Growing Their Religion Megachurches Use Business Strategies to Expand Their Flock

By Heist, Lauren | Daily Herald (Arlington Heights, IL), September 27, 2005 | Go to article overview

Growing Their Religion Megachurches Use Business Strategies to Expand Their Flock


Heist, Lauren, Daily Herald (Arlington Heights, IL)


Byline: Lauren Heist Daily Herald Staff Writer

If salvation were a product, megachurches would be the hottest stock on the market.

Some say megachurches - so called because they attract at least 2,000 people on an average Sunday - are seeing phenomenal growth because of divine intervention. Others say it's simply because megachurches are using tactics from the business world to save souls rather than drive profits.

"They're incredibly cost effective," said Jim Twitchell, author of "Branded Nation: The Marketing of Megachurch, College Inc. and Museumworld."

"They've taken the principles of Wal-Mart and applied it to the principles of salvation," he said.

According to a 2000 study by the Hartford Institute for Religion Research, attendance at megachurches has increased 90 percent since 1980, and today, megachurches bring in an average of $4.8 million a year.

There are at least nine megachurches operating in the North and West suburbs, attracting more than 41,000 people every week.

Twitchell said these churches are successful because, like Wal- Mart and other chains, they understand the importance of economy of scale.

Take Harvest Bible Church, which preaches to about 8,000 people every Sunday.

A pastor usually gives a live sermon at the main center in Rolling Meadows, while thousands more watch on a large video screen at satellite locations in Elgin and Niles.

The median church in the United States only has 75 people per service, according to the Yearbook of American and Canadian Churches, but by embracing technology, one pastor at a megachurch can speak to many more people at once, and the entire operation can be more efficient.

"We're trying to be as innovative as the Lord gifts us to be," said Daryl Rice, business pastor at Harvest Bible.

Megachurches are also cost effective because they have lean staffs and rely heavily on volunteers.

Christ Community Church in St. Charles has an annual budget of about $5 million and employs less than 80 full- and part-time staff members.

Still, the church is able to offer sports teams, children's activities and about 700 groups a week for women, men, young adults and more largely because of the help of droves of volunteers.

The larger the church, the more volunteers it has to offer more niche services, which in turn attract more members.

Of course, being cost-effective isn't the only thing that has made megachurches successful, or the only similarity they have to corporate businesses.

Megachurches also know how to attract "customers."

Like many successful businesses, megachurch leaders try to appeal to an untapped audience by offering something new: in this case, a modern brand of worship. …

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