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Associate Professor and Chair Comparative Religion Program Jackson School of International Studies University of Washington Box 353650 Seattle, Washington 98195 firstname.lastname@example.org Katie E. Corcoran Ph.D. Candidate Department of Sociology University of Washington Box 353340 Seattle, WA 98195-3340 Kate Stockly-Meyerdirk Graduate Student Comparative Religion Program Jackson School of International Studies University of Washington Box 353650 Seattle, Washington 98195 James K. Wellman Jr. and Kate E. Corcoran are members of the SSSR. April 8, 2012 Word Count: 11,178 Acknowledgements: Direct Correspondence to James K. Wellman Jr., Comparative Religion Program, Jackson School of International Studies, University of Washington, 401 Thomson Hall, Box 353650, Seattle, WA 98195 (email@example.com). We would like to thank Steven Pfaff, Marion Goldman, and Jason Wollschleger for their valuable feedback on earlier drafts and Scott 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 positive emotional energy for participants, membership feelings, membership symbols charged with emotional significance, and heightened spirituality. Drawing on recent work in cognitive science and evolutionary psychology, we provide a biological foundation for understanding emotional energy and its impact on decision-making. We use mixed-methods to test our hypotheses. From a census of 1,250 known megachurches in America, 12 were selected that closely represent the national megachurch profile. At each church, services were observed, interviews and focus groups were conducted, and attendees participated in an all-congregation survey. We triangulate these 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.
The emergence of megachurches has transformed the American religious landscape (Chaves 2006, 2011). American Christianity has shifted from a smattering of mainline and evangelical Protestant denominational churches, befitting small-town American life, to a veritable cavalcade of post-modern, post-suburban, post-denominational megachurches (Thumma 2007; Ellingson 2009; Wilford 2012). Since the 1970s, these high-profile, highenergy, and highly popular megachurches have been growing, both in number and congregational size, at an unprecedented rate. The total number of megachurches in the United States 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 the median congregation size of the typical American church is 75, more than 50 percent of all churchgoers 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’s Angelus 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 parts of the United States (Miller 1997; Sargeant 2000; Ellingson 2008; Wellman 2008). Megachurches have not only become potent players in American culture and politics (Vaughan 1993; Thumma 2000; Loveland and Wheeler 2003; Twitchell 2004), but also in their local religious 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 increasing congregational size on organizational vitality and various forms of member commitment (Pinto and Crow 1982; Finke 1994; Stark and Finke 2000; Dougherty 2004; Finke, Bahr, and Scheitle 2006), the widespread success of megachurches requires further investigation. Moreover, considering the impact megachurches are having on American culture, politics, and local religious 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. 3
First, most prior studies are descriptive in nature, do not engage with the sociology of religion literature, and fail to provide "systematic and robust explanations" (263). Second, these studies generally draw on key informant data from pastors and church leaders, rather than the members themselves (see Thumma 1996 for an exception). As such, this research is unable to account for “why people attend; why they join, stay, or leave; how they experience worship, fellowship, or theology of megachurches” (Ellingson 2010:264). Thus, Ellingson (2010) calls for data on megachurch attendees to determine “if and how megachurch programs resonate with the interests of audiences” (264). The current study contributes to addressing these two limitations. First, drawing on Collins' (2004) Interaction Ritual Theory, we argue that megachurches are leaders in the religious market for emotional energy (EE) and ritual solidarity. Collins' (2004) theory assumes that individuals want EE and are thus more likely to take part in rituals to the extent that they provide high levels of it. We propose that megachurches are successful interaction ritual venues and powerful purveyors of emotional religious experience. Megachurch worship services are intentionally orchestrated, complete with elements from pop-cultural sources, which are both entertaining and sensually stimulating. Participants come “hungry” for EE and leave energized. Thus, contrary to past research theorizing the negative effects of large church size on organizational vitality and member commitment, we propose that the size of megachurches facilitates the generation of strong positive collective emotions through large- (i.e., worship services) and small-scale interaction rituals (i.e., small group participation). We predict that these interaction rituals will result in high-levels of EE, feelings of belonging, membership symbols, morality, and heightened spirituality. Second, we draw on qualitative interviews and a large-N survey of megachurch attendees as well as participant observation to investigate attendees' megachurch experience. Interaction Ritual Chains Collins (2004) develops a theory of ritual that looks closely at the patterns and motivations of individuals participating in interaction rituals. Interaction rituals include literally 4
any interaction between two or more humans - anything from a conversation over lunch to a football game. Collins paints a portrait of humans as seekers of what he calls Emotional Energy (EE). Collins defines this relatively ambiguous type of “energy,” a concept borrowed from Emile Durkheim, as confidence and enthusiasm: “This socially derived emotional energy, as Durkheim says, is a feeling of confidence, courage to take action, boldness in taking initiative. It is a morally suffused energy; it makes the individual feel not only good, but exalted, with the sense of doing what is most important and most valuable” (39). He adds, “emotional energy has a powerful motivating effect upon the individual; whoever has experienced this kind of moment wants to repeat it” (39). He argues that emotional energy drives the “market” of options for social action and affiliation; in fact, the goal of sociality is to gain and spread emotional energy. People, groups, and activities that more effectively facilitate the production and proliferation of emotional energy are more attractive. Successful rituals generate strong shared moods that engulf individual consciousness and produce collective effervescence (Durkheim  1965)—"a feeling of being brought out of oneself into something larger and more powerful… this collective feeling may be many different emotions – awe-struck, joyful, solemn, angry, laughing, fearful, sad” (Collins 2004: 39). The extent to which an interaction or experience is able to create EE is what can make two interactions, which seem similar at face value, qualitatively different. EE, is a bodily phenomenon, the success of a ritual, then, is felt and experienced. Although Collins briefly describes some of the physiological underpinnings of EE, more recent work in cognitive science and evolutionary psychology provide a more complete biological foundation for understanding EE and its impact on decision-making. In humans, as well as other mammals, studies have found that cooperation, trust, and attachment are sensitive to oxytocin (i.e., a chain of amino acids) levels. Roughly speaking, oxytocin has an inverse relationship with the release of the stress hormone cortico-steroid; when oxytocin levels rise, defensive postures decrease, levels of trust increase, and autonomic arousal decreases (Carter et al. 2008). Churchland (2011) explains that, although other neurochemicals are also involved in human sociability, as it is a complicated system, oxytocin remains at the center. This primary 5
socializing neuro-peptide is what makes social affiliation “an essential human trait” (Zak 2005). However, human social cognition is a tremendously complex process, involving more than a single network of neuro-peptides. So, although oxytocin networks set a foundation, other evolutionary developments have allowed social cognition to blossom. The prefrontal cortex, which is, evolutionarily speaking, the “newest” part of the brain, is larger in humans than in any other animal. Its patterns of myelination are aided by social learning, and its development enables humans to override, repress, calculate, and plan. Mechanisms in the prefrontal cortex are referred to as the “executive function” of the brain, which help humans acquire social skills and make social decisions (Churchland 2011). Functioning on the level of emotion, oxytocin informs and strongly influences the workings, the thoughts, decisions, and tendencies of the prefrontal cortex. It helps alert the cognitive structures of possible danger, and whether or not another human or animal might be trustworthy. Without the help of hormones such as oxytocin, human cognition would not function correctly, and making a simple decision could take hours (see Damasio 1994:170-173). Research has found that emotion and cognition are so intertwined that it no longer makes sense to say, "emotion and cognition" because, emotion is cognition (Damasio 1994). Damasio explains that “the brain and the body are indissociably integrated by mutually targeted biochemical and neural circuits” (87). The brain, and therefore also the mind, as a phenomenon of the brain, is constantly in communication with the rest of the body. Executive functions of the prefrontal cortex build upon and enhance the already-present social urges provided by oxytocin. Because oxytocin is experienced emotionally, it is fair to say that emotion is a primary platform for cognition (see Phelps 2006; Pessoa 2008; Izard 2009 regarding the intertwined nature of emotions and cognition in the brain). Innumerable bodily and cognitive functions collaborate to help humans successfully navigate and thrive in a world with other thinking agents. (Churchland 2011; McCauley 2011) We propose that Collins’ “emotional energy” primarily represents an oxytocin “cocktail” (oxytocin with other variable, less crucial, neurotransmitters and hormones). Thus, as Collins 6
(2004) argues, individuals seek out interaction rituals that produce high levels of EE (or oxytocin). However, this calculation is driven on a non-reflective level, and only later does the person “rationalize,” on a reflective cognitive level, their behavior (Zajonc 1980).1 Emotions, as non-reflective beliefs, serve as a source of evidence and information for the conscious mind’s construction of reflective beliefs (emotions and other non-reflective beliefs are the ‘input’ and reflective beliefs are the ‘output’).2 According to Collins, the extent to which rituals are able to produce high levels of EE depends on meeting four important conditions: bodily assembly of participants, barriers excluding outsiders, mutual focus of attention, and a shared emotional mood, which culminate to produce four outcomes – group solidarity and belonging, EE, standards of morality, and symbols of membership (Collins 2010). The bodily assembly of people is necessary to create a situation in which people can be affected by the presence of others. Barriers excluding outsiders and energy stars—individuals who are able to affect the EE level of others—help create a mutual focus of attention for all involved, which, in turn, supports a shared emotional mood. These ingredients combined generate mutual entrainment/collective effervescence, which inflates individuals with EE, while at the same time developing membership feelings, standards of morality, and group symbols. Consequently, the level of EE and group belonging that individuals feel, as well as the strength of their belief in group symbols, “rises and falls with the success of” interaction rituals (Collins 2010:4). Collins' (2010) theory of interaction rituals may be especially relevant for the study of religion as religious interaction rituals typically entail all four ritual ingredients and yield strong emotional experiences. While individual religious rituals vary in their ability to produce these emotional experiences, intense emotional experiences are "the defining moments for religion, the ritual encounters with the holy to which other rituals look back if only in pale imitation" (5). Religious rituals differ from secular ones in the holy, divine, or transcendent symbols that they entail and evoke, which allow individuals to feel as though they are channeling and experiencing the divine (Collins 2010). In this way, the ultimate source of EE is believed to be a god, spirits, 7
or the transcendent. Successful religious rituals, therefore, can also produce a fifth ritual outcome—heightened spirituality or connectedness to the divine. By spirituality we mean a desire and affective experience of the ultimate (Wellman and Lombardi 2012). While there has been some research applying Collins' theory to religion (Baker 2010; Heider and Warner 2010), more research is needed on how congregations generate successful religious rituals, their consequences, and how participants experience them. The current study does this in the context of megachurch worship services. Data and Methods Since 1992, Thumma and Bird (2011) have tracked the known population of all American megachurches—congregations with weekly worship attendance of 2,000 or more adults and children—and have compiled them into a Database of Megachurches in the U.S., providing a rough census of American megachurches. In 2007, there were a total of 1,250 such congregations. From this 2007 census, twelve megachurches were chosen that closely reflect the national megachurch profile in terms of a wide variety of characteristics including attendance, region, denomination, dominant race, and church age. While these churches were selected to be representative of the entire population, the sample slightly under-represents the western region and is slightly larger than the average megachurch. Moreover, all churches have a relationship with Leadership Network.3 Table 1 provides descriptive statistics comparing our twelve megachurch sample to American megachurches in 2008.4 In 2008, at each church, services were observed, interviews and focus groups were conducted, and attendees participated in an allcongregation survey. While we use the interviews as our primary source of data, we triangulate these data sources to provide a more comprehensive picture of the megachurch interaction ritual. The qualitative data allows us to depict the specific physical elements of the interaction ritual and to investigate the role of EE in the experiences of attendees. We then supplement the qualitative data with the quantitative data, which we use to test relationships between variables deemed relevant by Collins' (2004) theory and the qualitative analysis. Table 1. about here 8
Qualitative Data Participant observation of the worship services focused on providing a thick description of the interaction ritual context: what is the sequence of the service; who participates; how participants are engaged in the service; is there a mutual focus of attention and what is it; what is the content and tone of the message, and so on. In total, there were 470 interviews (352 in focus groups and 124 individual interviews) conducted.5 Interviews lasted approximately one hour and a half and during them respondents answered questions about how they came to the church; how they became connected with their churches, and in what ways they had, or had not, experienced spiritual growth at the church. Qualitative Analysis Our two-person research team read, discussed, and coded transcriptions of the 470 interviews. They first read through the interviews fully and then began to create codes separately; they then compared their work and adjusted and consolidated their coding themes; next, they read through the interviews again, guided by a coding framework emphasizing four major themes: 1) Salvation and Spirituality; 2) Acceptance and Belonging (both from God and others); 3) Admiration for and Guidance from the leader, most often the clergyman (in every case a male figure); and finally 4) Morality and Purpose through service. These themes tend to track a state and process; salvation as a goal and spirituality as the playing out of salvation; belonging as the state and acceptance as its instrument; admiration as a state and guidance as its process; and finally, morality as the state of being righteous and purpose as how one’s ethical life is lived. In all these ways, salvation, acceptance, admiration, and morality are not limited to fleeting “conversion experiences”, for which megachurches are sometimes stereotyped, but rather were prevalent in descriptions of every aspect of the religious and church experience. Expressions relating to the sensory experience were common—tasting seeing, feeling, touching, listening, feeding, thirsting—and words related to the emotions—loving, longing, feeling, moving, vulnerability, wanting, crying, joy—were not only peppered throughout the interviews, but rather were the driving force behind nearly every description and often the punch line to 9
every story. The researchers did not go into the research intending to find the prevalence of this affective expression, but in the coding process, this focus on forms of emotional energy became clear and consuming. This discovery led us to think about the project in terms of Collins' work. Qualitative Findings Ritual Ingredients Collins' interaction ritual theory provides four ingredients for a successful ritual. First is bodily assembly, which allows individuals to witness others participating in the same ritual and experiencing the same emotions. A minimum requirement for this is bodily co-presence. The large sanctuaries of the megachurches, combined with cameras that survey the audience and project their images on large screens, easily accomplish this. Second are barriers excluding outsiders. The megachurches in this study generally lack this ingredient; however, contrary to Collins, we argue that this promotes successful megachurch rituals. These churches have mastered the art of creating a welcoming, non-intimidating ethos and aesthetic. One person even described the church as being "user-friendly." The pastors typically wear normal, often stylish, street clothes, members are informal, often bringing coffee or food with them into the sanctuary, and the sanctuary itself tends to look more like a gym or warehouse with contemporary lighting and a stage. One respondent clearly described this: "When you walk in the doors [of the church], you are so taken out of church, [...] you lose the bigness because you don't feel like you're at church. You feel like you walked into someone's living room, you've walked into the mall, you've walked into whatever feels comfortable for you. [...] I mean [...] you walk in and your whole perception of walking into a church, a big church or a small church, is obliterated." Rather than a traditional liturgy, the music is upbeat, loud, contemporary, and reminiscent of a rock concert. Lights are low and words for the worship music are projected on the screen at the front, allowing newcomers to sing and follow along easily with no prior experience. Often, members of megachurches describe the “authenticity” that seems to accompany the leaving behind of traditional ritual elements. One man affirms that there is “no pomp and 10
circumstance associated with the worship,” that it is “unpretentious.” Another man notes that the informal approach of the worship leader brings “everybody into true worship… it wasn't a selected playlist of songs that had to be done because they were cool songs. They were songs that were genuine worship of God.” This laidback atmosphere that encourages individuals to "come as you are and be loved" creates an accessible environment that is open and welcoming to newcomers. Moreover, upon arriving at these churches, new individuals are typically greeted with at least one smiling face to answer their questions and lead them to their seat. When remembering their first visit to the megachurch, many respondents described being greeted and welcomed upon entering the building. One woman recalls her first visit in this way: "And as soon as we walked in the door, we were welcomed. We had hugs from the door to our seat from people we didn't even know, just welcoming us. People were opening up, telling us their stories the first day we're here, what brought them here. You just felt welcome. You felt home. You felt that this is the place." Visitors, before the service even begins, experience the calming effect of acceptance and trust. For example, one woman describes her experience emphatically: “…when I walked in, it was like I had come home. It absolutely was. And I had never set foot in this place before. The Holy Spirit was here, that’s all I can say, and still is.” Another concurred: “I have never felt so welcome in my whole life.” The accessibility of the church aesthetic and worship service combined with the welcome teams demonstrate that these churches are attempting to remove barriers to outsiders in order to facilitate newcomers' participation in the church. While Collin's (2004) identifies excluding outsiders as a means of increasing collective effervescence, he also notes how collective effervescence can be amplified when there are more individuals participating in a ritual. The megachurches in this study are effective at bringing a large number of individuals through their doors because they have few if any barriers to entry. Once present for the ritual, they are able to
contribute to a large-scale shared mood that is typically only possible in the context of a several thousand-person ritual. The third and fourth ingredients are the cumulative feedback between a mutual focus of attention and a shared mood. These steps for a successful ritual are initiated naturally as the church service begins. Usually, in megachurches, there are three to five songs at the beginning of the service to get congregants in a worshipful mood – to initiate mutual entrainment. This portion of the service is bursting with what we have coined a connectic experience: a multisensory mélange of sensory input that is often called by members the “feeling of the spirit of God” or “the touch of God.” Whatever it is, we have seen it literally lift people out of their seats, particularly in its relation to altar calls and more generalized megachurch worship. One man described how he and his wife "were kind of blown away by the theatrical set, all the media elements, everything else. It just really – it touches every modality that we have." The stimulation of emotion comes by way of the lyrics of songs that are emotionally charged, often setting up a need (sinfulness) and presenting a solution (Jesus’ blood), in one case slides that were literally pulsating with what looked like blood being squeezed under a microscope. The music is loud and emotive, and it is customary (and sometimes prompted by the worship leaders) for people to raise their hands, close their eyes, and even rock back and forth to the music, representing a bodily, tangible commitment to emotional participation. The intense emotions that are often evoked during the flood of auditory and visual media are especially intensified by the fact that there are thousands of people experiencing the same thing. Cameras scan the audience and project images of people worshiping, raising their hands with closed eyes, crying, singing, or smiling. Seeing individuals around oneself (or a close-up shot of someone on the projection screen) facilitates the recognition of a shared experience and mood, which contributes to the growing collective effervescence. As emotion is a basic element of human existence, observing another’s resonates with our own intuitions, building a sense of recognition, trust, and a reduction of stress as oxytocin increases (Churchland 2011). Empathic understandings of the emotions other worshipers are experiencing intensify one's own EE; one 12
person noted the power in seeing others worship: “I grow by watching others transform.” Another interviewee describes observing others experience the Holy Spirit during worship: “the movement of the Holy Spirit goes through the crowd like a football team doing a wave. I could look up in the balcony and see it pass, and the people doing it. Hundreds get saved. [...] Never seen it in any other church” Rather than a contemplative, reflective, or inward-seeking exercise, worship is often an outward expression of worship and sharing of joy – a celebratory time for giving, receiving, and sharing high levels of EE. In fact, a common word used to describe worship is “contagious.” For example, one member describes their excitement surrounding newcomers at worship: “and those of us who know him [Jesus] as our savior that just excites the spirit of God that is inside of us to know that we are part of something bigger, that it is not just about us that it is about reaching people for Christ and then once people get in on it it’s contagious. We don’t have to browbeat people to come through our doors.” Another couple confesses that the pastor is not what initially attracted them to the church: “His message didn’t bring [us] in. It was the attitude of the entire congregation,” he said. “The fellowship,” she agreed. “When everybody’s up there singing you hear everyone singing,” he went on. “You want to sing,” she finished his sentence. One man expressed his “hunger” for an authentic experience of the divine: “[There was such a] presence of God when we walked in… a purity, an innocence, an authenticity that we had lost… we are hungry for that.” Another expressed his joy for worship by saying, “I just need to get it in, it feels tangible, I was thirsting for God,” and another confirmed, “it felt huge.” An overarching sentiment conveyed throughout the interview responses was how the emotional experience of worship was perceived to be a spiritual experience. Once worship sets the appropriate mood, the mutual focus of attention shifts from the worship leaders to the pastor who begins to preach. At these megachurches, the head pastor tends to be an attractive (intellectually, emotionally, and/or spiritually) individual. By speaking frankly and confidently, the leader relates to his (all are male in our sample) audience and 13
quickly gains its trust and allegiance. This “charismatic bond” we know is not merely the “gift” of one individual but a relationship that is based on influence, and is delineated as “asymmetric, unmediated and passionate” in its substance and trajectory (Marsden and Snow 1991: 5). That is, the audience has little effect on the leader; the leader’s relationship to the followers is direct, and there is a passionate devotion to the leader by members (Madsen and Snow 1991: 5). These connections are congruent with the emotion we saw consistently evoked in megachurch participants. Often, members would say that the pastor is not the object of their worship, and yet, in the nearly the same breath, they would announce the power of the pastor to deliver the word of God even referring to him as "God's mouthpiece." One man's comments exemplify this: "We’ve heard from folks, both sides, at the same time almost, we don’t want to put him [the pastor] on a pedestal, you know, he’s real, he’s human, and at the same time, something more than human and he’s something, you know, that we put on a pedestal." Megachurch pastors maintained this unmediated relationship in part through their informality, and a casual attitude, interrupted by an occasional joke, and an intermittent reference to their own imperfections. They are masters at evoking emotions that influence and effect change in the hearer. As Madsen and Snow argue, the charismatic bond involves a “proxy control,” in which the leader “acts on their behalf,” empathizing with the problems and dilemmas of the members, giving words and thoughts that “project knowledge” and understanding of their plight, while offering solutions and models of “self-efficacy” that reassures and “reduces the stress” of followers, which, in the process, increases the leaders’ trustworthiness and his authority. The bond then depends on the verbal talent and emotional intelligence of the pastor, but it also is only possible in the context of followers who find the leader effective and persuasive (Madsen and Snow 1991:5-22; see also Wellman 2012). The megachurch pastor's ability to be relatable touches the audience on an emotional and spiritual level. For example, one interviewee said, “He’s such a courageous speaker; transparent; baring his soul. When you hear his voice, you feel relieved. He’s just that good. He’s good. He’s good and I love everything that he does.” One woman described, “Every time I heard him 14
speak he made me cry, it was so spiritual and so, oh I can’t explain it” and another said, "Like, did God just tell you to say that to me? Because it was like he was almost preaching directly to me and what I was experiencing in my life." Rather than complicated theological explanations or critical analysis of a biblical text, the interview responses suggest that the sermons are understood through the emotions – on a level of intuition that “just feels right,” or that “just makes sense.” The ideas are arousing and moving, but not intellectually taxing. One man said, “I’m a diehard Pastor [name] fan, he’s on fire, he’s the shepherd.” Members from nearly every megachurch in the study constantly praised the accessibility of their pastor’s preaching, repeatedly testifying that “even a child could understand” his message. Another emphasized, “He is totally selfless when he preaches; he makes sure that we know that he loves us always.” Still, almost all of the interviewees mentioned the importance that the preaching be strongly Biblical; this entails an understanding that the Bible is an inerrant source of truth that should be read as a factual guidebook. As one person said about their pastor, “He preached the word, talked about Christ unashamedly, salvation, sins, those things, and just did the Bible.” Another respondent described her confidence in the specialized information provided at (only) her church: “But you know it makes it hard for you to even want to go visit other churches. Because you’re like, I don’t want to miss the message, first of all, and I don’t know if I’m going to get the message that God intends for me to get if I go someplace else.” After the sermon, it is common to transition into a time of quieter music and reflection. However, this certainly does not imply that the intensity of emotion wanes – quite the opposite. Rather, the emotion which has been gathered and enhanced by the group experience is turned inward (see also McElmurry's 2009 megachurch study for a similar account). After the pastor speaks, congregants are encouraged to meditate on his message, to allow the words to sink into their souls, and to open their hearts to change and transformation. This is often the opportunity for the pastor to make an “alter call”, encouraging congregants to commit their lives to Jesus and to accept him as their personal Lord and Savior. This decision involves coming forward to the 15
front of the church and praying with one of the worship leaders. Often, newly saved members will be taken to another room to discuss further details of their salvific decision. This experience is highlighted as a rite of passage; people may recall and tell the story of their conversion (their “Testimony”) for years to come. Whether or not a congregant decides to be saved that day, this portion of the service is poignantly marked with heavy sensory pageantry. The emotional energy in the room is palpable, people report feeling “released,” as if they had “walked through the waters but never got wet.” One man expressed that “God's love becomes [...] such a drug that you can't wait to come get your next hit. [...] You can't wait to get involved to get the high from God ” When people descend to the front stage to get saved, they often describe feeling “prompted,” and even afterwards, the thickness of their emotional experience of being loved and accepted, of truly belonging to a community of believers is, literally, redemptive and salvific. Ritual Outcomes According to Collins (2004), successful rituals produce EE, membership feelings, sacred objects or symbolic emblems, and moral feelings of right and wrong. The production of high levels of EE is clearly demonstrated by the interview responses, which are permeated with words conveying emotions and senses. Individuals described their experiences with emotive terms such as loving, feeling, longing, moving, joy, emotional, transforming, relieving, and releasing and sensory words such as touching, feeding, thirsting, and tasting. Membership feelings of belonging and acceptance were prevalent throughout the interviews. When speaking of their church, they described themselves as feeling loved and a part of an intimate family that was welcoming and accepting. For instance, respondents said: "[I felt] like I belonged here," "I cried, no one looked at me funny," "come as you are and be loved," and "I'm at home." After admitting that she had only visited the church as a favor to her husband, “kicking and screaming” the whole way, one woman exclaimed, “So I came in and sat down and I mean, I just started crying, I said, 'I have come home.' [...] So friendly and everybody was so warm for a big church I was just amazed by it, I just couldn’t wrap my mind around it." Another 16
woman explains, “In my Bible study I had heard a woman say ‘I have found my church home,’ or they’d call it a church home and I never [knew] what that was because I was raised Catholic. I never felt like I was at home really you know. And when I came here I really, I understood what that meant.” Respondents across our survey of churches conveyed the accepting and welcoming nature of their megachurches that in them there is “no judgment", "no hammers, just grace", and that they allow all attendees to get "plugged in." Successful rituals also charge membership symbols with emotion. The Bible and the Pastor usually serve as two of the most powerful “membership symbols” in megachurches. For attendees, the Bible is a concrete symbol of certainty in an uncertain world, and the pastor is a reliable, authentic source of guidance, relieving fear and stress. During periods of high EE in the course of the service, these symbols are pumped with significance. Throughout the interviews individuals stressed the importance of the pastor and his authenticate biblical preaching. Consistent with the overarching sentiment of the interview responses, one individual said: "[The church's success] it's the testament to this man, who's one in a million, you know, I've never met another guy like that." Finally, successful rituals also produce feelings of morality—standards of right and wrong that are approved by the group, giving members a sense of purpose through service and a set of normative standards by which to guide their lives. One man described the message of the megachurch as: "I mean it's unapologetic. It's we're speaking on truth because that's what truth says. It's not because [it is] what's hip or what we should be talking about or what's the flavor of the moment. [...] I mean this is what life's about. [...]. It is offensive. I mean it's in your face and [...] that's what the scriptures are about and I think that's the first time I've ever been in a situation where I mean you are, you're personally [touched] from the stage in a way that I've never been addressed before. And you don't have a choice. You have to have an opinion, either one way or another."
Here he describes the sermons as pushing one to decide whether or not to accept the truth. Once individuals accept the truth, there is an expectation that they will behave accordingly. As one person noted: "Eventually you ought to be [spiritually] mature. [...] In other words, you don't have to do this in order to be a Christian, but if you're a Christian, you ought to be doing this." Respondents identified service as part of what "one ought to do." One interviewee described service as moving "knowledge from head to heart" and still others mentioned that they grow by "helping others" and "by going on mission trips." One man even referred to himself as a "steroid server." Many of the respondents conveyed that this call toward service came through participation in their church. One woman said that the church "helps me understand God’s word more and understand what I’m supposed to be doing. It helps me be able to relate to my children more and to help in raising them in a Christian home." Others described their church as preparing them to serve and allowing them to "love and forgive" their families and to "stand for righteousness" in their communities. One man asserted: "Don’t just come and be a spectator. [...] really if you want to come and observe that’s fine. But if you want to be a partner we expect you to live missionally and be missionally minded and it is to [...] make a difference in the city [...]. So I don’t think there is a satisfaction with just having a nice big plump church here." Respondents discussed the large size of the church as an advantage, providing them with a greater array of service opportunities to choose from. For example, one man said that "the larger [church] size really gives you the freedom to go wherever you feel like your gifts and callings fit best." These churches encourage their attendees to participate in service opportunities and not to be passive spectators. Many respondents identified their church as being superior to other churches in terms of its dedication to service and unapologetic assertion of the truth. One man's comments exemplify this sentiment: "And no offense to other churches, but a couple other churches I belonged in, you could say, 'Hey, every Saturday we’re going to have a bus, let’s go down and help the people.' Now, I know that I was in a church of 200, but I guarantee [...] you wouldn’t even have 1 18
person on that bus some weeks. And this church just walks the walk outside of the church. I mean, in everything they do in the communities [...]. And it’s just, it’s so neat in a time where there’s a lot of hypocrisy in religion. TV religion, evangelism really gives Christians a bad name [...] And it’s just so neat to see this church walk the walk. From top to bottom." Many of the respondents seemed to believe that their pastor had a type of monopoly on God's message and that they might not receive this message if they attended services somewhere else. One respondent even went so far as to say that "God has chosen this place… to make a difference on the edge of evil." In addition to Collins' (2004) four outcomes of successful rituals, we proposed that spirituality is a fifth outcome of successful religious rituals. Again, the sine quo non of spirituality is an affective experience of a transcendence, which for megachurch members seems necessary for their participation in these churches. This outcome resonates throughout the interviews. Individuals described the collective effervescence they experienced through worship and preaching in spiritual terms. Individuals discussed their experiences as being in contact with the divine, generally causing them to grow spiritually. For example, individuals described being in "God's presence", "falling in love with Jesus," being "transformed," and feeling that "the Holy Spirit was here." Similarly, interviewees described the pastor and his biblical message as "blessing" them, being "spiritual", and helping them "grow" in their faith. Thus, their experiences are interpreted as not only emotional and social, but salvific and spiritual. Maintaining Emotional Energy: Connecting Sunday to Sunday EE is not permanent. Individuals leave successful rituals charged with EE, which wanes the longer individuals go without participating in a subsequent ritual. The megachurches in our study help combat this through offering opportunities for small group activities (i.e., smaller scale interaction rituals) throughout the week. These group activities come in all shapes and sizes. Sometimes a group might meet to serve at a soup kitchen, or they might choose to go bowling, or watch football, have a book club or a Bible study. The important aspect is that they 19
sustain and build the connection between members and to the church between Sundays. As one respondent said: "We get poured into from the sermon. But outside of the sermon, we work most of the time. But during the week we may not get poured into [...] and some of the small groups are for us to get poured back into from each other." Another described, "And I can’t go just Sunday morning and close the door [...] I want it weekly. I want relationships throughout the week." Small groups are enduring and tremendously effective in creating support networks and communities of friends, thereby sustaining loyalty to the group. In addition to reinforcing the affective experience of worship, they also support church membership symbols (their understanding of the Bible, church, and pastor). Many respondents noted how the small groups support what they derive from the Sunday services. For example, several respondents described how the thoughts and feelings that Sunday sermons provoke can be discussed and investigated further in small groups. Several male respondents expressed that "The conversations that spark from Sunday services, come to our community group and then we flush [them] out." Another man confirmed,"[The pastor's] messages are solid. But you don’t have the opportunity necessarily to I mean, not on a weekly basis to run up and say, ‘Hey [pastor's name], let’s sit down and talk about that. That was really interesting.’ But you have that opportunity in a small group to say did you guys catch what he said last week? Let’s dig that open, let’s look again." Small group participation is strongly encouraged by church leadership, and members often report placing extraordinary value on their small group experiences. These mid-week activities reinforce and recapitulate the chain of interaction rituals sustaining the memory of the pleasurable emotional ritual experience until they are able to experience it again on Sunday. Overall, the qualitative data underscores the importance of the large-scale worship services, pastor, and small group participation for promoting membership feelings/belonging, membership symbols, morality, and a heightened sense of spirituality through the experience of collective effervescence and resulting EE. Quantitative Data 20
The twelve churches also conducted an all-congregation survey of everyone age 18 and above at all services on all campuses during a given weekend. This survey allows us to test relationships between variables identified in the qualitative analysis with a larger sample and net of socio-demographic controls. While the survey was brief, it contains information on religious interaction ritual participation (i.e., church attendance and small group participation) and the significance of the worship/music and pastor as well as questions relating to two ritual outcomes—spirituality and church belonging/membership feelings. It also contains a question that captures respondent's sentiments regarding the relationship between church size and spiritual growth. Dependent variables: The first dependent variable measures attendees' opinions regarding the effect of church size on their own spiritual growth. Respondents were asked whether they feel that worshipping at a large church hinders their spiritual growth. This variable was coded such that those who disagree with this statement receive a value of 1 (0=agree/no opinion, 1=disagree). The second dependent variable is an additive spirituality index that sums responses to the following four questions (Cronbach's alpha: .659): (1) My spiritual needs are being met in this church (1= strongly disagree to 5=strongly agree), (2) A recent time when I felt closest to God was directly connected to a ministry or activity of this church (1= strongly disagree to 5=strongly agree), (3) How much have you grown spiritually in the past year (1=not at all, 2=some growth, 3=much growth, mainly through other groups or congregations, 4=much growth, mainly through my own private activities, 5= much growth, mainly through the ministries of this church), and (4) How satisfied are you with your own spiritual growth? (1=very dissatisfied to 5=very satisfied). The third dependent variable is an additive church belonging index that sums responses to the following two questions (Cronbach's alpha .623): (1) This church makes a strong effort to help me get involved in the activities and life of the church body (1=strongly disagree to 5=strongly agree) and (2) I have a strong sense of belonging to this church (1= strongly disagree to 5=strongly agree). 21
Independent variables: To capture frequency of participation in church interaction rituals, we use frequency of church/worship service attendance (0=hardly ever or on special occasions, 1=less than once a month, 2=once a month, 3=two or three times a month, and 4=usually every week or more) and small group participation. Respondents were asked if they were regularly involved in the following small group activities at "this church" and were instructed to mark all that apply: (1) Sunday school or church school, (2) Prayer, spiritual discussion, or Bible study groups, (3) Fellowships, clubs or other social groups, (4) Support or recovery groups, (5) Community service or social justice groups, and (6) Other small group activities. These were summed to create a small group participation variable (0 = did not mark any of these small group activities to 6= marked all of these small group activities). To measure the importance of the worship style and music, we create an additive worship/music index that sums the following two questions (Cronbach's alpha .694): (1) How influential is the worship style for keeping you here? (0= not at all to 5= a lot) and (2) How influential is the music and/or arts for keeping you here? (0= not at all to 5= a lot). To measure the importance of the pastor, we use the question: How influential is the senior pastor for keeping you here? (0= not at all to 5= a lot). Given the qualitative results and Collins' (2004) theory, we expect that all of these variables should be positively associated with all three dependent variables. Control variables: We control for sex (0=male, 1=female) age (in years), marital status (0=not married, 1=married), race (0= non-white, 1=white), logged household income in dollars, and church tenure (number of years respondent has attended this church). To control for education, we created two binary variables: (1) Has a four-year college degree or higher (1=yes, otherwise 0) and (2) Has a high school diploma or some college, trade, or vocational school (1=yes, otherwise 0). The reference category is having some high school education. We also control for whether the respondent considers the church their 'home church' by creating two binary variables; one for respondents answering yes and that this is their only home church and another for respondents 22
answering yes but that they also consider another church their home church. Responses of 'no' serve as the referent category. Quantitative Analysis For the binary dependent variable—church size hinders spirituality—we estimate logistic regression models. Since the other dependent variables—spirituality and church belonging—are negatively skewed (skewness: spirituality index = -0.470 and church belonging index = -0.746), we estimate Poisson regression models6 with robust standard errors to help guard against minor violations of the model assumption that the variance equals the mean (see Cameron and Trivedi 2009). To control for potential differences across congregations (i.e., to eliminate any congregational effects that may bias the findings), we include 11 congregational dummy variables (i.e., church N – 1) in all models (results not displayed). Because the experiences of first-time visitors may be distinct from the experiences of other attendees, we exclude first-time attendees from our sample, which results in a sample size of 16,136 attendees. Quantitative Findings Table 2 about here Table 2 provides descriptive statistics for all of the variables. The average megachurch attendee in our sample is about 40 years old, female, white, college-educated, not married, and has been attending the church for approximately 5 years. Looking at the dependent variables, roughly 80 percent of the respondents disagreed with the statement "Worshipping at a large church hinders my spiritual growth." Respondents also report high levels of spirituality with a mean value of 15.31 out of a max score of 20.00. For a more complete picture of attendee spirituality, we can look at the individual variables comprising the spirituality index: 64.3 percent of respondents agreed with the statement "when I last felt close to God it was in connection to this church time;" 77.2 percent agreed that their spiritual needs are being met by the megachurch; 68.1 percent are somewhat or very satisfied with their spiritual growth; and 46 percent reported that in the last year they experienced "much growth" in their faith mainly through the megachurch. Similarly, respondents also report high levels of church belonging with 23
a mean score of roughly 8 out of a max score of 10. In terms of the two variables comprising the church belonging index, 61.4 percent of respondents reported having a strong sense of belonging to the megachurch and 70.3 percent agreed with the statement "The church makes a strong effort to help me get involved." Looking at the independent variables, when asked how influential their senior pastor was for their continued membership at their church, roughly 70 percent of respondents gave the highest value "a lot." Respondents also identified the worship style and music of the megachurch as influential for why they remain: the mean value for the worship/music index is 8.01 out of 10 with roughly 60 and 40 percent of respondents reporting that the worship style and music respectively influenced their decision to stay "a lot." While the overwhelming majority of respondents attend church services "usually once a week," fewer respondents participate in small groups. The mean value for the small group index is 1.20 out of 6 with 57.5 percent of respondents reporting that they participate in 1 or 2 types of small groups and 32.9 percent stating that they participate in none. Table 3 about here Table 3 presents the results of the regression models. Model 1 is the base model using socio-demographic control variables to predict whether respondents disagree with the statement worshipping at a large church hinders their spiritual growth. Disagreeing with this statement is associated with being younger, single, white, and more educated. Model 2 adds the four key independent variables to the model. All four variables have significant positive estimated effects as predicted. Individuals for whom the worship/music and pastor are influential for keeping them at the megachurch are more likely to feel that worshipping at a large church does not hinder their spiritual growth. Those who attend services more often and participate in more small groups are also more likely to share this sentiment. The large drop in the AIC value between the two models shows that the full model fits the data considerably better than the base model (base model: 16083 versus full model: 15736.1).
Model 3 is the base model predicting spirituality. Females, older individuals, and those who consider the megachurch their only home church as well as those who consider it one of their home churches have higher levels of spirituality. On the other hand, individuals with higher incomes who are white, married, and who have attended the church longer have lower levels of spirituality as do individuals with college degrees compared to individuals without a high school degree. Model 4 is the full model with independent variables included. As predicted, church attendance and small group participation have positive estimated effects on spirituality. Likewise, individuals who stated that the worship/music and pastor were influential for keeping them at the megachurch have higher levels of spirituality. Finally, the full model has a considerably lower AIC value compared to the base model (base model: 84148.8 versus full model: 82513.5). Model 5 is the base model predicting church belonging. Individuals who have attended the church longer and who consider the megachurch their only home church or who consider it one of their home churches have higher levels of church belonging. On the other hand, older, white individuals with higher incomes have lower levels of church belonging as do individuals with college degrees compared to those without high school degrees. Model 6 adds the four independent variables. Consistent with our predictions, individuals who attend church more often and who participate in more small groups have higher levels of church belonging. Likewise, individuals for whom the worship/music and pastor were influential for keeping them at the megachurch also have higher levels of church belonging. Again, the full model has a considerably lower AIC value compared to the base model (base model: 69635.1 versus full model: 68784.4). Discussion and Conclusions While research on megachurches is growing, most of it is primarily descriptive in nature and generally draws on data from the point of view of the pastors and church leaders (Ellingson 2010). As such, we know very little about the experiences of the megachurch attendees and why they choose to stay. To address these gaps in the literature, we applied Collins' (2004) theory to 25
qualitative and quantitative data on attendees of twelve American megachurches. The results provide strong support for his theory. The individual interviews are permeated by rich descriptions of positive emotional and sensual experiences brought on by the worship services and small group interaction. Thus, like previous studies, we find that small group interaction is important for the experience of church attendees (Wuthnow 1994a, 1994b; Martin 2007; Doughtery and Whitehead 2011); however, we extend this research by highlighting how small groups sustain EE and feelings of belonging from Sunday to Sunday. The worship services, through their use of lighting, large screens at the front of the church, and images of others' religious experiences, help create a mutual focus of attention and a shared mood among the attendees, resulting in EE that remains with them even after the service ends. Neurological research corroborates the importance of co-presence for the production and proliferation of oxytocin; for example, Barraza and Zak (2009) found that people who viewed an emotional scene, compared to those who viewed an unemotional scene, exhibited a 47 percent increase in oxytocin from baseline levels. Viewing the emotional experiences of others amplifies one's own emotional experience. Moreover, Grape et al. (2003) found that after a group singing session, oxytocin increased significantly for singers. Megachurch worship services may be particularly conducive for increasing oxytocin, since they combine group singing with the display of other's emotional experiences in an aesthetic context that encourages emotional expression. As Collins' theory predicts, the interviews reflect the emotionally charged significance of membership symbols—the pastor and the Bible—and deep feelings of belonging. The quantitative data further supports the latter point, as individuals who participate more frequently in church related interaction rituals, whether worship services or small groups, wherein these symbols are pumped with significance, have higher levels of church belonging. Due to the cross-sectional nature of the survey data, we are unable to make firm claims of causality. However, Collins' theory is cyclical in nature. Successful interaction rituals produce feelings of belonging and EE and these sentiments, in turn, prompt individuals to participate in subsequent rituals. Thus, we argue it is best to think of church attendance and small group participation in 26
tandem with church belonging and spirituality, as we have shown that these factors mutually reinforce each other. In addition to the four successful interaction ritual outcomes Collins' theorizes, we proposed that successful religious interaction rituals produce a fifth outcome—a heightened sense of salvation and spirituality. Both the qualitative and quantitative data provide strong evidence for this. The megachurch worship services are not perceived as merely social experiences but experiences of a transcendental nature. While we cannot ascertain causality, the overarching sentiment expressed by the respondents was causal—they reported feeling close to God as a result of the services and through being a part of the ministries of the church. Although Collins proposes boundaries excluding outsiders as a means of facilitating a mutual focus of attention and shared mood, we highlight how having few barriers to entry and a welcoming environment may be advantageous for megachurches. By making attendance low cost, megachurches encourage newcomers who then increase the amount of people in attendance. The large size of the worship services serves to amplify the shared mood and EE individuals feel. While some past research proposes a negative effect of large church size on organizational vitality and member commitment (Finke 1994; Stark and Finke 2000; Dougherty 2004; Finke, Bahr, and Scheitle 2006), our findings suggest certain advantages of large church size. Interviewees frequently mentioned the size of their church as a benefit, not a detriment, and often described the worship services with words conveying appreciation for the largeness of the experience. The quantitative data further supports this as the majority of respondents did not feel that the size of the worship services hindered their spiritual growth. Even though the megachurches have few barriers to participation in their interaction rituals (i.e., they have low strictness), there are cognitive boundaries. Ellingson (2010) notes that by incorporating secular technology and ideas into their rituals, megachurches generally have lower levels of tension with the outside world and yet their beliefs still create "sect-like" boundaries. As such he calls for more research on how megachurches generate "selective sectarianism,” which, “creates meaningful subcultures with semi-permeable cultural and social 27
boundaries" (264). The current study contributes to this line of research by showing how megachurches, in a way, redefine the boundaries of insiders and outsiders. By eschewing what they seem to interpret as traditional boundary markers, they welcome all to participate in their interaction rituals thereby facilitating large-scale emotionally charged collective experiences. At the same time, they create cognitive distinctions between the insiders who know Jesus and are actively involved in the church and the outsiders who are viewed as contrary to the church's membership symbols and mission. The interview responses indicated that attendees distinguish between mere spectators and spiritually mature, active members of the congregation. Many respondents expressed pride in being an active member, or rather, an insider – climbing the ranks of involvement and acquiring the special knowledge provided by their church. The megachurches in this study exemplify selective sectarianism, which allows them to reap the benefits of sect-like cognitive boundaries as well as those gained from large organizational size. The results also indicate the importance of the pastor as both an energy star—helping to generate a mutual focus of attention, trust, and shared mood—and also as a symbol of membership charged with emotional and spiritual significance. Interviewees overwhelmingly praised their senior pastor for his authentic and godly character, biblical preaching, and loving dedication and consistently discussed him in emotional and spiritual terms. The majority of survey respondents also identified their senior pastor as a strong influence on their remaining at the megachurch. Although there have been numerous studies on the role of charismatic leadership within new religious movements (Jacobs 1984; Miller 1991; Johnson 1992; Robbins and Anthony 2004; Sutton 2007), there is considerably less research outside of this area (see Harding 2000; Lee 2007; Wellman 2012 for exceptions). The current study contributes to addressing this gap in the literature by identifying the vital role the megachurch senior pastor plays in the emotional and spiritual experiences of the attendees. The findings of this study suggest that megachurches are potent purveyors of rich, affective experiences that generate feelings of belonging to the church and heightened spirituality. This study provides insight into the megachurch interaction ritual experiences of 28
attendees, while raising important questions for future research. For example, given the positive emotional experiences attendees report, what factors prompt individuals to exit? What happens to megachurches when their emotional energy stars—senior pastors—leave? We also know little about the specific relationship of members and followers to their leaders. The charismatic bond, as far as we can tell, has not been investigated thoroughly. The erotic and sensual elements of members to their leaders and congregations are hinted at, particularly in relationship to pastoral leaders, in our data, but again, there is little in the literature exploring this critical bond. We have data showing the enormous power of these leaders but we do not really know, in detail, the positive or negative effects. In the popular press, many assume that these leaders are manipulators, and are simply taking advantage of their members, both financially and emotionally. We do not think the relationship is that one-sided; we do not think it is that negative for members; but we do not know the full array of effects that these “mega-leaders” have on megachurch members.
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For example, Zajonc’s (1980) research shows that emotion precedes cognitive processing and that “individuals are
typically able to determine how they feel about something before they can even articulate what it is.”
Pascal Boyer argues that, in many instances, “an explicit thought – what we usually call a ‘belief’ – is very often an
attempt to justify or explain the intuitions we have as a result of implicit processes in the mental basement. It is an interpretation of (or report on) these intuitions” (Boyer 2001: 305; see also LeDoux 1996 and Barrett 2004).
Leadership Network is a non-profit consultancy and research group that seeks to foster innovation and church
Data for 2008 American megachurches come from the Survey of North America's Largest Churches. For further
information on the survey consult Thumma and Bird (2008).
Given the large number of focus groups and interviews, socio-demographic information was not collected for all
interviewees. However, the interview quotes and findings we present are indicative of the responses that overwhelmingly permeated the interviews across respondents and in every church. We use the quantitative data to further investigate these qualitative findings net of various socio-demographic controls. The quantitative findings reinforce the qualitative findings.
Poisson regression models are appropriate, since the dependent variables are skewed but not overdispersed—the
variance and mean for spirituality are 10.94 and 15.31 respectively and 3.51 and 7.93 for church belonging. Still, we also estimated negative binomial regression models (results not shown), but these did not improve model fit over the classic Poisson regression model.
Table 1. Descriptive Statistics Comparing U.S. Megachurches a to the 12 Megachurch Sample % U.S. % in 12 b Megachurches Megachurch Sample (#) Region Northeast 6% 8% (1) South 48% 42% (5) North central 21% 33% (4) West 25% 17% (2) Avg Weekly Service Attendance 2000-2999 3000-4999 5000 or more Denomination Non-denom. Baptist Pente./Charis. Mainline Dominant Race White Black Multiracial (15% or more) Church Founding Before 1946 1946-1980 1981-1990 1991 to present
43% 38% 19%
33% (4) 50% (6) 17% (2)
35% 26% 8% 10%
33% (4) 25% (3) 8% (1) 33% (4)
50% 15% 35%
50% (6) 17% (2) 33% (4)
26% 39% 16% 19%
25% (3) 33% (4) 8% (1) 33% (4)
Table adapted from Thumma and Bird (2009)
Data come from the Survey of North America's Largest Churches (see Thumma and Bird 2008).
Table 2. Descriptive Statistics Control Variables Sex % Male 40.40 Female 59.60 Marital Status Not Married Married Race Non-white White Education Less than HS HS College Home Church No More than one Only Log Income Mean SD Min Max Age Mean SD Min Max Church Tenure Mean SD Min Max % 56.10 43.90 % 27.70 72.30 % 2.70 41.00 56.40 % 5.20 11.90 82.90 Independent Variables Senior Pastor Not at all (1) 2 Some (3) 4 A lot (5) Church attendance Hardly ever < once a month Once a month 2-3 times a month Usually every week Small Group Mean SD Min Max Worship/Music Index Mean SD Min Max Dependent Variables Church Size Hinders Spiritual Growth Agree/Neutral Disagree Spirituality Mean SD Min Max Church Belonging Mean SD Min Max
% 4.00 2.30 7.90 18.00 67.80 % 0.80 1.50 2.70 19.50 75.50
% 20.70 79.30 % 15.31 3.31 4.00 20.00 % 7.93 1.88 2.00 10.00
1.20 1.20 0.00 6.00
10.98 0.80 9.43 12.00
8.01 2.14 2.00 10.00
39.88 13.97 18.00 99.00
4.98 4.10 0.50 12.00
Table 3. Regression Models: Metric Coefficients Displayed Church Size Hinders Spirituality b Spiritual Growth Logistic Regression Poisson Regression Coefficient Coefficient (SE) (Robust SE) Model 1 Model2 Model 3 Model 4 Independent Variables: Service Attendance --0.123*** --0.038*** (0.029) (0.003) Worship/Music --0.123*** --0.021*** (0.010) (0.001) Pastor --0.063** --0.034*** (0.020) (0.002) Small Groups --0.183*** --0.038*** (0.020) (0.001) Control Variables: Sex 0.027 -0.042 0.034*** 0.020*** (0.041) (0.041) (0.003) (0.003) Age -0.007*** -0.008*** 0.001*** 0.000* (0.002) (0.002) (0.000) (0.000) Race 0.227*** 0.211** -0.014* -0.018*** (0.063) (0.064) (0.006) (0.005) Married -0.088† -0.080† -0.020*** -0.018*** (0.045) (0.046) (0.004) (0.003) Log Income 0.013 0.022 -0.007** -0.005* (0.029) (0.030) (0.002) (0.002) College 0.529*** 0.588*** -0.037*** -0.029** (0.113) (0.115) (0.010) (0.010) High School 0.577*** 0.599*** -0.008 -0.006 (0.112) (0.114) (0.010) (0.010) Church Tenure -0.004 -0.009 -0.002*** -0.003*** (0.006) (0.006) (0.001) (0.000) Only Homechurch 0.824*** 0.406*** 0.220*** 0.113*** (0.081) (0.088) (0.009) (0.009) Dual Homechurches 0.256** 0.008 0.124*** 0.062*** (0.091) (0.094) (0.010) (0.009) Constant -0.400 -1.933*** 2.574*** 2.178*** (0.344) (0.365) (0.030) (0.029) c Log likelihood -8019.5 -7842.0 -42052.4 -41230.8 AIC 16083.0 15736.1 84148.8 82513.5 † p < .10; * p < .05; ** p < .01; *** p < .001
a b c
Church Belonging Poisson Regression Coefficient (Robust SE) Model 5 Model 6 --------0.041*** (0.003) 0.019*** (0.001) 0.038*** (0.002) 0.039*** (0.001)
-0.004 -0.018*** (0.004) (0.003) 0.000* 0.000 (0.000) (0.000) -0.011† -0.015** (0.006) (0.006) -0.002 0.000 (0.004) (0.004) -0.011*** -0.008** (0.003) (0.002) -0.029* -0.023* (0.012) (0.011) -0.001 0.000 (0.012) (0.011) 0.006*** 0.005*** (0.000) (0.000) 0.319*** 0.208*** (0.012) (0.012) 0.184*** 0.12*** (0.013) (0.012) 1.867*** 1.466*** (0.033) (0.033) -34795.6 -34366.2 69635.1 68784.4
All models control for 11 congregation dummy variables (i.e., Church N-1). This variable was coded such that those who disagree with this statement receive a value of 1. Log pseudo likelihood for models 3 through 6
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