Who are The World's Largest Churches ?
By Wolfgang Simson
Even though influence is more important than size today, taking a look at the attendance numbers of the world's largest churches gives an impression of the developments in recent years. Much is changing. Churches which had an attendance of 300,000 a decade ago, such as 'Ondas del Luz y Amor' in Buenos Aires, now have 'only' 70,000.
Completely new models are popping up, such as the Indian University which became a church, regularly seeing 80,000 people attending. The membership of mega-churches fluctuates strongly, so the numbers here are the attendance, not the members. Yonggi Cho's church in Seoul claims a membership of 773,000, but an attendance of 'only' 253,000 in the main church and most important satellites.
What is church?
The church is starting to see itself completely differently - that is one trend which is growing stronger. It is no longer understood as a single organised fellowship with a pastor, a building, a programme and a more or less creative name, but as an organic community of Christians in towns and regions, the sum of the members of related house churches, cells, groups and fellowships.
This gives the church, as in the times of Acts, a regional instead of denominational identity. "The church in Corinth", Ephesus, Antioch or Jerusalem corresponds today to "The church in Berlin", Boulder, Beijing or Brasilia.
Regional house church networks are replacing mega churches.
Such regional churches are not led by a 'Senior Pastor', but by regional teams, generally formed by the coalescing of the fivefold ministry. It is very noticeable that the traditional pastoral ministry tends not to play the key role, but rather people with an apostolic or prophetic gifting, as hinted at in 1 Corinthians 12.28 and Ephesians 2.20.
Christian community and unity is formed by belonging to the same region or town. Unity is lived out in networked house churches and large celebrations, or at least in leaders meetings in places where Christians are heavily persecuted.
One of the smaller (!) house church networks in southern China has an attendance of 400,000, larger networks number several million. The twenty largest regional, not national, house church networks in China, Vietnam and northern India would completely change the list below. For security reasons, we cannot publish any names or other details, with the exception of V.Choudhrie in India, because most if not all such large regional house church networks exist in nations which persecute or repress Christians.
They generally belong to the group which missiologist Prof. David Barrett calls 'Crypto-Christians' - underground Christianity. We believe that there are around twenty regional house church networks around the globe with an attendance of over 250,000. Hence, the list below starts with the world's previously largest known church, the Yoido Full Gospel Church, ranked 21st.
Which are today's trend-setting nations?
These developments started outside the West, typically North America, Europe, Australia and New Zealand, so many Western pastors and Christian leaders find it difficult to understand them or take them seriously. Many still understand the West to be the centre of Christianity, as it was in 1700, from which missionaries are sent out to complete the Great Commission.
Traditionally, the USA, Britain or Germany have been the trend setting nations in the church. That is where the influential publishing houses have their headquarters. The overwhelming majority of Christian conference speakers, authors, seminars and concepts for training pastors originate there.
It seems that many are asking "What good thing can come out of Vietnam, Northern India, China, Indonesia, Nigeria, Nicaragua, Honduras, Trinidad or Argentina?" Yet it is exactly these and other non-Western nations that are home to the most important trends in missionary Christianity. Are we listening?
What about the USA ?
Up until now, mega churches were a typically American phenomenon. It is striking, then, that not one of the world's forty largest churches is in the USA or another Western nation. The really significant church growth is taking place basically outside the West.
The Washington Post recently published a study by church researcher John N. Vaughn that revealed the presence 840 mega-churches in the USA, churches with a weekly attendance of over 2,000. The top 5 American churches are:
1. Lakewood Church, Houston, Texas (25,060)
2. World Changers, College Park, GA. (23,093)
3. Saddleback Community Church, Lake Forrest, CA (20,100)
4. The Potters House, Dallas (18,500)
5. Fellowship Church, Grapevine, Texas (18,129)
The world's largest churches are:
1-20. Regional house church networks around the globe (Over 250,000)
21. Yoido Full Gospel Church, Seoul, Korea (253,000)
22. Works and Mission Baptists Church, Abidjan, Ivory Coast (150,000)
22. Yotabeche Methodist P. Church, Santiago, Chile (150,000)
22. Mision Carismatica Internacional, Bogotá, Colombia (150,000)
25. Deeper Life Bible Church, Lagos, Nigeria (120,000)
26. Elim Church, San Salvador, El Salvador (117,000)
27. Nambu Full Gospel, Seoul, Korea (110,000)
28. AOG Grace and Truth, Kyanggi-do, Korea (105,000)
29. Kum Ran Methodist, Seoul, Korea (80,000)
30. Vision de Futuro, Santa Fe, Argentina (70,000)
30. Ondas del Luz, Buenos Aires, Argentina (70,000)
32. Young Nak Presbyterian Church, S. Korea (60,000)
33. Winners Chapel, Ota, Nigeria (50,000)
34. Yesu Darbar, Allahabad Agricultural Institute, India (40,000-80,000)
35. Soong Eui Methodist, Inchon, Korea (47,000)
36. Ministeria La Cosecha, San Pedro Sula, Honduras (35,000)
37. Chattisgarh/Madhya Pradesh House Church Network, India (30,000)
Sent in by Dr Kevin Dyson,
New Covenant Int'l University
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