Mega-churches on the rise - WALB.com, Albany News, Weather, Sports

Mega-churches on the rise

June 19, 2005

Albany-- More and more churches across the United States are moving away from the old-school traditions. Years ago you wouldn't see big television screens, music other than the typical piano and organ or multiple cameras, audio and lighting.

"I see it growing even larger than it is now," says New Birth Fellowship Church Pastor Leon B. Gardner. New Birth Fellowship Church Pastor Leon Gardner looks back on his church's tremendous growth over the years from a little church on the hill on Cordele Road. "I look back at First Mursigrove. When I first took over as pastor, Mursigrove was about 34 members strong," says Gardner.

Over time people began to come in numbers. They outgrew the church and then moved to a new home on Radium Springs Road. "The blessing is that once we got here I said Oh my God, we're three times larger than the church on the hill," says Gardner. But even that only lasted a short amount of time.

"We were probably here for a little more than a year and we had standing room only," says Gardner. That caused the need to build even more and New Birth's rapid church membership and growth is an early example of an increasing trend in religion, the mega-church.

"I believe God still works just as many miracles and he's still just as personal in larger churches," says Gardner. New Birth is indeed a larger church home but it's about 1,000 members short of being defined as mega. A mega-church is defined as a church with atleast 2,000 members attending on a weekly basis. The church also provides innovative ways to get the congregation involved. The days of sitting still are over and more churches are providing ministry on every level.

"I was brought up in old church tradition and got a chance to see another generation come forth and then God got me to see the future generation," says Gardner.

Three generations to minister to requires a different type of approach but many people feel employing new technologies and increasing membership into the thousands takes away from the religious purpose of church. "I beg to differ with that because I believe that God won't put more on us than we can bear," says Gardner.

So he isn't afraid of taking that leap of faith.

"You've heard the sayings build it and they will come. It's not about that," says Gardner. It's about following a calling, no matter if it's 34 members or 2,004.

"If God allows New Birth to be not just one of the leading churches in the community but a megachurch in Southwest Georgia," says Gardner.   He'll welcome the challenge of turning his South Georgia ministry into something mega.

According to the Hartford Institute for Religious Research, 40 percent of mega-churches are found in the South. 44 are in Georgia.

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