by Warren Bird
If you do an internet search for “biggest churches” or similar, you will find lots of websites listed. The vast majority deal with facilities, not people. They track the most square footage, the most acreage, the tallest buildings, the highest steeples, the costliest construction, the longest times from groundbreaking to final completion, and the like.
Some mention big gathering halls for religious conventions, such as the Redeemed Christian Church of God which in 2013 opened a 100,000-seat pavilion that it built for semi-annual all-church conferences. But at this point, it’s not being used for weekly worship.
I’m most interested in the way churches serve people’s spiritual needs, so my curiosities about “biggest buildings” mostly surround how the facilities are actually used today. Among U.S. Protestant churches today, the trend is definitely away from constructing giant sanctuaries. In fact, average seating in a typical megachurch is surprisingly small, according to a national survey of megachurches (“A New Decade of Megachurches,” page 5) that I conducted through Leadership Network along with co-researcher Scott Thumma of the Hartford Institute for Religion Research:
While megachurches have very large attendance figures, they often do not have massive sanctuaries. In fact, when we asked the seating capacity for each church’s largest worship area, the average in megachurches is 1,778 seats, with a median of 1,500. As in our previous surveys, it is apparent that megachurches make excellent use of multiple services to increase their capacity, and many also are multisite (one church in two or more locations). While virtually all have multiple Sunday morning services, 48% have one or more Saturday night services, and 41% have one or more Sunday night services. Megachurches hold on average 5.5 services from Friday through Sunday.
Since really big worship areas continue to make the news, I’ve compiled a list of all known Protestant sanctuaries in the United States with seating capacities over 5,000. Out of 1,650 megachurches – congregations with weekly attendances of 2,000 or more adults and children, only about 2% – fewer than three dozen – exceed 5,000 in seating capacity. Click here for an illustrated list of all churches that seat 5,000 or more, and kindly report any corrections or oversights to me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Additional Fun Facts about Megachurches