The average megachurch in America has the production sensibilities of a Grammy award-winning performer, the thoughtfulness of a famous professor or lecturer, the business-savvy of a multinational Fortune 500 company, the philanthropic effect of a global NGO, and the supernatural spirit that pops right off the text of the Bible’s Book of Acts.
They are almost all conservative theologically and politically (think 95 percent), but they have varying degrees of comfort with making politics an issue in the pulpit. Yet, if you pin any of them down, they almost always embrace traditional values. Their dual mission of evangelism and compassion stands in stark contrast to the very unholy games we play in the public arena. It’s the tension between the pastoral and prophetic calls that every church must embrace, and each church must find its own way through. It’s a real struggle, and different churches handle this tension in different ways.
Megachurches are the spiritual phenomenon of the 21st century; there are more churches with 5,000 people attending weekly services than at any other time in history. So much for those who claim ad nauseam that faith is declining in our country.
In compiling this list, Newsmax has elected to organize these churches based upon their overall influence rather than by their size (others do that regularly). While influence is notoriously subjective and therefore difficult to quantify, we based our list on the notoriety of the megachurches’ leaders, the reach of their books, the ratings of their television and radio programs, and the way the public views them.
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Here is Newsmax's list of the top 50 megachurches in the United States (Note: Church locations represent metropolitan areas and not exact cities):
1. Saddleback Church, Lake Forest, Calif. — If you ask 10 pastors anywhere in the world to name the most well-known pastor in America, eight of them will answer, “Rick Warren.” The church he founded remains one of the five largest in America, but Pastor Warren’s influence expands way beyond Saddleback. His book, "Purpose Driven Life," is second only to the Bible in non-fiction best-sellers; he was recently the subject of a major motion picture; he’s trained hundreds of thousands of church leaders in every nation in the world; and he’s on the speed dial of presidents, prime ministers, rock stars, and celebrities. For years, insiders have joked that Warren is the “evangelical pope.” No one was joking any longer when Pope Francis came to America for the World Meeting of Families in September and invited the evangelical Pastor Warren to deliver the keynote address.
2. Potter’s House, Dallas, Texas — They call him “bishop” but you could also call T.D. Jakes a producer, entrepreneur, best-selling author, talk show host, Oprah’s pastor, and at least half a dozen other things. His lively church is broadcast nationwide to millions of people. It is attended by 30,000 weekly, employs an army of people, and has every type of outreach you can possibly imagine. Its 200,000 square-foot Dallas sanctuary cost the congregation $45 million, and it only took four years to pay off. Oh, and one time they had a single service in a stadium that was attended by 140,000 people.
3. Lakewood Church, Houston, Texas — When Lakewood needed a new church building, it bought Houston’s Compaq Center. The church's weekly television programs dwarf all other Christian programming with eye-popping ratings that Hollywood would die for and, when it decided to start a radio program, SiriusXM gave Lakewood — get this — an entire radio station. Joel and Victoria Osteen lead America’s oft-noted “largest and most famous church.” Anyone who knows the couple understands that it was humility that led Joel to start his career behind the camera, and it also helps him keep his head on his shoulders, despite becoming a genuine celebrity.
4. Willow Creek Community Church, Chicago, Ill. — While not as well known, Willow Creek Community Church has always been one of the top five largest churches in America. Its savvy CEO-type master-teacher, Bill Hybels, leads it alongside his wife, Lynne. They’ve each written best-selling books, have invested their lives in seeding thousands of churches through their Willow Creek Association, and have annually led the largest leadership conference in the world, which is telecast to more than 100,000 people.
5. Life.Church, Oklahoma City, Okla. — Life.Church is actually the largest church in America, yet you probably wouldn't even know it. But that’s how they like it. The facility's weekly attendance across its nationwide campuses regularly pushes 100,000 people, and its “online church” at least doubles that. Life.Church has foregone the trappings of traditional television and radio ministries and opted for the Internet. Its brainchild, called the You Version Bible app, has been downloaded nearly 200 million times. The church is most famous for two things: its abundant generosity and its contentment with not being famous. Yet, in sheer numbers, no church reaches more people weekly than Life.Church, and none is more content to do it entirely under the radar.
6. Hillsong Church, New York and Los Angeles — Hillsong Church’s headquarters might be in Sydney, Australia, but it has truly become a global movement. Hillsong now boasts churches in a dozen global cities with more than 100,000 people in combined weekly attendance. Its trademark band, Hillsong United, fills up the same stadiums as rock stars U2, and now it has opened shop in America’s two largest cities, New York and Los Angeles. The thousands that attend each week represent an unbelievably diverse group (in both age and ethnicity), but the church is often recognized for the lines of young, hip, and famous people who wrap around city blocks waiting for the doors to open. Brian and Bobbie Houston lead the global movement and seem almost literally to be everywhere all the time. Most recently, Brian made the New York rounds, hitting every single morning show to push the forthcoming feature film on Hillsong United and his mega-best-selling book.
7. Gateway Church, Dallas, Texas — While only 15 years old, Gateway Church has made its way into the top five most-attended churches in America. Its smart leaders run the place like a company, and yet it’s every bit as exuberant — or “spirit-filled” — as any church in the world. Gateway booked the Cowboys Stadium for a nationwide event next year. It is collecting the most talented musicians and evangelical leaders in the world on its staff, and it's expanding its campuses like wild. The people at Gateway also feel a “call” to engage in the public arena with their pastors and elders, speaking frequently and boldly about issues in which public policy clashes with the church’s teachings. It was all envisioned by the extraordinary Pastor Robert Morris.
8. North Point Community Church, Atlanta, Ga. — Despite its regional and local focus, North Point has grown to become one of the top five largest churches. Though it also has a television program, a massive Internet audience, and a famous pastor who writes best-selling books (Andy Stanley), the church is nearly entirely focused on the strength of its congregation and finds its external influence in the opportunity to train other church leaders. As an individual congregation, North Point could be much more influential in the public arena, but it chooses not to be in order to extend its influence through the training of hundreds of thousands of leaders. North Point has opted for exponential influence and, while you might not know it is behind it, the religious community nationwide would look radically different without this church.
9. Shadow Mountain Community Church, San Diego, Calif. — Shadow Mountain Community Church has been led by two of America’s most influential Christian leaders, Dr. Tim LaHaye, and — for the past 30 years — Dr. David Jeremiah. Jeremiah is a mega-Christian influencer. He moves coyly in and out of the public arena, wielding his influence at the right time and in the right ways. He teaches daily to millions on the nation’s most listened-to Christian radio broadcast, and he has a weekly television audience that’s second only to Joel and Victoria Osteen’s. Every one of his books is a best-seller, and his national tours regularly sell out arenas. His cool, white hair gives him a distinguished presence, but it’s really his impeccable reputation that has made him one of America’s singlemost respected Christians. His church is big, not gigantic (8,000 in weekly attendance), but its influence is incalculable.
10. FaithChurch.com, St. Louis, Mo., — With three locations in St. Louis County and a new facility in West Palm Beach, Florida, FaithChurch.com was rated the 31st fastest-growing church in America last year by Outreach Magazine. The 63rd largest church in America, with more than 18,000 active members and a digital reach of well more than a million, FaithChurch.com was founded 12 years ago by husband-and-wife duo David and Nicole Crank. The Cranks, who also serve as the church’s senior pastors, are sought-after motivational speakers who helped grow their member base by breaking down the sometimes complex teachings of the Bible into relatable, easy-to-digest services that are accessible to everyone. In addition to six weekly services that are streamed online, both pastors maintain their own personal blogs, in which they share encouraging daily insights, anecdotes of family life with their two kids, and uplifting spiritual stories.
11. Prestonwood Baptist Church, Plano, Texas — While a number of the churches on this list are Southern Baptist, Prestonwood, in metropolitan Dallas, is the most well-known church with “Baptist” actually in its name. Dr. Jack Graham has a radio and television ministry, and he is a highly respected leader who most recently served as chairman of the National Day of Prayer. He truly exhibited the sheer weight of his influence — and Prestonwood’s — in October, when nearly all of the Republican presidential candidates came to his church for the North Texas Presidential Forum. No one in "Baptistdom" was surprised by it, for Graham is as big as it gets.
12. Thomas Road Baptist Church, Lynchburg, Va. — Led by Jonathan Falwell, the son of the late Rev. Jerry Falwell, and sitting at the far end of Liberty University, Thomas Road remains one of America’s largest and most influential churches. While Jonathan Falwell uses his political legacy selectively, when he speaks, people notice.
13. New Season Christian Worship Center, Sacramento, Calif. — This is the home base of the Rev. Samuel Rodriquez, who also leads the organization of the nation’s Hispanic evangelical churches. His accolades are endless, and he’s easily the most well-known Hispanic evangelical leader. His church also leads one of the largest prayer networks in the country, and Rodriquez’s fiery sermons are legendary.
14. The Rock Church, San Diego, Calif. — This church is led by former NFL player Miles McPherson. He is largely considered among the most gifted Bible teachers in America.
15. Christian Cultural Center, New York, N.Y. — Led by Rev. Dr. A. R. Bernard, this is New York City’s largest church and, aside from being an extraordinary leader and teacher, Bernard is about as iconic as someone gets in the Big Apple.
16. Redeemer Presbyterian Church, New York, N.Y. — This church is led by the best-selling author and public intellectual Dr. Tim Keller, who is often cited as the C.S. Lewis of our time. He has brought a certain thoughtfulness to the public discourse, and there isn't anyone else like him in evangelical America.
17. Cross Church, Springdale, Ark. — Led by the current president of the Southern Baptist Convention, Dr. Ronnie Floyd, Cross Church is a highly respected institution with a leader known for his spiritual leadership, as well as his prophetic speaking, writing, and teaching. Floyd is easily one of the most influential Christian leaders in America, and any Republican worth his salt better be calling.
18. New Life Covenant Church, Chicago, Ill. — This church is led by Pastor Choco de Jesus, a rising Hispanic star who Time magazine once named one of the 100 most influential people in the world.
19. City Church, Seattle and Los Angeles — Often called the “coolest pastor in America,” Judah Smith leads evangelical congregations in both Seattle and Los Angeles. He takes a traditional view of the scripture and teaches “the word,” but he does so with style.
20. Phoenix First Assembly and Angelus Temple, Phoenix and Los Angeles —Tommy, Luke, and Matthew Barnett are an evangelical dynasty in this country. Their churches and “dream centers” across America reach thousands of people ranging from the upper, upper class to the more than 80,000 families that the Los Angeles Dream Center feeds monthly.
21. Newspring Church, Anderson, S.C. — This is the third-largest church in America but, like North Point, it keeps its focus local and regional. While the church is headquartered in Anderson, it is spread so widely across the state of South Carolina that it could basically be considered the state church. Perry Noble leads it, and does so with a salt-of-the-earth style. It’s not unusual for one service to end with 1,000 new converts.
22. Southeast Christian Church, Louisville, Ky. — Another one of the five-largest churches in America, Southeast Christian is led by the truly remarkable Dave Stone. His humility is his most famous characteristic, and he’s surely the most influential Christian you’ve never heard of, not by design but by his unimpeachable character.
23. Harvest Christian Fellowship, Riverside, Calif. — This church is led by Greg Laurie, who's known for his evangelistic crusades in stadiums across America.
24. West Angeles Church of God in Christ, Los Angeles, Calif. — Led by Bishop Charles Blake, this church is an icon of Los Angeles Christianity. Blake leads one of the largest African-American denomination in the country, and his congregations often have their share of celebrities.
25. Christ Fellowship Church, West Palm Beach, Fla. — The father-son duo of Tom and Todd Mullins leads this gigantic south Florida congregation with campuses popping up everywhere. Its West Palm Beach headquarters puts it right next door to some of America’s wealthiest and most influential people. Yet, the church is known to be comfortable for them without catering to them.
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26. Oak Cliff Bible Fellowship, Dallas, Texas — Led by Dr. Tony Evans, this church boasts a widely listened-to radio broadcast, multiple ministries across the city, and the honor of being known as one of the most popular “urban” ministries in the country. Dr. Evans’ daughter, Priscilla Shirer, is one of America’s most well-known Bible teachers, and his son, Anthony, is a popular Christian musician. Dr. Evans was also a key adviser to George W. Bush’s Office of Faith Based Initiatives.
27. Harvest Bible Chapel, Chicago, Ill. — James MacDonald leads Harvest and its related network of churches; he also hosts a widely listened-to national radio program. He’s also a best-selling author and regularly tours the nation, packing churches in as many as 50 consecutive cities.
28. First Baptist Dallas, Dallas, Tex. — This church, which operates out of a $130 million building, is led by the outspoken firebrand Dr. Robert Jeffress, who openly cherishes his role as a prophet to culture. He attended the third Republican debate as a guest of Donald Trump, and he has also appeared as a Fox News contributor.
29. Bayside Church, Sacramento, Calif. — Ray Johnston leads Bayside, one of the largest churches in California. It is also connected to a wide network of other churches, and Johnston doubles as a best-selling author and leadership expert.
30. Skyline Community Church, San Diego, Calif. — Led by Dr. Jim Garlow, the scholar/pastor who spearheaded California’s passing of Proposition 8 (opposing same-sex marriage), Skyline isn’t the largest church on the list, but it is capable of performing political miracles.
31. Elevation Church, Charlotte, N.C. — Led by the hip Steven Furtick, who is also a best-selling author, Elevation is often noted among the fastest-growing churches in America.
32. Church of the Highlands, Birmingham, Ala. — Iconic within the church world, Church of the Highlands is led by Chris Hodges and connected to a wide network of other institutions.
33. National Community Church, Washington, D.C. — Mark Batterson is a rising evangelical star whose best-selling books and cool teachings have quickly made his church one of the most attended by young professionals in Washington, D.C. He started it in a movie theater.
34. Second Baptist Church Houston, Houston, Texas — Led by the erudite and highly regarded Southern Baptist, Dr. Ed Young, this church is the largest Baptist church in America with “Baptist” actually in its name.
35. Cornerstone Church, San Antonio, Texas — This church, where the widely known television evangelist Dr. John Hagee resides, has led the most significant pro-Israel movement among evangelicals.
36. Fellowship Church, Dallas, Texas — Always numbered among the largest churches in America and known for its creativity and tech savvy, Fellowship is incredibly well known within the church world, but has less exposure in the public arena.
37. The Summit Church, Raleigh, N.C. — A rising star in the Southern Baptist world, J.D. Greear planted and leads this congregation, which is known to be contemporary with a scholarly bent.
38. First Baptist of Glenarden, Landover, Md. — Pastor John K. Jenkins Sr. leads one of the most influential congregations in metropolitan Washington, D.C. He’s a national figure who plays a prominent role in the National Association of Evangelicals.
39. Calvary of Albuquerque, Albuquerque, N.M. — Led by Skip Heitzig, this church is probably the most well-known Calvary Chapel in America, and Heitzig is certainly one of the most listened-to preachers in the U.S.
40. McLean Bible Church, McLean, Va. — While rarely, if ever, public about its politics, McLean Bible Church counts within its congregation some of the most influential leaders in Washington, D.C.
41. First Baptist Houston, Houston, Texas — This is the church of two of the most loved Bible teachers in America, Greg Matte and Beth Moore.
42. The Village Church, Dallas, Texas — Matt Chandler leads The Village Church, and he is easily the most listened-to theologically reformed Bible teacher in America. His podcast is incomprehensibly popular, and his church is large, young, and takes the Bible seriously.
43. Northland – A Church Distributed, Orlando, Fla. — Joel Hunter is theologically conservative but is also a well-known spiritual adviser to political leaders, including our current president. He also plays a significant role in interfaith dialogue around the world. He leads the largest church in Orlando.
44. Passion City Church, Atlanta, Ga. — Passion City is led by Louie and Shelley Giglio, the founders of Passion Conferences and the top Christian recording label Six Steps Records.
45. Oak Hills Church, San Antonio, Texas — This church is led by one of the most famous and widely read Christian authors, Max Lucado, and his co-pastor Randy Frazee.
46. First Baptist Church of Woodstock, Woodstock, Ga. — Led by Southern Baptist pastor Johnny Hunt, First Baptist Church of Woodstock is known for its extensive ministry from pastors to pastors.
47. World Harvest Church, Columbus, Ohio — Pastor Rod Parsley has a large television audience, a gigantic church, and the type of political weight that allowed him to — as many have stated — hand-deliver Ohio to George W. Bush in his re-election.
48. Free Chapel, Gainesville, Ga., and Irvine, Calif. — Jentezen Franklin leads this congregation. The popular teacher, author, and leader recently hosted Dr. Ben Carson.
49. First Baptist Church, Atlanta, Ga. — This church is led by one of America’s most loved and most well-known Bible teachers, Dr. Charles Stanley. His television audience is gigantic, his books are best-sellers, and his reputation is impeccable. During the ’80s, he served as one of the founders of the Moral Majority along with Jerry Falwell.
50. Bel Air Presbyterian Church, Los Angeles, Calif. — If you’re an evangelical and you’re in Hollywood, you either attend here or you know that you should.
Johnnie Moore is an author, humanitarian, former senior vice president of Liberty University, and the president of the KAIROS Company, TheKCompany.co, a public relations and consulting firm.
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