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Study: Megachurches can trigger false spiritual highs

“God’s love becomes … such a drug that you can’t wait to come get your next hit. … You can’t wait to get involved to get the high from God.” Reported a megachurch worshiper in a new study on the affects of spiritual highs in megachurches.

The lights, the swaying induced music, the large crowd, and that celebrity pastor preaching to you. Ahh… the spiritual high.

According to a new study, that “spiritual high” could be a result of a chemical process in the brain. The estimated 10% of American Protestants, about 6 million worshipers, who regularly attend one of 1,600 mega churches could experience this chemical process. At an annual meeting of the American Sociological Association in Denver a team of researcher found that:

The upbeat modern music, cameras that scan the audience and project smiling, dancing, singing, or crying worshippers on large screens, and an extremely charismatic leader whose sermons touch individuals on an emotional level … serve to create these strong positive emotional experiences. We see this experience of unalloyed joy over and over again in megachurches. That’s why we say it’s like a drug.

The study showed that worshipers at megachurches experience a greater release of oxytocin, thought to add to a sense of euphoria. That would lead us to believe that these types of megachurch worship experiences can trigger a false sense of a spiritual high.

Adding to this sense of spiritual high, one of the study’s researcher said,

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Crystal Cathedral: End of Mega Church Era?

The reports out of Orange County, California have not been encouraging for the once mighty Crystal Cathedral. Robert Schuller founded the church and recently retired as the church’s senior pastor.  In turn, the church never fully recovered from Schuller’s pastoral departure. Though he stayed on the church’s governing board, two of his children took a shot at pastoring the large church. Schuller’s son, Robert became the senior pastor and two years later resigned. Then, Sheila, daughter of the elder Schuller, became senior pastor.  The church then filed for bankruptcy last year with $50 million in debt.

If this was not enough, reports of the the founder, Robert Schuller’s departure from the church’s governing board surfaced last week. However, his position on the board was moved from voting member to “honorary Chairman of the Board Emeritus” in order to free him up for more speaking engagements.  Ah huh.

Membership and attendance have fallen since the founding pastor’s departure. Now with the debt issue over the church’s head, a few organizations have considering buying the church. The Catholic Diocese of Orange said it was considering buying the bankrupt church and converting it to a Catholic cathedral.  Chapman University bid $46 million and would allow the church to lease back its core buildings.

With all of these issues surrounding the Crystal Cathedral, the question rolls around in many minds: Can “newly” planted mega churches survive when the founding pastor leaves?

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Are You a Mega Church Drop Out?

With mega-churches basking in the spotlight of mainstream media, several studies have been done about the mega-church movement that might just surprise you.  A study just released a few days ago, indicates that the largest churches in the United States are “Christian, contemporary, and evangelical.”  Mega-churches are growing, so the short term studies cite.  The largest churches in the United States have reach amazing numbers:

  1. Lakewood Church – Houston, TX 43,500 weekly
  2. – Edmond, OK 26,776 weekly
  3. Willow Creek Community Church – South Barrington, IL 23,400 weekly
  4. North Point Community Church – Alpharetta, GA 23,377 weekly
  5. Second Baptist Church – Houston, TX 22,723 weekly

However, more long term studies show that churches and communities of faith are losing ground.   The 18 year American Religious Identification Survey show that the percentage of “other Christians” (evangelical, protestant, and non-denominational churches)  has dropped.  Even in the Bible belt!  In Texas, 20% of “other Christians” (basically, non-Catholics) have changed their faith affiliation to something other than Christian.   You can check out the interactive graphic here.

The American Religious Identification Survey said “the challenge to Christianity … does not come from other religions but from a rejection of all forms of organized religion.”  With so many mega-churches growing, there must be a “drop out” rate that is not being reported because “the percentage of those who choose a generic label, calling themselves simply Christian, Protestant, non-denominational, evangelical or “born again,” was 14.2%, about the same as in 1990.”

Even more surprising are what these surveys and studies have found:

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