The church my family usually goes to, Horizon Christian Fellowship, is fairly large; I would guess its weekly attendance is roughly 2,000 or so. But yesterday, my mom and I went to The Rock Church, which is among the largest churches in America with its weekly attendance of about 12,000. Here's how it went.
The Rock is a very large, newly-built facility, and the church building itself is an impressive state-of-the-art amphitheatre that seats 3,500 people. As we walked in there were tables set up on either side passing out flyers, like a kind of miniature convention. The flyers that I took, along with the sermon's "lesson plan," are pictured below. Interestingly, the bulletin flyer listed several former workers at Horizon (which is both our current church and my former high school) as Rock employees. I also saw an old math teacher of mine from Horizon in the parking lot. These things make me wonder if the Rock is growing at Horizon's expense, both in terms of staff and congregation.
The music during the "worship" portion was decent, and the atmospheric stage lighting made it reminiscent of a concert. Then the pastor, Miles McPherson, interviewed a city councilwoman, which was fairly dull and felt out of place for a church service. When the congregation prayed for the woman, he had them all reach out their hands toward her. I'm not sure why – do they think God's power comes down through them and shoots out through their arms at her?
McPherson is well-suited to being the pastor of a megachurch. He was charismatic, engaging, and had an informal speaking style that appeals to a broad audience. He moved around the stage frequently, and he had the audience parrot certain words back to him to keep them listening. The sermon was pretty light on meaningful content, but on the bright side the topic was community service. If there's one thing I would approve of as the subject of a sermon, that would be it, although the same things can be (and are) accomplished without the religious component.
The atmosphere of the place was a bit overwhelming. The lights, music and charismatic pastor create an environment ideal for manufacturing religious experiences. As I looked around at the massive crowds surrounding me, it struck me how easily this setup amplifies groupthink and the bandwagon effect. Putting so many like-minded people together in such a socially insulated environment reassures them that their beliefs must be true and makes them less likely to question the consensus viewpoint.
The service as a whole was very short at about 75 minutes, and incredibly the actual sermon was probably less than 25. I have a feeling that's part of the whole package; it needs to be short and snappy to get mass appeal. That combined with the freshly constructed, high-tech building and stylish atmosphere is making them quite successful (perhaps at the expense of smaller surrounding churches). As Christianity continues to adapt to the surrounding culture, I predict we'll see churches like these flourish as more traditional ones slowly fade away.