Date on Master's Thesis/Doctoral Dissertation


Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation

Degree Name

Ph. D.



Degree Program

Sociology (Applied), PhD

Committee Chair

Roelfs, David

Committee Co-Chair (if applicable)

Carini, Robert

Committee Member

Carini, Robert

Committee Member

Rieger, Jon

Committee Member

Sparks, Garry

Committee Member

Simala, Joseph

Author's Keywords

megachurch; multi-site church; organizational ecology; new institutional sociology; density dependence; isomorphism


This dissertation study explores the applicability of two for-profit organizational theories on a non-profit sector. Theoretical concepts from organizational ecology (OE) and new institutional sociology (NIS) provide the framework for exploring modern megachurches as an organizational phenomenon in the United States between 2005 and 2013. Modern megachurches are modern in the sense they really began to be an organizational population starting in the 1970s and 1980s. These churches are distinctively from the Protestant Christian tradition having 2,000 or more attendees (Thumma & Travis, 2007; Hartford Institute for Religion Research, n.d.). Three empirical chapters test several hypotheses germane to these aforementioned theoretical paradigms. The dissertation consists of five chapters. Chapter One argues that megachurches closely resemble for-profit businesses making them worthy of organizational research. Chapter Two explores OE’s density dependence theory – how or if legitimacy and competition effects megachurch founding events. Chapter Three explores the applicability of OE’s inertia and niche width, and NIS’s isomorphism effects on megachurches with one geographic location (a.k.a. single-site megachurch or SSM) switching to a megachurch with two or more geographic locations (a.k.a. multi-site megachurch or MM). Chapter Four explores niche width interactions with concentration and their effects of being on Outreach Magazine’s 100 Fastest-growing Churches list as a proxy for church growth. The results from the empirical chapters did not support many of the hypotheses. However, Chapter Two did show that density was broadly significant as a predictor, but it operates differently for megachurches. Chapters Three and Four showed partial support for diversity measures suggesting the effects of niche width is greatly limited when applied to megachurches. Chapter Four also failed to support many of the interaction hypotheses, suggesting the transfer of generalism and specialism is not as clear for megachurches as it is for businesses. I conclude that modern megachurches in the U.S. require greater exploration using OE and NIS theoretical concepts. Nuanced application of these organizational concepts will be indicative of understanding modern megachurches as organizational populations.