BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WIAT) –Megachurches are transforming into something new in Central Alabama.
One large congregation is now being split up into several smaller campuses, a concept that’s changing traditional styles of worship and becoming more and more common. A megachurch is one church with multiple different locations and services, like Church of the Highlands or The Worship Center Christian Church.
There were only 100 multi-site churches in the country just 16 years ago, and two years ago, there were well over 8,000. This modern approach to worship is growing nationwide, and many in the supply side of faith believe that the movement could eventually grow to impact smaller congregations.
“One of the misnomers of a large church is that you get lost in it,” said Chris Hodges, Senior Pastor with The Church of the Highlands. “But the truth is the people here are very connected.”
A congregation of around 40,000 people know the feeling of walking through the doors to one of the 15 Church of the Highlands campuses on any given Sunday.
“The dream early on was to take people on a spiritual journey, knowing that there were a lot of people who felt like there’s got to be more to God, to Christianity, to church, than what they were currently experiencing,” Hodges said.
The Worship Center Christian Church with about 8,000 members has 3 locations.
“We do know that we are doing is very non-traditional and it’s very new for people,” said Senior Pastor Van Moody.
Pastor Moody delivers his message live from two different campuses every Sunday. His sermon is streamed at other locations and online.
“People can interact in a number of ways before they commit or join our community, so I think that that’s very, very beneficial not only to millennials but to also a number of people that have been hurt and disappointed before,” Moody said.
The multi-site church is also attracting people who are seeking the resources of a larger church while keeping that small church feeling.
“You kind of go through burnout, work work work,” Joycelynn Johnson said of her experience at a smaller church.
“But coming from a smaller church, the best way to keep the worship center growing larger and smaller at the same time is to get involved is through our small groups,” Johnson said.
The process of making the church larger and smaller gives her that community and the fellowship she wants
But what does that growth of multi-site churches nationwide mean for the small, more traditional church?
“These churches are better at reaching out to younger people, millennials and these people may have never visited a church,” said Jennifer McClure, Samford University Assistant Religion Professor.
Regardless of the style or approach, the goal is the same.
“I do think there are many different expressions, “ Hodges said. “And I think we need them all because I don’t think there’s a one size fits all.”
Church of the Highlands is opening its 16th location in April in McCalla.
The Worship Center continues to grow and is looking to spread wings all over the state.
When asked if this innovative approach to worship was just a fad, McClure says, that she thinks multi-site churches will continue to attract worshipers looking for an alternative spiritual experience.
“It’s not going to affect mainline protestant churches or catholic churches as much, but smaller evangelical congregations are likely to be hurt in their own attempts to grow by having a large megachurch nearby,” McClure said.
Watch the full report Tuesday at 10 p.m. on CBS42.