Megachurches in the shadow of Sin City's strip
Exchanging rows of wooden pews for columns of stadium seating, robed choirs for full-scale bands with electric guitars, bass and drums, and long-winded sermons for telecast services, megachurches are charging forward with a super-sized model for modernizing the practice of faith.
Megachurches, which can draw crowds of more than 2,000 people in a single weekend, continue to multiply and expand even at a time when the American public’s religiosity is waning.
More than 1,650 churches across the country are considered “mega,” totaling nearly six million megachurch attendees each weekend.
Churches are franchising that success, building satellite branches just to keep up with the demand, and leading multiple services throughout the weekend. For church campuses hosting guest speakers or church leaders from out of town, live video monitors bring services to congregations sometimes held hundreds of miles away.
“Recent decades have seen a surge in the number Protestant churches with weekend worship attendances of 2,000 or more adults and children,” said Warren Bird, director of research at the religious leader consulting firm the Leadership Network. “They tend to be evangelical in theology, and marked by vibrant worship, Bible teaching made very practical and relevant, and strong ministries for children and youth.”
Photographer Mark Peterson has tracked the megachurch phenomenon, capturing a rapidly changing movement that is taking hold in many primarily white, suburban regions throughout the U.S.
In Las Vegas, home to the highest concentration of megachurch congregations in the country, thousands of people flock to services every weekend in the shadows of Sin City’s famous strip.
“It’s very much like a stage show,” Peterson said of the church proceedings throughout the Las Vegas region. “I really wanted to just try and show a vastness of space and the pageantry that was taking place.”