The popular view of California is of a liberal, godless region, a land of possibilities that is open to experimentation in all things. Despite this perception, California has more megachurches than any other state.
Richard Flory · January 11, 2018
The popular view of California is of a liberal, godless region, a land of possibilities that is open to experimentation in all things. As novelist Wallace Stegner wrote in 1967, the California motto is:
“Why not? It might work.”
This is true even in an otherwise conventional field as religion, with perhaps the most illustrative example being that of the state’s megachurches.
Indeed, California has more megachurches than any other state: There are over 200 Protestant, theologically conservative churches with at least 2,000 weekly attenders. And while most are in major metropolitan areas, megachurches can be seen in the Inland Empire and the Central Valley, on up through Sacramento and as far north as Redding.
In my multiple research projects conducted over the last 25 years, I have seen that California megachurches have played a significant role in how millions of people – Christian or not – understand Christianity.
Adapting church to culture
Large churches have been around since the industrialization and urbanization of the U.S. in the 19th century. But it was only in the the mid-20th century that megachurches became a phenomenon.
Beyond their large size, which can range from the threshold 2,000 regular weekly attenders up to 25,000 to 50,000 attenders at U.S. megachurches, it is the number of different activities, outreach programs and suburban locations that characterize these churches. In my view, the most important characteristic of megachurches is their ability to “appropriate” elements from the larger culture, be it popular music, performances or even dress styles.
While they are found in major cities across the U.S. and globally, it is in California that megachurches led the way in merging larger cultural trends into people’s religious lives. Two important examples illustrate their impact.