Church growth: World's largest churches are getting bigger

Worshippers at a megachurch near Lagos. Some Nigerian megachurches can hold more than 20,000 worshippers and employ thousands of people.Akintunde Akinleye/Reuters

More than 1.6 million people now attend America's largest churches each weekend, according to the latest research on church growth.

America's 100 largest churches start at an average weekend attendance of 9,000 people. The largest 200 begin with an average attendance of 6,000. Six out of 10 of the largest churches are still growing.

Weekend attendance at large churches has grown at five times the rate compared to the year 2000, according to Dr John Vaughan of  Church Growth Today.

But they are still small compared to countries such as Korea and Nigeria. In Africa as a whole there are already more than 15 churches reporting more than 20,000 attendance.

Nine out of 10 US churches are small, more traditional congregations. A church was defined by Vaughan as a megachurch if it has 2,000 worshippers or more.

When Vaughan wrote his 1985 book The World's 20 Largest Churches, there were known to be 27 non-Catholic churches with more than 6,000 worshippers at the weekend, with more than half of these in the US. Today, more than 200 in the US alone have more than 6,000 worshippers.

Pastor Joel Joel Osteen

Lakewood Church in Houston led by Joel Osteen is America's largest megachurch with 52,000 worshippers every weekend, 7,200 more than in 2010 and five time the size it was when Osteen's father Pastor John Osteen, who founded it, died in 1999.

Life.Church in Edmond, Oklahoma tops the multi-site table with 70,000 weekend worshippers at 21 sites across seven states.

The three largest churches outside the US are in Korea, Argentina and Nigeria.

Vaughan says in a press release that he has identified the next 150 emerging megachurches and he is confident there are many good pastors who are equipped to lead them.