Newly released research into the growth of megachurches has suggested that Pastor Joel Osteen's Lakewood Church in Houston, Texas, remains the largest church in America, with a weekend attendance totaling 52,000 people.
Church Growth Today, a research center led by John N. Vaughan since 1980, said in a statement that Osteen's congregation remains the largest in America when it comes to weekend attendance, noting that the church has seen a growth of 7,200 people since 2010.
What is more, the church has five times as many followers as it did when it was led by founding Pastor John Osteen, who died in 1999.
The research also shows that 27 new megachurches have increased church attendance since 2010, though 39 others have dropped below 2,000 in weekly attendance, which is the baseline of what constitutes a megachurch, as established by Vaughan.
"This newest research indicates that among the 100 largest churches 60 percent are growing, 20 percent have plateaued, and only 11 percent have decreased in attendance during the past five years," Vaughan added.
He further notes that one reason why some megachurches are seeing a gain in attendance has to do with multi-site locations, with three in four of the 100 largest churches hosting multi-site congregations.
So while Lakewood Church remains the largest single-site church, Life.Church in Edmond, Oklahoma, which has 25 sites in seven states, gathers as many as 70,000 people weekly.
American megachurches still lag behind the largest congregations around the world, however, with Yoido Full Gospel Church in Seoul, South Korea, attracting 180,000 worshipers, Vision de Futuro in Santa Fe, Argentina, 80,000 believers, and Deeper Christian Life Ministry in Lagos, Nigeria, 70,000 in weekly attendance.
"Africa is projected to be the most populated Christian continent by 2020. Africa already has more than 15 churches reporting more than 20,000 attendance," according to Church Growth Today.
"What many American church leaders think of as unique recent American creativity and innovation has been known in other global megachurches as simply old school survival strategies for several decades," it added.
Osteen, who's also the author of several New York Times best-selling books, is known for his motivational messages, though he has also been criticized for largely avoiding topics such as sin, Satan, and Hell in his sermons.
The growth of megachurches in America has not been seen as positive in some studies, such as the American Sociological Association's journal Socius, which back in February reported that large churches are less involved than those of smaller congregations.
The study, headed by David Eagle, a researcher at Duke's Center for Health Policy and Inequalities Research based in Durham, North Carolina, found that "group cohesion lies at the heart of the size-participation relationship in churches.
"With the rapid growth of megachurches in the United States, a negative relationship between size and frequency of attendance could serve to accelerate aggregate declines in attendance," the journal stated.