Attending a Megachurch is Kinda Like Doing Drugs, UW Study Finds

Karl Marx famously said that religion is the opiate of the masses, and now a new study from sociologists at the University of Washington suggests that attending a protestant megachurch produces a high that is much like being on drugs.

The study, titled “‘God is like a Drug…’: Explaining Interaction Ritual Chains in American Megachurches,” is the work of UW Professor James Wellman and grad students Katie E. Corcoran and Kate Stockly-Meyerdirk. The trio pored over 470 interviews with attendees of 12 megachurches from across the United States.



  1. I didn’t write the article, so don’t attack me.
  2. It’s bad science, bad psychology.

Can’t wait to have a laugh over this with my ex-husband. He and his fiancée attend a celebration-style “Fort God.” He says he does to be “a face in the crowd.”

Interesting. :wink:

Add “bad reporting” to “bad science, bad psychology”. Comparing increased oxytocin production (which is a good thing) to illicit drugs is just sloppy thinking.

If that’s supposed to be a painting of Jesus smoking heading up the article, that’s really
in poor taste.

I’m not fan of megachurces for a variety of reasons but this article has several issues and I’m sure the study does too.

The article says about megachurches that they are ‘often criticized for being glorified rock concerts (and also for occasionally being led by closeted, meth-smoking, bigots like Ted Haggard)’. I take exception to the parenthetical. Why would you criticize something based on who occasionally leads it? It particularly makes no sense when megachurches are independent. You might criticize an organization for its leadership choices if one of its responsibilities is to choose leaders. But it makes no sense to criticize the megachurch based on its leadership since they are all independent. It also makes no sense is the leadership is only occasionally ‘bad’ in some way. Every institution with any age has had occasional bad leaders.

Just like a bad dope habit, megachurch worshippers sometimes struggle with withdrawals. Corcoran says that some people reported meeting in smaller groups during the week to “keep them going between Sundays.”

So the author thinks he has discovered something new in that people who experience something that makes them happy find themselves wanting more of that thing. I wouldn’t be surprised if you found similar results in football fans. That is why they now have a Monday and a Thursday night game. You need a fix to sustain you until Sunday.

What kind of drugs are they doing to compare it to attending a megachurch?

Maybe the paranoia part of it???

I’ve become leary of anytime the term “mega church” is thrown around. Somehow I can’t help but see in an innacurate term to make what those using it “politically correct” because few would have a beef with a big church, congregation, or parish; but the swipe being taken is at evangelical Protestantism.

I belong to a parish that serves 6000 families. Mega church? You bet! Is it based on size less a parish than one serving a few dozen families? I think not!

So if our beef is with the theology or dogma ofour non-catholic brothers and sisters, let’s have the courage to say so and pray that they find truth, and not hide behind the issue of church size.

Peace and all good!

Okay, lets play devil’s advocate here.
Right now I am in the process of losing 40 pounds through diet and excercise. As a sidenote, the same blasted 40 pounds I lost 5 years ago. :mad:
Right now, a pizza, a double cheeseburger and cheesy fries would make me feel reeeeal good. BUT is it good for me? No.
We live in a society that wants everything with no effort. We like what feels good for us. The sweat, the pain, the effort of achieving an end is simply not on the radar screen.
The challenge and requirements of a mega church…are they there?
Is it “easy worship”?

Again, not saying I agree with the article. Just playing DA.

The study is baloney, folks like mega churches because they get their ears tickled.

This is the difference between real and apparent goods. In your case, and mine unfortunately, the pleasure of eating food is an apparent good but is not a real good because we’ve eaten too much therefore the excessive calories we eat now diminishes our health which is a real good.

The problem for those who conducted the study and likely the author of the article is that if they are probably like many in modern culture who avoid making moral judgements when it suits them (such as to promote ‘liberal’ ideas) but are more than happy to make them when the subject matter is tradition or religion. What is a real vs. apparent good is a moral judgment. They have no grounds for saying what these people achieve is good or bad. That being so it is not a very interesting subject since it is merely observing the obvious condition that people get some sort of reward for the things they seem to enjoy.

My opinion about megachurches is that they tend to reduce worship to experiencing an emotion (which is not worship) and that they can, by nature of their size, lack accountability (which is a purpose of the church). I’m not sure that people who attend a megachurch are putting in less effort. If they are often going to midweek services they are putting in more effort than plenty of other people in Mainline Protestant and Catholic churches.

I think this would be even more true of services where people speak in tongues. It’s all hype and hysteria.

It particularly makes no sense when megachurches are independent


But it makes no sense to criticize the megachurch based on its leadership since they are all independent.

No they’re not, they are in fact usually part of what can best be described as a “Worldwide Religious Union” called The Assemblies of God:

As such they really are NOT independent churches despite giving the appearance of being independant(and their legal independance). For example the leader of the Assemblies of God in Australia is Senior Pastor Brian Houston… who also happens to be the leader of arguebally the southern hemisphere’s biggest and the most internationally famous “megachurch”, the Hillsong Church based out of Sydney’s Acer Arena!

Those that are not part of the “Assemblies of God” are usually just too “small”, but are usually basing their church around the general Assemblies of God style and are usually affiliated in some way anyway.

The Assemblies of God frankly has ruined Pentacostalism in my opinion. There was once a time when Pentacostal Churches mirrored much Catholic beliefs. Such as in the early days of Azuza Street when they had such a beautiful independance and uniqueness about their “raw worship”, communion services around the clock(it was a 24 hour church, 7 days a week!), taking Christ’s commandments on communion 100% literally(to the point of having it offered every few hours, including overnight… talk about “as often as you do this”…), confessions/repentance(Public and private!) by people who just walked in off the street at any hour they wished to(once again the church was open 24 hours, so naturally this “confession” ministry was avalible 24 hours, 7 days a week)… Alot of it sounds very Catholic like to me.

Thanks to the way things have gone in pentacostalism(it drifted towards anti-catholicism, most churches only do communion services once a month, 24 hours 7 days a week now down to a few hours on a Sunday morning, there’s now commonly 1.5-2 hour sermons by Pastors, Confession? what confession?,), all of that is a thing of the past and I believe it’s mostly the “fault” of the AOG organisation that oversees most pentacostal churches.

Azuza street should be as much of an inspiration to Catholics as it was to the early pentacostal movement. It must have been a very energetic and vibrant place, and from what I know it’s the only 24/7 Church I’ve ever heard of!

All those Mayday Parades in Red Square are like mega-churches, co-opting the rituals reserved for God and adapting them for atheists. ICBM phallic worship, says I…

It is, but it was originally just supposed to be a sign of pure uninhibited prayer of love, a yell of “I love you God!”, of when words can’t do the trick!

But the latter movement appears to put emphasis on people “interpreting” the joyful gibberish…

Which is when it became a problem.

All it is usually harmless joyful gibberish, but in being that it was also a kind of spoken meditation. But the AOG movement made it a staple of pentacostalism to stage it delibratly and to “interpret” it, which frankly ruins it most of the time. Why do you need someone to interpret a shout of joy to God?

In the early days, the pentacostal movement based out of Azuza never actually had specific services in which this would occur, it was mostly during worship(Gospel music, etc) that people just started yelling in Joy(and sometimes falling backwards)… fine, until AOG ruined it by making too much of it.

i don’t know that this sensation of “kinda like doing drugs” pertains solely to the megachurch-i believe it can happen in smaller churches as well. i have attended small evangelical church services where they do a lot of singing before the service actually begins and then there is a sermon and a prayer before communion and you are there with other worshippers and you do feel transcended in some way. this was before i became a Catholic. i can understand the megachurch and the rock concert analogy - maybe the magic in numbers of so many people together in one place and focusing on the Word.
is it realy a bad thing?

Yes, because the AOG(and the other association “Church of God in Christ” ) has wrecked it by frankly making it very very anti-catholic, when that WASN’T how the movement started… and most of these Churches are members of the AOG(or the other organisation, AOG is the biggest Pentacostal “Union” in Australia).

Evangelical Churches are not all members of AOG specfically, but they are usually affiliated through various means. And if they’re not, well, they usually play music from an AOG church(and predominatly specifically the Hillsong Church in my country!)!

Oh and 1 Corinthians Chapter 14:2-4a, is about speaking in toungues as the modern day Pentecostals do… notice how Paul says it’s actually a good thing that spiritually builds up the self, in partnership with direct and clear Prophercy that aims to build up the community… But also notice how he specfically says the only two people who reallly know what is being said is the person speaking and God: “for nobody understands them, since they are speaking mysteries in the Spirit.” NRSV!!!

I know the food analogy isn’t perfect, I was hungry when I wrote it. :wink:
To the bolded, this is very, VERY true. :thumbsup:

I think the actual truth is that some are completely independent and some are affiliated. But I think most are independent in the sense that they chose to associate with larger bodies rather than being a sub division of the larger body. Rick Warren’s Saddleback Church is apparently a member of the SBC. Joel Olsteen’s Lakewood Church is non-denominational. Ted Haggard’s New Life Church is non-denominational. I’ve not surveyed the landscape but just picked some I’m familiar with. But to your point the only megachurch I can think of in my town is AG. But I think my point remains regarding Haggard. He was a pastor of a non-denominational church.

Perhaps one of the reasons MCs are non-denominational is because mainline churches have “territories”, its very rare to to see a Methodist church ,UPC church or Lutheran church on the same neighborhood block.
But MCs grow by siphoning memberers from other churches. It’s quite common in some towns to see 3 Baptist churches on the same block.

“Fort God”? Seriously?

I think the analogy is fine. I think the issue is we have to have some way of knowing what is truly good. I think we all seek happiness (in the philosophic sense) but we often seek counterfeit happiness. And as you point out the best things usually require real work. I do think an easy Christianity is popular and not just in megachurches.

Sadly true. I can at least admire the enthusiasm and dedication of some megachurch members. Unfortunately I think for many since the foundation is on an emotional experience if that ever starts to wane their faith is in trouble.

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