 2:38 message to the world. That is the faith once given. Entertainment is what these new churches provide.
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