Study: Megachurches can trigger false spiritual highs

“God’s love becomes … such a drug that you can’t wait to come get your next hit. … You can’t wait to get involved to get the high from God.” That’s what a megachurch worshiper said in a new study on the affects of spiritual highs in megachurches.

The lights, the swaying induced music, the large crowd, and that celebrity pastor preaching to you. Ahh… the spiritual high.

According to a new study, that “spiritual high” could be a result of a chemical process in the brain. The estimated 10% of American Protestants, about 6 million worshipers, who regularly attend one of 1,600 mega churches could experience this chemical process. At an annual meeting of the American Sociological Association in Denver a team of researcher found that:

The upbeat modern music, cameras that scan the audience and project smiling, dancing, singing, or crying worshippers on large screens, and an extremely charismatic leader whose sermons touch individuals on an emotional level … serve to create these strong positive emotional experiences. We see this experience of unalloyed joy over and over again in megachurches. That’s why we say it’s like a drug.

The study showed that worshipers at megachurches experience a greater release of oxytocin, thought to add to a sense of euphoria. That would lead us to believe that these types of megachurch worship experiences can trigger a false sense of a spiritual high.

Adding to this sense of spiritual high, one of the study’s researcher said,

The pastor functions as an “energy star” who engages the congregation through an accessible, informal and emotional sermon. Rather than being analytical or theological, the message “just feels right” or “just makes sense” for congregants.

Certainly, there is a degree the brain and the body play into the emotional and psychological response to worship. God told his people to love God with all their heart, soul, and mind. That shows the entirety of the worship experience and commitment to God. However, like a rock concert, there is a degree of psychological multiplication that can be added with a shared emotional experience with light shows, loud music, and a celebrity presence. Perhaps megachurches can add this additional element to worship that causes this “spiritual high”.

So, is the spiritual high that Christians experience in worship just a chemical response or is it a part of the worship of God? Does worship in a megachurch lend more to a shared emotional or perceived than other types of Christian styled worship?

Alan Rudnick

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About the Author
Alan Rudnick has been featured on television, radio, print, and social media and serves as the Pastor of the First Baptist Church of Ballston Spa, NY. He has quickly established himself as a leader, blogger, and commentator in the areas of faith, Christianity, ministry, and social media. He is the author of, “The Work of the Associate Pastor”, Judson Press. Alan’s writing has been featured with the Albany Times Union, The Christian Century, Associated Baptist Press, and The Fund of Theological Education. http://alanrudnick.org

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  • http://www.facebook.com/people/David-Rogers/1369160367 David Rogers

    I think this study also shows that scientific studies can lead to misleading headlines like “Megachurches can trigger false spiritual highs.”

    Nothing in the study indicates the truth or falsity of the “spiritual highs.” I would be interested also in whether results were compared with services in non-megachurches. Also, it spoke of neuro-chemicals but the RNS story only spoke of the research being observation, interviews, and surveys done by sociologists.

    I am not a megachurch pastor.

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