Rick Warren goes global, for more mega-church action

Map adapted from a list of the world’s largest churches, compiled by Warren Bird for the Leadership Network. The largest dots indicate churches with more than 30,000 members. This map leaves out most U.S. megachurches, shown in another map below.

Rick Warren, author of the best-seller "The Purpose-Driven Life," is expanding his Saddleback Church from the Los Angeles suburbs to 12 global cities.  Last weekend, a campus in Los Angeles joined Buenos Aires, Hong Kong, Manila and Berlin. Moscow, Tokyo, and Accra are among those coming soon.

Scott Thumma, an expert on mega-churches from the Hartford Seminary, isn't surprised:  He says the megachurch is a global phenomenon. Of the world's top 20 megachurches, only one is in the U.S. 

"If you just look at it in the United States, you see it as a suburban reality," he says. "It's kind of recreating a kind of small-town connectedness with people who have like values and interests," he says. Around the world, he says, that's "what we're all  longing for, in the anonnymous urban setting." 

Seoul is the world leader in mega-churches. Its Yoido Full Gospel Church boasts almost a half-million churchgoers per week. And it's not the only one.

Top 20 Megachurches, Worldwide

Rank Attendance Church Name City Country
1. 480,000 Yoido Full Gospel Church Seoul Korea
2. 75,000 Deeper Christian Life Ministry Lagos Nigeria
3. 75,000 Mision Cristiana Elim Internacional (Elim Central Church) San Salvador El Salvador
4. 70,000 New Life Church Mumbai India
5. 65,000 Onnuri (All Nations) Community Church Seoul Korea
6. 60,000 Pyungkang Cheil Presbyterian Church Seoul Korea
7. 55,000 Victory Metro Manila Manila Philippines
8. 50,000 Living Faith Church (Winner's Chapel) - main campus Lagos Nigeria
9. 50,000 Apostolic Church Lagos (Ketu) Nigeria
10. 50,000 Yeshu Darbar (Royal Court of Jesus) Allahabad India
11. 50,000 Nambu Full Gospel Church Anyang Korea
12. 50,000 Bethany Church of God Surabaya Indonesia
13. 50,000 Igreja de Paz Santarém Brazil
14. 45,000 Evangelical Cathedral of Santiago (formerly Church of Jotabeche) Santiago Chile
15. 43,500 Lakewood Church Houston U.S.A.
16. 42,000 Comunidad Cristiana Agua Viva (Living Water Christian Community) Lima Peru
17. 40,000 Redeemed Christian Church of God Lagos Nigeria
18. 35,000 United Family International Church Harare Zimbabwe
19. 35,000 Kwanglim (Burning Bush) Methodist Church Seoul Korea
20. 35,000 Word of Hope Church Quezon City Philippines

Data from outside the U.S. adapted from Warren Bird's list of the World's Biggest Churches. Data on Lakewood Church from Thumma's U.S. Megachurch Database

A lot of mega-churches now have multiple locations. 

"You get to a point where it becomes a franchise model," says Thumma. "It's easier and more cost-effective to plant several campuses around town."

Like McDonald’s, the experience is the same wherever you go, including a variety of more-intimate worship settings in a single campus, with the pastor beaming in his sermon via closed-circuit.  

Warren has an advantage for someone growing a church: worldwide fame. His book has been translated into 85 languages.

"That gives brand recognition to him and his church," says Richard Flory, research director at the University of Southern California's Center for Religion and Civic Culture.

Here's a map of mega-churches in North America, based on a database Thumma has compiled

About the author

Dan is a sustainability reporter for Marketplace.

Comments

I agree to American Public Media's Terms and Conditions.
With Generous Support From...