DFG-Projekt: "Why are Megachurches Attractive? Network Structures and Cultural Reproduction of a New Organizational Form in the U.S."

Prof. Dr. Thomas Kern
Prof. Dr. Uwe Schimank (Universität Bremen)
Dr. Insa Pruisken
August 2012 - Dezember 2017
Projektfinanzierung: gefördert durch die DFG


Megachurches have become a widespread phenomenon around the globe. Congregations are considered megachurches if their weekly services are attended by more than 2,000 adults. Although very large congregations have existed throughout the history of Christianity, their number has been rising sharply since the 1970s. Currently, there are more than 1,600 megachurches in the United States alone. While economic explanations for the extraordinary growth of congregations abound, more research is needed to explore the role of social networks for the recruitment of new attenders. Sociologists are also called to identify key features responsible for the success of megachurches as a new organizational form. Most importantly, tracing the rise of the megachurch movement may reveal profound transformations of spiritual culture in America.


The project seeks to provide insights about growth trajectories typical for megachurches by describing the specific niche they occupy in terms of the characteristics of their members, their embeddedness in organizational networks, and their positioning in the overall spiritual landscape.

Key Questions

  • How do megachurches mobilize new members?
  • What are key characteristics of megachurches as a new type of congregation?
  • How are megachurches culturally embedded in a network of meanings, ideas, and values?


The study follows a multilevel case study approach with four congregations located in Texas serving as research sites. In January and February 2013 about 70 interviews with staff members of the four churches were conducted in order to gather information about the organizations’ structure and goals. Between September 2013 and February 2014 an online survey for the members of the congregations was distributed. Questions dealt with their individual recruitment, their participation in church activities, and their affiliations with other organizations. In addition, a semantic network analysis of organizational documents and religious publications important for congregation members will be conducted.


Kern, Thomas & Insa Pruisken (2018): "Was ist ein religiöser Markt? Zum Wandel religiöser Konkurrenz in den USA." Zeitschrift für Soziologie 47(1), S. 29-45.

Kern, Thomas & Insa Pruisken (2018): Religiöse Bewegungen. Das Beispiel des Evangelikalismus in den USA. In: Pollack, Detlef, Volker Krech, Olaf Müller & Markus Hero (Hrsg.): Handbuch Religionssoziologie. Wiesbaden: VS Verlag für Sozialwissenschaften, S. 507-524.

Kern, Thomas & Insa Pruisken (2017): Evangelikalismus als Bewegung. In: Elwert, Frederik, Martin Radermacher & Jens Schlamelcher (Hrsg.): Handbuch Evangelikalismus, Bielefeld: transcript, S. 261-274.

Kern, Thomas & Insa Pruisken (2017): Kontingenzbewältigung durch "Organisation": Das Wachstum der Megakirchen in den USA. In: Sammet, Heidemarie & Kornelia Winkel: Religion soziologisch denken, Reflexionen auf aktuelle Entwicklungen in Theorie und Emperie. Wiesbaden: VS Verlag für Sozialwissenschaften, S. 407-427.

Kern, Thomas & Insa Pruisken (2016): Wohin geht der religiöse Wandel? Essay zu Detlev Pollack und Gergely Rosta, Religion in der Moderne. Ein internationaler Vergleich, Frankfurt: Campus 2015. In: Soziologische Revue 39(3): 337–349.

Pruisken, Insa & Janina Coronel (2014): Megakirchen: Managerialisierung im religiösen Feld? In: Heiser, Patrick & Christian Ludwig: Sozialformen der Religion im Wandel, Springer VS, S. 53-79.

Kern, Thomas & Uwe Schimank (2013): Megakirchen als religiöse Organisationen: Ein dritter Gemeindetyp jenseits von Sekte und Kirche? Kölner Zeitschrift für Soziologie und Sozialpsychologie Bd. 65, Supplement 1 (Sonderheft 53: Religion und Gesellschaft): 285-309.