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The Largest Churches in America and How They Got That Way

Updated on November 20, 2017
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Rev. Margaret Minnicks has been a Bible teacher for nearly 50 years. She loves sharing thing from the Bible with others.

What Are Megachurches?

Millions of Americans attend megachurches. A megachurch is defined as one that has regular weekly attendance of at least 2,000 people.

The financial news site 24/7 Wall St. has compiled a list of America’s 25 largest churches, based on average weekly attendees. Most of these megachurches are located in Texas and Florida, and many are found in the suburbs of Dallas and Houston.

To determine the largest churches in America, 24/7 Wall St. looked at weekly attendance numbers for the congregations and compiled the data collected from the Hartford Institute for Religion (HIRR).

From the table below, readers can see that many of the largest churches are independent and non-denominational. Most of the churches started out very small, in living rooms or rented facilities, and now some of them are filling football stadiums.

Reasons for Rapid Church Growth

Why do some churches grow very quickly, while others have not had a new member in years? Here are some reasons churches grow and others stand still.

  • Growing churches tend to appeal to a younger generation.
  • They use state-of-the-art technology with Bible apps.
  • They have live-streamed sermons.
  • The music is modern with some Christian rock music performances.
  • There are active youth ministries.
  • Usually, the church has more than one campus.

Lakewood Church

The largest church in America is Lakewood Church in Houston, Texas with Joel Osteen as its pastor. The average weekly attendance is 43,500. Its denomination is Independent, non-denominational.

Lakewood Church was founded by John Osteen on Mother's Day, May 10, 1959, inside an abandoned feed store in northeast Houston. John was a Southern Baptist minister, but the church soon dropped "Baptist" from its name and became non-denominational.

After John Osteen's death caused by of a heart attack on January 23, 1999, his youngest son, Joel Osteen, became the pastor.

Today, son Joel and his wife Victoria are the senior pastors. Lakewood Church fills the former Houston Rockets basketball stadium. It has four English-language services and two Spanish-language services every week.

Unlike most of the megachurches, Lakewood Church's congregation doesn't have various locations. It ranks number one in the country based on one meeting place.

North Point Community Church

North Point Community Church was established in November 1995 by Andy Stanley. His father is Dr. Charles Stanley whose church did not make the list.

For the church's first three years, the congregation met every other Sunday night in rented facilities. When the Olympics came to town, the church was unable to meet for nine weeks.

Today, the church has six campuses making it the second largest congregation in the United States.

Life.Church

Life.Church was founded by Craig Groeschel in 1996 with 40 members. The church is part of the Evangelical Covenant Church and has 27 locations all around the country along with an active online community.

In January 1996, Life.Church began in Oklahoma City with less than 50 congregants meeting together in a two-car garage that was equipped with only a borrowed overhead projector.

The membership grew rapidly. Other churches joined Life.Church. Today, it is a multi-church with 27 locations.

Gateway Church

Gateway Church is a non-denominational, charismatic Christian multi-site megachurch based in Southlake, Texas, near Dallas.

The church started out as a Bible-based, evangelistic church. Its first service was held on Easter morning, April 23, 2000, at the Hilton Hotel in Grapevine. Approximately 180 people attended the service.

The church grew and moved to an old movie theater. Today, it is the largest congregation in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. Gateway Church is the fourth of the 25 largest churches in America.

Willow Creek Community Church

Willow Creek Community Church was founded in the Chicago suburb of South Barrington on October 12, 1975 by Bill Hybels and French-born Christian scholar Gilbert Bilezikian. Now has locations around the metropolitan area.

It is an American non-denominational and multi-generational Evangelical Christian megachurch that has three-weekend services making it the fifth largest megachurch in the United States. It has seven locations including a Spanish-speaking congregation.

Fellowship Church

Fellowship Church located in Grapevine, Texas, is affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention but is also part of the “seeker” movement, which aims to attract a wider audience through unorthodox methods. It was founded by Ed Young in 1989, and the church started out in a rented facility.

Christ's Church of the Valley

Church of the Valley was founded by Don Wilson in 1982 in his living room. He held the church’s first services in a rented movie theatre and did not find a permanent home until 1996.

The non-denominational church is located in Peoria, Arizona has over 200 full-time and part-time staff members.

NewSpring Church

NewSpring is the largest church in South Carolina with 15 campuses and online services. It was founded in 2000 by Perry Noble. However, in 2016, Noble was removed for alcohol abuse and other moral issues. Since then, the church has been led by four lead pastors.

Perry recently filed paperwork to start a new church in South Carolina. It is named Second Chance Church.

Elevation Church

Elevation Church was founded in 2006 by Steven Furtick, who was in his mid-twenties at the time. The Southern Baptist multi-site church based in Charlotte, North Carolina.

Elevation currently has 17 locations, with 9 of them in the Charlotte area. The church has been described as "a pop culture-friendly church with an orthodox Christian message." The services feature loud rock music as well as preaching.

Church of the Highlands

Church of the Highlands is a non-denominational, Christian multi-site megachurch headquartered in Birmingham, Alabama. The church was founded by Chris Hodges on February 4, 2001, with a core group of 34 people. It is the largest church in Alabama based on weekly attendance.

Hodges also founded Highlands College, a ministry training school.

Saddleback Church

Saddleback Church is an evangelical Christian megachurch located in Lake Forest, California. It is affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention. The church was founded in 1980 by Pastor Rick Warren. The ranking of largest churches includes multi-site churches.

Saddleback's first public service was held on Palm Sunday, March 30, 1980 with 40 people in attendance at the Laguna Hills High School Theater. Just one week later, on Easter Sunday, 240 were in attendance. Warren's church growth methods led to rapid growth and the church has used nearly 80 different facilities in its 30-year history.

Saddleback did not build its first permanent building until it had 10,000 people attending on weekly basis. Before the current Lake Forest campus was purchased in the early 1990s, a 2,300-seat plastic tent was used for worship services for several years, with four services each weekend.

In 1995, the current Worship Center was completed with a seating capacity of 3,500. Saddleback Church currently has 13 regional campuses

Pastor Rick Warren is the author of popular book “The Purpose Driven Life.”

Southeast Christian Church

Southeast is the largest church in Kentucky. It now has six campuses, including a recently opened one in Elizabethtown in a building that previously housed a Winn Dixie supermarket.

The church began on July 1, 1962 with just 53 members.

Central Christian Church

Central Church was founded in 1962. It has several locations around the word. The church describes itself as “a place where it’s okay to not be okay.” The current pastor is Jud Wilhite.

The church comes in the middle of the pack of the 25 largest church. It is number 13.

Dream City Church
Dream City Church

Dream City Church

Dream City Church is an Assemblies of God megachurch. It was founded as Phoenix First Assembly in 1923. It has experienced rapid growth in recent years.

The church opened a Scottsdale campus in 2015 and merged with Community Church of Joy in Glendale in 2016.

Second Baptist Church

Second Baptist Church in Houston, Texas was founded in 1927. Ed Young is the pastor. There are 6 locations with services in English and Spanish. It is affiliated with the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention.

The church has been described by its pastor as "a town within a city."

Christ Fellowship

Christ Fellowship is a multi-site, multi-ethnic, megachurch based in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida with eight campuses throughout South Florida. The church was started in 1984 as a small Bible study with only 40 people in the living room of the founders, Dr. Tom and Donna Mullins.

Christ Fellowship has seven locations in South Florida in addition to its main location in Palm Beach Gardens. It offers services in Spanish and streams services live via a “Christ Fellowship App.”

Calvary Chapel Fort Lauderdale

Calvary Chapel Fort Lauderdale was founded in 1985 by Bob Coy, who previously worked in the Las Vegas music industry. It is an evangelical megachurch and is led by Pastor Doug Sauder.

In addition to its main campus, the church has nine regional campus locations in Florida.

Woodlands Church

Woodlands Church is a Christian non-denominational megachurch founded by Pastor Kerry Shook in 1993. It became one of the fastest growing churches in the country.

The main campus is in The Woodlands, Texas, about 27 miles north of downtown Houston, and it has four campuses.

Eagle Brook Church

Eagle Brook Church, which was started in a living room in the 1940s, was originally called First Baptist Church but changed its name in 1997 to attract people from other denominations.

It now has a number of campuses in suburban Minneapolis-St. Paul, Minnesota. The Eagle Brook Association is a ministry that helps other churches reach more people through leadership training for pastors and staff.

Pastor John Hagee at Cornerstone Church Sings "My God Is Real" with the Choir

Cornerstone Church

John Charles Hagee is the founder and senior pastor of Cornerstone Church in San Antonio, Texas. He is the fifth of six pastors in his family with the same name. His youngest son Matthew is the executive pastor.

Cornerstone was not the first name of the church. Hagee founded The Church at Castle Hills on Mother's Day, May 11, 1975, with 25 members. Within two years, he built a new sanctuary with seating for 1,600 people.

On October 4, 1987, Hagee dedicated a 5,000+-seat sanctuary and named it Cornerstone Church. Today, the church is number 20 on the list of 25 largest church. The last data showed 17,000 members.

Christ the King Community Church

Headquartered in Burlington, Washington, Christ the King Church has several locations in the state and all over the country. It is one church that meets in many locations.

Because of its many locations, the church ranks number 21 of the 25 megachurches in the United States. However, it would not have made the list if only one located had been ranked.

Calvary Albuquerque

Calvary Chapel is an association of evangelical Christian churches.

Beginning in 1965 in Southern California, this fellowship of churches grew out of Chuck Smith's Calvary Chapel Costa Mesa.

Skip Heitzig began a Bible study in his house which eventually became Calvary Albuquerque and one of the fastest growing churches in America.

Crossroads

Crossroads was started by 11 friends in Cincinnati in 1995 and has been growing rapidly since.

Last year, Crossroads merged with a similarly named but unrelated church in Lexington, Kentucky. It now has six churches in the Cincinnati area and others around Ohio and Kentucky.

McLean Bible Church

McLean Bible Church was founded in 1961 by a group of five families Northern Virginia. Its first service was held on Easter Sunday at Chesterbook Elementary School in McLean with Pastor J. Albert Ford.

Today it has several locations in the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area.

The Potter's House

Televangelist W.V. Grant established the Eagles Nest Family Church in Dallas in the 1980s. After Grant was convicted of tax evasion in 1996 and sentenced to prison, he sold the facility to fellow televangelist T.D. Jakes, who relaunched it as The Potter’s House with 50 families.

25 Megachurches

Ranking
Church
Location
Pastor
Members
1
Lakewood Church, Independent, non-denominational, 1959
Houston, Texas
Joel Osteen and Victor Osteen
45,500
2
Point Community Church, Independent, non-denominational, 1996
Alpharetta, Georgia
Andy Stanley
30,629
3
Life.Church, Evangelical Covenant, 1996
Edmond, Oklahoma
Craig Groeschel
30,000
4
Gateway Church, Independent, Non-denomination, 2000
Southlake, Texas
Robert Morris
28,000
5
Willow Creek Community Church, Independent, non-denominational, 1975
South Barrington, Illinois
Bill Hybels
25,743
6
Fellowship Church, Southern Baptist, 1989
Grapevine, Texas
Ed Young
24,162
7
Christ's Christ of the Valley, Independent Christian. 1982
Peoria, Arizona
Don Wilson
23,395
8
NewSpring Church, Baptist,2000
Anderson, South Carolina
Brad Cooper
23,055
9
Elevation Church, Independent non-denomination, 2006
Matthews, North Carolina
Steven Furtick
22,200
10
Church of the Highlands, Independent non-denominational, 2001
Birmington, Alabama
Chris Hodges
22,184
11
Saddleback Church, Southern Baptist, 1980
Lake Forest, California
Rick Warren
22,055
12
Southeast Christian Church, Independent Christian, 1962
Louisville, Kentucky
Dave Stone
21,764
13
Central Christian Church, Indepent Christian, 1962
Henderson, Nevada
Jud Wilhite
21,055
14
Dream City Church, Assemblies of God, 1923
Phoenix, Arizona
Tommy and Luke Barnett
21,000
15
Second Baptist Church, Southern Baptist
Houston, Texas
H. Edwin Young
20,656
16
Christ Fellowship, Independent non-denominational
Palm Beach Gardens, Florida
Todd and Julie Mullins
18,965
17
Calvary Chapel Fort Lauderdale, non-denominational
Fort Lauderdale, Florida
Doug Sauder
18,521
18
Woodlands Church, Southern Baptist, 1993
The Woodlands, Texas
Kerry Shook
18,385
19
Eagle Brook Church, Baptist General Conference, 1940s
Centerville, Minnesota
Bob Merritt
17,091
20
Cornerstone Church, Independent non-denomination, 1975
San Antonio, Texas
John Hagee
17,000
21
Church the King Community Church, Independent, non-denominational
Burlington, Washington
Dave Browning
17,000
22
Calvary Albuquerque, Calvary Churches, 1965
Albuquerque, New Mexico
Skip Heitzig
16,830
23
Crossroads, Independent, non-denominational, 1995
Cincinnati, Ohio
Brian Torne
16792
24
McLean Bible Church, Independent, non-denominational, 1961
McLean, Virginia
Lon Solomon
16,500
25
The Potter's House, Independent non-denominational, 1996
Dallas, Texas
T.D. Jakes
16,140
Information in this chart was obtained from 24/7 wallst.com

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    • revmjm profile image
      Author

      Margaret Minnicks 12 days ago from Richmond, VA

      Erinshelby, thanks for reading my article and responding. Yes, the budget numbers are on the website of some of the churches but not all of them. If you are interested, you can go to the website for that information.

    • erinshelby profile image

      erinshelby 12 days ago from United States

      Interesting. Would love to know if the budget numbers for any of these is readily available on the websites or if they have to be requested.

    • revmjm profile image
      Author

      Margaret Minnicks 2 weeks ago from Richmond, VA

      I enjoyed doing the research. Like you, I was surprised that some churches made the list and some didn't. The numbers do change from time to time. I also enjoyed making the chart. That's one of the things I like about HubPages. We can be creative with our articles.

    • MsDora profile image

      Dora Weithers 2 weeks ago from The Caribbean

      Very interesting information about megachurches. Thanks for doing the research. Some I thought would be on the list are not; and some on the list I've never heard of before now. Even more interesting would be if and how the list changes going forward.