Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

First Advisor

Richard Bliese


The emergence of the megachurch in the United States represents a unique phenomenon which was shaped by a variety of cultural, political, economic, and religious forces. Megachurches have grown exponentially in recent years and now exercise unprecedented influence on the religious landscape in this country. Accompanying this phenomenon is a new and unique group of leaders who have guided these congregations through periods of rapid growth and substantial organizational change.

It is anticipated that many megachurches will encounter significant challenges in the future as the current senior pastors retire. Since existing research on megachurches has focused primarily on the congregations, little is known about the personal and professional characteristics of these pastors, and how, if at all, these pastors and congregations have prepared for changes in pastoral leadership. Protecting the sacred relationship between pastor and congregation is critical because the disruption of the sacred trust impacts the faith and spiritual practices of the pastor(s), staff, and congregation, as well as local and global ministries.

These issues were explored in twenty-two megachurches in three denominational systems—the Baptist General Conference, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, and Presbyterian Church (USA). The results include a detailed description of the personal and professional characteristics of the senior pastors, and provide new insight into the importance of relationships in their lives and ministries. The unique characteristics of these megachurches, as well as their relationships in the local community and around the world, contribute to the complexities of pastoral change and transition.

Historically, most of these megachurches have responded to, rather than prepared for, the inevitable departure of the senior pastor, which resulted in the disruption of the sacred relationship between the pastor and congregation. Many adhere to congregational or denominational policies which discourage, even preclude, any succession planning. Several pastors and congregations in the Baptist General Conference and Presbyterian Church (USA) are employing alternative approaches which promote continuity of leadership rather than disruption. The biblical, theological, historical, and theoretical resources engaged in this study support the anticipation of changes in pastoral leadership, rather than the reactionary approach currently utilized by many congregations.