Megachurches and Social Engagement in London

megachurch2topAbout the project

Welcome to the official website of the AHRC-funded project, ‘Megachurches and Social Engagement in London’. The aim of this project is to investigate the nature of social engagement among megachurches in London and to interpret the significance of such civic participation for public theology.

In recent years the global rise of a number of very large churches, most often located in cities and their suburbs, has caught the attention of theologians, church leaders and sociologists of religion. These churches have been labelled 'megachurches' for the sake of convenience and are normally defined as: Protestant churches attracting over 2,000 attendees for the sake of worship each week. The megachurch phenomenon has been studied extensively in USA, to some extent in Asia (mostly Korea) and Africa (e.g. Nigeria) but only in a very limited sense in Europe (e.g. France). With London’s global status reinforced further in 2012, it is extremely timely now to consider the nature of these megachurches in the context of London during a period of transnational movement and to understand their significance in relation to wider society and especially social engagement.

Therefore, the central aim of this project is to investigate the nature of social engagement among megachurches in London and to interpret the significance of this participation for public theology, elucidating the policy implications for religious faith and society. Examples of social engagement include work with specific groups, such as youth, the elderly and the homeless, counselling and support of people with learning difficulties and mental health needs, commuity development and educational projects, as well as social campaigning, for example against human trafficking or in favour of local and community needs. The findings of this research will have significance for UK government as well as local government public policy. It is conceived as a project in public theology (i.e. how theology addresses issues of broader public concern outside the community of the church) that will nevertheless use theoretical insights from sociology, cultural studies and social/public policy. Data will be collected from ten case studies that constitute the megachurches of London using qualitative research approaches. This data will be analysed theoretically in relation to transnationalism, globalization, urbanization, religious social capital and theological motivations. The study will examine the nature of these churches, how they interact with different voluntary and statutary bodies and whether they contribute to the common good and if so how and in what ways. These questions are particularly timely during a period of political and economic uncertainty in Europe because such circumstances often feed into the churches' identity, broader worldview and level of social engagement.

The project is funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council and runs from December 2013 for three years.

[photo credit: Mor Naaman (flickmor) flickr creative commons licence]