The worship center at Southeast Christian Church in Louisville, Kentucky, is massive yet airy, supported by 12 trusses that converge at their peak and lock into a cross. The cross rises 40 feet above the roof and extends another 32 feet below, holding the entire structure in place. When senior minister Bob Russell stands in the pulpit, he is directly beneath that cross.

Russell accepted a call to Southeast in 1966, at the age of 22. The church, which started in 1962, had 125 members when Russell came. They met in the basement of a home.

Today they gather at a $26 million facility in a sanctuary that seats more than 9,000. More than 14,000 people worship at Southeast each weekend, attending one of three services. Russell heads a paid staff of more than 200. The church publishes a weekly newspaper, The Southeast Outlook, and supports many ministries both in Louisville and further abroad.

In its outlines, we've heard this story before: call it "The Amazing Church- Growth Story." Such prodigious growth demands attention, and there's a vast and ever-expanding literature devoted to explaining why this church rather than that one grows, and what such congregations have to tell us about the state of the church.

Indeed, we've heard the story so often, we're in danger of becoming blase. When Christianity Today was first considering a story on Southeast, a church growth expert told us it is "just another megachurch": a full-service, balanced ministry, the biggest in town, but nothing to make it stand out from many other megachurches. Ho hum.

But do we really know what a "typical" megachurch looks like? (Is there such a creature?) And what about the lessons we're directed to take from the megachurch phenomenon—lessons urged on us by critics, ...

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