Please forward this error screen to 174. Worshippers depart a church service at the Crystal Cathedral megachurch in Garden Grove. Disclosure statement Richard Flory has received funding from the John Templeton Foundation. University 77777 Southern California — Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences provides funding as a member of The Conversation US.

The Conversation UK receives funding from Hefce, Hefcw, SAGE, SFC, RCUK, The Nuffield Foundation, The Ogden Trust, The Royal Society, The Wellcome Trust, Esmée Fairbairn Foundation and The Alliance for Useful Evidence, as well as sixty five university members. The popular view of California is of a liberal, godless region, a land of possibilities that is open to experimentation in all things. This is true even in an otherwise conventional field as religion, with perhaps the most illustrative example being that of the state’s megachurches. Indeed, California has more megachurches than any other state: There are over 200 Protestant, theologically conservative churches with at least 2,000 weekly attenders. And while most are in major metropolitan areas, megachurches can be seen in the Inland Empire and the Central Valley, on up through Sacramento and as far north as Redding.

Adapting church to culture Large churches have been around since the industrialization and urbanization of the U. But it was only in the the mid-20th century that megachurches became a phenomenon. Beyond their large size, which can range from the threshold 2,000 regular weekly attenders up to 25,000 to 50,000 attenders at U. While they are found in major cities across the U.

California that megachurches led the way in merging larger cultural trends into people’s religious lives. Two important examples illustrate their impact. The first is the Crystal Cathedral. Televising the morning service from the Crystal Cathedral both extended the reach of the church and allowed people to enjoy Sunday worship service from the comfort of their living rooms. The holiday productions, complete with performances from live animals and actors, were aimed at bringing people into the church to see, hear and experience biblical stories.

For example, the Christmas story from the New Testament Gospels was reenacted in the main sanctuary of the church with Jesus, Mary and Joseph in the stable, along with the wise men, angels, and even camels and donkeys. However, perhaps more important than those costume dramas, was founding pastor Robert Schuller’s idea to use a local drive-in movie theater for Sunday services. In the post-World War II jobs and housing boom, Schuller capitalized on a Southern Californian’s dependence on and familiarity with the automobile. People could come to church and never have to leave their car.

Thus, partly out of necessity, partly out of vision, Schuller combined the car culture of Southern California and the more casual vibe of the region, by linking church with what people did in their everyday lives. Informal attire and music The second example is Calvary Chapel, best known in evangelical Christian circles as the epicenter of the emerging Christian youth culture in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Calvary Chapel was founded by pastor Chuck Smith in 1965 with 25 members in the Orange County city of Costa Mesa. Exhibiting a similar vision as Schuller, Smith created a church that embraced the surrounding culture by accepting young hippies and surfers into its fold. People came to church wearing jeans, shorts, T-shirts, beach slippers and even barefoot. But what really differentiated Calvary Chapel was its inclusion of music that sounded just like the popular rock and folk music of the day.

Christianity with the look of the countercultural hippie style. These concerts attracted scores of young people. Rather than Sunday services being characterized by organ and choir music, guitars and folksy music with Christian lyrics became the norm. Calvary Chapel institutionalized and popularized the music through the creation of the Maranatha Music, a record label that soon gained immense popularity. Along with other Christian music labels that followed, this music reached a much larger population of evangelical Christians than any concert or church worship service could. Ultimately, this music found its way into the Protestant mainline and Catholic worship services, transforming the way that Christians in these other traditions experienced Sunday worship services.

Today there is a worldwide association of over 1,700 Calvary Chapel congregations, all traceable to the Orange County origins. Your donation helps deliver fact-based journalism. Will religiously unaffiliated Americans increase support for liberal policies, in 2018 and beyond? Image courtesy of the Corita Art Center, Immaculate Heart Community, Los Angeles. Stay informed and subscribe to our free daily newsletter and get the latest analysis and commentary directly in your inbox.

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