As scholars should, the authors challenge some stereotypes and conventional wisdom associated with megachurches. Both studies are also concerned with the bottom-line questions: Are megachurches good for Christianity? Are they good for American society?
Thumma and Travis’s book is the product of the 2005 Megachurches Today study conducted jointly by the Hartford Institute for Religion Research, Hartford Seminary and the Dallas-based Leadership Network. A data-laden chapter opens the book, and one that extrapolates trends into the futures closes it. In between, nine myths about megachurches are considered in light of the Megachurches Today study and a wider congregational study done the same year, the National Congregations Study. The latter provides a basis for locating megachurches in a wider context. The myths are framed by quotations from various critics of megachurches.
What is a megachurch? According to Thumma and Travis, it is any Protestant congregation that averages 2,000 or more in worship attendance at its weekly services. In one way, that definition is too limiting, because it excludes Roman Catholic parishes that fit the numerical criterion. It is too wide in another respect, for it would include congregations of that size in the early 20th century, well before the term megachurch was coined.
Thumma and Travis break down megachurches into four types: the “old-line, program-based” church; the “seeker” church; the “charismatic pastor-focused” church; and the “new wave/reenvisioned” church. This elaboration helpfully complexifies the topic and provides a ready response to Myth Number One, “All megachurches are alike.” (It is interesting to learn that 60 percent of all megachurches are in the Far West or South, and that most of them are in just three states, California, Texas and Florida.)