"There's a new face of religion sweeping America," a Scottish news agency reported July 7, "a breed of megachurches where size matters and worship is big business." Case in point is Louisville's Southeast Christian Church, which, in addition to a nearly 10,000-seat sanctuary, features a gym, a fitness club, 16 basketball courts, 4 baseball fields, and a bookstore.

According to the July 9 Christian Science Monitor, First Assembly of Concord (N.C) Baptist Church has gone a step further: it purchased an entire shopping mall. The church has hired a director of development, a former Chamber of Commerce head, to turn the site into a "community village" complete with K-12 school, assisted living center, free clinic, counseling center, and food and clothing depository. Churches in Houston, Plano, and Grapevine, Texas; Asheboro, North Carolina; Glendale, Arizona; and Los Angeles are also reported to be working on combined worship, commerce, and social services facilities.

Both critics and boosters of such projects tend to see them as a new development, a primarily evangelical response to America's full-service consumer culture. Such attractions as climbing walls and aerobics studios do indicate an eye toward the latest trends, but megachurches may be repeating history, too. Europe is dotted with massive worship centers that once served as hubs for culture, commerce, and education. They're called cathedrals.

Not all cathedrals are huge, for a cathedral is by definition "the church where the bishop is," not "the biggest church around." Still, centuries after their construction, cathedrals still rank among the largest buildings in the world. They frequently took more than 100 years to build and required the labor of dozens of masons, glaziers, ...

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