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Examining megachurch growth: free riding, fit, and faith


  • Marc von der Ruhr
  • Joseph P. Daniels


Purpose - Megachurches are thriving in religious markets at a time when Americans are asserting their ability as consumers of religious products to engage in religious switching. The apparent success of megachurches, which often provide a low cost and low commitment path by which religious refugees may join the church, seems to challenge Iannocconne's theory that high commitment churches will thrive while low commitment churches will atrophy. This paper aims to investigate this issue. Design/methodology/approach - This paper employs a signaling model to illustrate the strategy and organizational forms megachurches employ to indicate a match between what the church produces and the religious refugee wishes to consume in an effort to increase their membership. The model illustrates that megachurches expect little in regard to financial or time commitment of new attendees. However, once the attendees perceive a good fit with the church, the megachurch increases its expectation of commitment. Data from the FACT2000 survey provide evidence in support of the model's predictions. Findings - Data from the FACT2000 survey provide evidence in support of the model's predictions. Originality/value - The paper serves to illustrate the dynamic process by which megachurches attract new attendees and transform those that find a good fit between their needs and what the church offers into full members of the church.

Suggested Citation

  • Marc von der Ruhr & Joseph P. Daniels, 2012. "Examining megachurch growth: free riding, fit, and faith," International Journal of Social Economics, Emerald Group Publishing, vol. 39(5), pages 357-372, April.
  • Handle: RePEc:eme:ijsepp:v:39:y:2012:i:5:p:357-372

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Robert B. Ekelund Jr. & Robert F. Hebert & Robert D. Tollison, 2008. "The Marketplace of Christianity," MIT Press Books, The MIT Press, edition 1, volume 1, number 0262550717, July.
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    Cited by:

    1. McBride, Michael, 2015. "Why churches need free-riders: Religious capital formation and religious group survival," Journal of Behavioral and Experimental Economics (formerly The Journal of Socio-Economics), Elsevier, vol. 58(C), pages 77-87.

    More about this item


    Megachurches; Quality signalling; Religion; Organizational analysis; United States of America;

    JEL classification:

    • Z12 - Other Special Topics - - Cultural Economics - - - Religion


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