Researchers from the University of Washington recently argued, based on an analysis of existing studies, that megachurch worship creates a spiritual "high" that draws participants back again and again. Interviews with 470 attendees at 12 churches revealed a common sense of euphoria; lights, video cameras, and projectors contributed to the experience.
"Worship services are addicting because worshipers believe they are experiencing God. They don't have a problem saying God is like a drug. They want and need to regularly experience God, and the megachurch worship service is a primary means by which they do so."
Katie Corcoran, sociology Ph.D. student, University of Washington
"Being stirred up or 'high' are words that mean getting involved. The intention of a worship service is to focus people's attention on religious matters and to get them stirred up to be concerned about things. Churches that never stir anyone up don't last long."
Rodney Stark, co-director, Baylor Institute for Studies of Religion
"It can be. It is dangerous to engineer a certain kind of experience—to equate true spirituality with exuberance, but not contemplation. But similar temptations can affect any type of church, and some megachurches are working to resist this kind of narcissism."
John Witvliet, director, Calvin Institute of Christian Worship
"Ecstatic worship can be positive, nurturing the emotive side of God's relationship with us. But when ecstasy begins to dictate theology, or suggest normative behaviors, we risk falling off the plateaus of orthodoxy and orthopraxy."
James Hart, president, Robert E. Webber Institute for Worship Studies
"It can be attractive. But 'addictive' sounds like someone loses the ability not to participate. If someone decided they had no interest in God, they would probably give up the 'high' and decide not to go any more. Actual love for God is a crucial part of wanting to worship."
Lester Ruth, professor, Duke University Divinity School
"Collective excitement at a megachurch could be more intense than in a smaller but equally vital service. However, calling any worship addictive and drug-like seems to me to be overstating the dynamics of worship and inauthentic to the attendees' experience."
Scott Thumma, professor, Hartford Institute for Religion Research