While there are lots of lists of big churches, there really isn't a list that gives a good picture of the landscape inside the Spirit-filled world. Understanding this landscape can help you as leader to navigate your world better and ultimately make better choices. Great leaders follow other great leaders, and to lead a large church it definitely takes significant insight and gifting.
Influence is not a simple factor of size. There are many large churches that do not have much influence outside their immediate sphere. This is usually because they themselves are following another more successful church. Therefore, when putting this list together, I considered several angles:
- Influence on Leaders. Some churches that are not widely known to the average believer are often copied by pastors. What churches do most pastors copy?
- Worship. Spirit-filled believers are always looking for the best worship. If you have it you already have an influential church, regardless of your numbers.
- Pastor. How gifted is the pastor? If the pastor is a great communicator, has written books, or has a reputation for the supernatural, they are going to have a lot of influence beyond themselves.
- Broader Ministry. Having a large church is one thing, but if you have built lots of other ministries around it, then your influence in the broader body is multiplied.
Note that the Pentecostal/Charismatic movement includes a broad spectrum, from the more seeker-oriented mega-churches, to the heavily Holy Spirit oriented churches. Depending on where you are in that spectrum will have a huge impact on which of these churches you would consider important.
If you're interested in building a Spirit-filled church where you can have both growth and the Holy Spirit, I encourage you to check out my new book, Encounter Based Church. In it, I show from my experience on three church plants, how to build a church that welcomes people and the Holy Spirit.
First Tier. First Tier churches include churches that I would expect most Spirit-filled leaders to have heard of and be loosely familiar with. I put the first tier churches in a general order, but obviously I'm not using scientific criteria:
- Bethel Redding. Led by three generations of the Johnson family, most famously Bill Johnson. If pushed, I would argue that Bethel Redding is the most influential and important church in America right now. These guys are really pushing the boundaries of traditional Charismatic/Pentecostal Christianity, and they are gaining a lot of worldwide attention doing it. Some consider them to be a kind of heir to the Vineyard movement.
- Church of the Highlands led by Chris Hodges, is one of the largest churches in America. They follow a model called the "attractional church" which leverages church growth principles to gain a large audience and introduce them to the Holy Spirit. It's more mainstream than I am, but among pastors that other pastors follow Chris is near the top of the list.
- Elevation Church in Charlotte, NC, led by Stephen Furtick. This is where Elevation Worship is based, which released the recently famous song "The Blessing" along with many great albums. Furtick is a freak of nature. A young Southern Baptist who was touched by Jim Cymbala's book "Fresh Wind, Fresh Fire" and started a megachurch from almost nothing with a few friends. Furtick is like 11 out of 10 as a leader. Sets the standard for what a Spirit-filled but mainstream church can look like and do.
- International House of Prayer (IHOP), Kansas City. IHOP was founded by Mike Bickle of the Kansas City prophetic movement. OK it's not a church, but it really is. They have a leader, a school, a full time congregation called Forerunner Christian Fellowship, a staff, branches throughout the country and massive influence around the world. International House of Prayer is one of America's most important movements.
- Gateway Church, Dallas. Gateway Church in Dallas is the first Charismatic "seeker-friendly" megachurch I know of. Gateway Church was founded by Robert Morris, a man sent out of a the very Charismatic Trinity Amarillo. At one time it included other prophetic style charismatics on staff like Reed Grafke, Paul Cain's former assistant.
- The Belonging Co Although this church is very new, the number of Christian stars that go here or orbit around here, as well as the top quality worship they are creating and connection other Charismatics, makes Belonging Co a Top Tier in my mind. Amazing story of how a couple from Australia from Planetshakers moved to Nashville really just to recover, and God gave them a megachurch.
- Vous Church. Planted by Rich Wilkerson, Jr, a relative of the legendary David Wilkerson, founder of Times Square Church and author of the Cross and the Switchblade. This church is on the cutting edge of hipster Pentecostalism. They run a huge leadership conference and do a lot of very innovative things that other Spirit-filled churches pay attention to.
- Transformation Church. Pastor Mike Todd in Tulsa is a young black pastor with a super engaging preaching style and cross-over appeal. His presence is broadly felt in the middle of the country.
- National Community Church, led by Mark Batterson, author of bestselling book, The Circle Maker. This church is mainstream enough that you could miss the fact that it is Spirit-filled at the core. Many influential Christians inside the Beltway consider this church home.
Second Tier. This list is much more debatable since some churches are huge in one circle but not at all in another. The churches in the top tier are well known nationally by most people:
- MorningStar, Charlotte. Rick Joyner was practically the definition of the prophetic movement for almost 20 years. Specializes in pioneering a prophetic vision of Christianity. Some great worship has come out of here. The church overall seems past it's prime of influence, but he has now handed the ministry over to ultra-gifted prophet Chris Reed, making the ministry freshly relevant.
- Dream City Church. Dream City Church, which was known as Phoenix First, is currently the Gold Standard of Assembly of God churches, the most important Pentecostal denomination in America. It was founded by Tommy Barnett, an evangelist famous from the revivals of the 50s, They dramatically increased their influence with the founding of the LA Dream center by scion Matthew Barnett.
- Bethany World Prayer Center, Louisiana. Led by three generations of the Stockstill family, most famously, Larry Stockstill. This is the church where Ted Haggard got his start along with many others and the church that launched the G12 movement in America. A very important church.
- Brooklyn Tabernacle, New York. Jim Cymbala and the Brooklyn Tabernacle are a bit past prime, but they redefined what was possible with churches in the big city and brought Pentecostalim mainstream in the 90's. Their music style sort of dates them, but Jim and the Choir have been an important voice in the church.
- Upper Room Dallas led by Michael Miller and famous for the open ended prophetic worship style that has produced such worship standouts as Surrounded (This is How I Fight My Battles). If you are serious about prophetic worship, this is who you watch.
- Free Chapel Worship Center, Atlanta. Led by Jentezen Franklin. Actually now leads one church on each coast. Has a TV ministry and has sent out others to plant churches.
- Church of His Presence, Alabama. Church of His Presence is influential because of its leader: John Kilpatrick., pastor of the Brownsville revival. Like only a few church leaders have done, he has doubled his success by being part of a second (although smaller) revival in Daphne, Alabama. These events are sent more shockwaves through America.
- Manna House Church. Formerly known as City Bible Church and led Frank Damazio. An anchor Church in the Northwest region, and also for the Portland Bible college, the MFI movement, publishing house, and music.
- World Harvest Church, Columbus. World Harvest Church is led by Rod Parsley. Rod is a very unique brand. He is a Pentecostal/Word of Faith preacher who is more about faith than money. He has trained many and is known for his strong spirit. Less influential today than it was 10 years ago, though.
- The Village Church led by Matt Chandler in DFW. Matt is probably the current icon for being Reformed and Charismatic. As I'm not Reformed, he's not someone I follow or those in my circle do, but for this sub-segment, Matt is an icon.
Black Churches. Black and white churches are in very different spheres of influence in America, thus I've given them their own list. Here are the most important black churches in the Pentecostal/Charismatic movement that I am aware of:
- Covenant Church of Pittsburgh. Joseph Garlington may be one of the most important people you've never heard of. He is the mentor/pastor of many of the leading black charismatic pastors in America. He is aging now, but has been a very influential figure.
- The Potter's House, Dallas. Undoubtedly, The Potter's House in Dallas is the most important black church in America. T.D. Jakes is twice as big as the next biggest black pastor, and that's saying a lot.
- City of Refuge, Los Angeles. Noel Jones, is an absolute preaching phenomenon. He's all over the TV, runs a 20,000 member church and hangs around with T.D Jakes. Need I say more?
- Changing a Generation & Greater St. Stephen Full Gospel Baptist Church. Paul Morton. New Orleans & Atlanta. Morton spearheaded the movement to bring the Charismatic/Pentecostal experience to black Baptists. As founder and presiding Bishop of the Full Gospel Baptist Church Fellowship, and having cut several impressive gospel albums, and now leader with his wife of megachurches in two states, Paul Morton is a very influential leader.
Formerly Influential. These churches were very influential under prior leadership, and are still important but not top-tier:
- Times Square Church, With its location near Times Square and the legendary history dating back to the Cross and the Switchblade days, this church was one of the most important Pentecostal churches of the second half of the 20th century. David Wilkerson was famous for many things, beginning with his radical obedience to move to NY from rural PA and go into the gang infested areas, for starting Teen Challenge, the best outreach to people struggling with addiction, and also for his doomsday style prophecies he often gave. Unfortunately he died a few years ago in a car crash. Still a very important church, but not top-tier without Wilkerson.
- The Church on the Way. in Van Nuys, CA. This church practically redefined the foursquare denomination, spun off important things like the King's Seminary, and Cleansing Streams ministry, but with the departure of Jack Hayford, it is no longer one of the most important churches in America. Jack was at one time considered the Gold Standard of Pentecostal ministry by many, as he embraced the Spirit but was grounded.
- New Life Church in Colorado Springs was the absolute top influential church not just among Spirit-filled people, but maybe in all of in America before the sudden fall of Ted Haggard in 2006. Ted had welcomed the prophetic movement and pioneered important concepts in church growth and Christianity in general under the banner of being "Life Giving." After the fall, the church was handed to Brady Boyd and has become less Spirit-filled in orientation over time and while it's still a large church, it's less influential. Many other leaders have come out of this church, including Chris Hodges.
- Heartland Church, Dallas. Before the death of Steve Hill, the evangelist of the Brownsville revival, this was an important church because of the leadership and energy coming from Brownsville. It was influential in the region and connected to the larger Charismatic movement.
- Relentless/Redemption. Redemption is the most influential church in the smaller Pentecostal Holiness church movement and lightning rod within the denomination about whether they should become "charismatic".. It was formerly led by Ron Carpenter, who handed it over to the famous African American pastor John Gray. There have been a series of scandals and dramas here, making it much less influential.
- Rhema Bible Church. The Word of Faith movement, birthed out of Rhema Bible Church is one of the most influential movements in worldwide Christianity. The influence of the "headquarters" in Tulsa is not nearly as great as it once was but this is still the HQ. There are several other mega-churches in Tulsa that I think of as part of the Word of Faith core in Tulsa, including Victory Christian Church, founded by Billy Joe Daugherty, and The Church on the Move led by Willie George.
- Hillsong New York Hillsong New York was an up and coming national influencer until the fall its celebrity pastor . With theglobal brand, and charismatic leadership, located in one of the world's most important cities, Hillsong NY was an anchor among Spirit-filled believers especially in the Northeast. The church is now much smaller and struggling to regain its momentum.
Honorable Mention * Lakewood Church. Joel Osteen leads this incredibly large Lakewood Church, but his influence is really not inside the church world (never heard of anyone wanting to copy them). It's with average people who are attracted by seeker sensitive version of the Gospel. * I have omitted many other big ministries from this list, and ones you might see on TV. Many of these are actually just spins of these more truly influential churches.
What churches do you think are the most influential? Did I leave any out? Do you have additional insight on any of the ones I listed?
I would definitely say you made a mistake by leaving out the Pentecostals of Alexandria. Each year, their giving supports every single missionary in the United Pentecostal Church International as well as many more. They also hold a week long conference every January that a lot of other Pentecostal pastors attend. Their Easter production, Messiah, is one of the best in the world (personal opinion) and has been attended by many celebrities and former president Bill Clinton. The Bishop's wife, Mickey Mangun, has sung in presidential inaugurations. They've built bible colleges in Vietnam, the Philippians, and 11 other countries as well as having personally sent a missionary to every state in America and every country in the world, to say nothing of their own frequent prophecies, miracles, and other wonders. They're influential among both other Pentecostal churches and unbelievers around the world.
Thanks for this comment! I did not intentionally omit them. I think that UPC churches are just generally off the radar for trinitarian Pentecostal/Charismatics. Although it is true that people with a Oneness background often have an impact on the wider mainstream. Charity Gayle comes to mind right now.
Great list! I agree with all of it! Those ministries have numerous of people. Have you complied a list for world influencers? Family Worship Center/Sonlife Broadcasting Network from Baton Rouge is far from popular here in America but outside of the states many people are being saved and filled with the Holy Spirit. Currently they are asking for a Worldwide Prayer meeting to bring as many people to Jesus as we are living in the last minutes.
I wonder how up-to-dare this list is. How many of these churches are in serious trouble because of slavish covid compliance and going woke?
I just moved Hillsong NY, but otherwise the list may need a little refresh but is still pretty accurate. I would not say that mandates have been a major factor for churches on this list because, like all market contractions, large institutions can absorb and adapt much more easily. In terms of politics, most of these churches build their brand by avoiding explicit politics making them relatively immune to specific political trends.
thegonetwork: What is your take on the NAR movement and how it relates to the shifting sands of evangelicalism? https://www.firstthings.com/article/2022/02/the-three-worlds-of-evangelicalism
Thankyou for asking this question. As someone who has actually spent time in churches that would have been described by the internet as "NAR" I would say it's not really much of a thing, certainly not as internally self-understood. If you the Charismatic/prophetic stream of Christianity which includes a very strong overtone of saving America from its sins, and embraces political engagement as part of that, that is definitely a major current and it's not going away. The other major force in the Charismatic world is the megachurch phenomenon alluded to in the article. It takes the opposite approach -- keep politics at a long distance and boil down to only the essential truths. How do these two forces project out into the future? For many in the prophetic stream the failure of the Trump Prophecies was a bit of a rude awakening, but I don't know if it means a fundamental realignment, at least not while Abortion is mostly legal, since this is the flashpoint issue. For those in the megachurch mainstream, the approach of political disengagement will continue as long as it's legal to do so. I would also say that the author of the article underestimates the reception of Rod Dreher's book, which may have been panned among those he knows, but has been heartily received by many as the only option. I think the article ultimately resolves well though by suggesting that a new path forward will have to emerge. Fundamentalism began with the premise of epistemic denial of everything secular, and it's really at the root of the religious right idea. That idea had power and currency for its time, and Evangelicalism, emerging in the Billy Graham era was a successful update, but it feels like a another tweak is going to have to come. Evangelicalism is more of a culturally bound idea that we appreciate it to be, while Pentecostalism has proven to be culturally fluid, I expect the next step to emerge from within the Spirit-filled stream.
The Trump prophecies have not failed. They just have not come to pass yet. You know as well as I do there are prophecies that are thousands of years old that have not come to pass, but we do not throw the baby out with the bathwater. Be patient.
Lindy, thank you for your comment. While Trump could certainly come back and that would vindicate some of the prophetic voices, I'm sure you will remember that not only were many people prophesying that he would continue in office in 2020, but many people also went along believing that he is/was still the president long after Biden took office. This kind of cognitive dissonance is not healthy. An accurate prophecy would have seen and referred to election chaos and helped us avoid what happened afterwards, but no voices tha I know of were saying that. I think responsible prophetic voices like Jeremiah Johnson took this as an opportunity to recalibrate, which we should always be doing.
I am following Bethel Redding and seems like there are many Spirit-filled and Spirit-gifted students from their supernatural school. And I look forward to attending their school in the future.
Thank you for this highlight of influential Churches and ministries in American. It's a very engaging read, although it's not exhaustive.
Help me make it better!
I think that you are spot on when you say that Bethel Redding has taken on the mantel of the Vineyard movement. Certainly when it comes to worship music Jesus Culture, Bethel Music and the scores of worship leaders that have sprung out of Bethel Redding certainly remind me of the glorious worship we used to get from the Vineyard.
While I deeply appreciate your listing, it is very difficult for me to consider it complete without the addition of Ruth Ward Heflin of Calvary Pentecostal Tabernacle, Ashland, VA. Having traveled to every Nation, her prophetic gifting and teaching has touched the world like few other. She authored the "Glory" series of books today sold in many languages and prophesied to nearly every President, Monarch or Leader in the world. Her family's legacy continues after more than 65 years in Ashland, VA to this day, with thousands coming from all corners of the world to a campground site that has sustained through the years on the Lords provisions serving other at no cost to the receiver. Calvary Pentecostal Campground is Holy Ground and clearly one of the portals of heaven where the glory of God resides. Today's Director is Jane Lowder, also a passionate and powerful prophetess to the Nations. What a gift to the world Calvary Pentecostal Campground has been, and remains today.
FYI.....Reed Grafke was let go from Gateway Church a few years ago.
When you say "let go", clearly there is more to the story. It looks like he was involved in a Ponzi scheme in 2007. That's too bad. I guess I'd rather roll with God and fall than never roll at all.
Mitch, thanks for your comment. You're right, I'm not really evaluating whether the influence was good or bad, just highlighting it. I do agree that ultimately the local church is most influential to the average person, however, my goal in this post is to define who is shaping the future of Christianity, and those are leaders/movements/churches that average churches look up to for method and intellectual leadership. Their systems and ideas get copied down to the rest of us. Welcome any suggestions.
I thought the list was right on point. It was a great read: thank you for this article!
I can appreciate what you are doing by the list but the real influence...the real BIG influence..are not these listed churches but the LOCAL church that spured these mega churches. Catholocism has had a great influence on the world but the reformation movement started with men and small groups that influenced the world even greater. TD Jakes...Bishop Morton...Rod Parsley..Rhema...All of these have had some huge influences but not always the best. What keeps greatness and what makes for greatness is the soundness and dependability of the local church. There are millions of solid bible believing churches (scores of thousands in present truth) that are not imbalanced by the mega churches inadequate and poor extremes. Hear hear to the local church!