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. These are not in a particular order but I’ve divided them into tiers. First Tier churches include churches that I would expect every Spirit-filled believer to have heard of and be loosely familiar with:
- 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.
- Brooklyn Tabernacle, New York. Jim Cymbala and the Brooklyn Tabernacle have redefined what is possible with churches in the big city. Their music style sort of dates them, but Jim and the Choir have been an important voice in the church.
- 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.
- 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 is still a bellwether in what it means to be Charismatic.
- 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.
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:
- 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.
- 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.
- Hillsong New York Hillsong New York is an up and coming national influencer. With their global brand, and the charismatic leadership of Carl Lentz, located in one of the world’s most important cities, Hillsong NY will be an anchor among Spirit-filled believers especially in the Northeast.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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?