Australian Megachurches

If one defines a megachurch as one with more than 2,000 attenders on a typical Sunday, then Australia had about 21 such churches in 2012. While they constitute a very small proportion of the more than 15,000 churches in Australia, they account for about 5 per cent of all people attending a church on a typical Sunday. Sam Hey, a lecturer at the Christian Heritage College, has completed an excellent doctoral thesis on the megachurches, which has now been published as a book. It is highly recommended for those interested in the development of church life in Australia.

The megachurch movement began in the 1980’s. It occurred at a similar time to the development of regional shopping centres. With increased accessibility to cars for transport – in other words, having more than one car in the family – different family members could travel independently of each other to church. Most of the mainstream denominations had established their churches across the suburbs at walking distance from each other. However, in the 1970’s and 1980’s new Pentecostal churches were planted which served much larger areas.

While the megachurches are products of social change, they were not passive in relation to their contexts. Each of these megachurches was led by strong, charismatic leaders who ‘pursued innovative responses to the religious needs of their times’ (p.15). Hey notes that, in Australia as in North America, most of the megachurches reached ‘megachurch size’ under a single leader known for their charismatic leadership (p.94). In a number of cases, senior leadership of the megachurch has been passed from father to son. Hey argues that these leaders exhibited great confidence in their leadership and visionary thinking, while maintaining a sense of humility by pointing people to God as the source of their confidence (p.95).

It is highly unlikely that megachurches will take over the religious life of Australia and Hey suggests there will be a further plateauing of their growth (p.279). Some people will look to them for their experiential emphasis on faith, for the professionalism of their activities and the variety of programs they offer. While the ‘consumer’ orientation was a major factor in their growth, maturation leads to responding to
its negative aspects such as the over emphasis on individualism, unquestioning certainty and superficiality (p.281). The development of engagement with society through education and social welfare, Hey believes, will contribute to their long-term growth and survival (p.281).

For more information see: Pointers, Volume 23, No. 4, Pages 7-9

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