In 1991, Pastor Jay Ramirez rented a room in a Ramada Inn off
Interstate 95 and started preaching. Tonight he roves the stage of
plush Kingdom Life Christian Cathedral, which is packed with an
enthusiastic crowd. After 14 eventful years, his congregation, now
about 2,300, is hosting an international conference on church
growth. And Bishop Ramirez is ordaining pastors from several
"God's going to knock us out of our comfort zones," he cautions
the gathered faithful. "God is at work in the world ... and is
building a spiritual city, a spiritual Jerusalem.... Every stage is
going to be uncomfortable ... until we are in the divine order."
This nondenominational megachurch, which has passed through
challenging stages itself, is now flourishing, along with hundreds
of other megachurches that are reshaping the religious landscape in
the United States. A national survey released last week found twice
as many as there were five years ago. The late management guru Peter
Drucker called the megachurch "the only organization ... actually
working in our society," and said it had much to teach other
What makes them work? Why are Americans shifting in droves to the
largest church communities?
Conventional wisdom says their popularity lies in people's
penchant for anonymity and that the churches bow to a consumer
mentality, redesigning worship, buildings, and theology for a more
comfortable experience. Some charge they're businesses in disguise,
building empires through marketing and televangelism.
Clearly, there are varieties of megachurches. Yet visits to this
one in Milford, Conn., suggest deeper explanations for their appeal.
One of the oldest towns in America, Milford boasts Cape Cod houses
on shady streets, a beachfront on Long Island Sound, and miles of
strip malls along US Route 1. It's becoming a bedroom community for
New York City.
Started with the aims of reaching the unchurched and creating a
faith community that "demonstrates the kingdom of God on earth,"
Kingdom Life Christian Church (KLCC) has had a visible impact on
members, on Milford, and beyond.
Bible-focused, with dynamic leadership, highly structured youth
programs, and adult home fellowship, the church is drawing people
from communities all along I-95.
At a Wednesday night Bible study in the hotel ballroom-style
sanctuary, a friendly, buoyant group of about 600 is surprisingly
diverse: white, Latino, and black; children and parents, all with
Bibles in hand. (Teenagers have their class in another building.)
In the spacious auditorium furnished with upholstered mauve
chairs and huge projection screens, exuberant singing is followed by
a half-hour Q&A with Ramirez. One question has to do with the
theology of "The Da Vinci Code" and the "Left Behind" novels. The
bishop has read the books, and says there's some truth and "lots of
junk" in them.
"I like the Bible - it's filled with history, drama, intrigue,
grace, and mercy - and at the end, we win," he says with a broad
grin. "I'm not going to get my theology out of novels."
The broad-shouldered 40-something pastor is big on common sense,
humor, and thinking things through. Smooth but not slick, with a
warm voice and an entertaining manner, he's clearly in control but
also attuned to his congregation.
"My brother, who had never attended any church, came and was
moved by the bishop's message," says Janet Zove, who handles
marketing for a Fortune 500 company. "For my brother to be moved
takes a lot, so I came along. I have a Catholic background and this
is life-changing - it's about having a direct relationship with
God." Despite a demanding job, she volunteers on weekends at the
church's Family Resource Center, which has just launched adoption
and foster-care services in the community.
Patricia McKay was already a churchgoer, but says she "wasn't
being fed properly in the word of God. …