The men may not like to read this but it was a woman who birthed what I believe was the precursor to the contemporary megachurch. This woman’s name was Aimee Semple McPherson (1890-1944). After a short stint as a missionary’s wife was curtailed by her husband’s death, and a period of fruitful itinerant evangelistic preaching, she decided to base herself in Los Angeles, California. There she built an enormous church with a seating capacity of 5,300. The Angelus Temple, which was completed in 1923, became a forerunner of contemporary megachurches of today.
Drama and entertainment in the service of the gospel
She incorporated Hollywood entertainment and theatrics to attract and hold the attention of the crowds. Once she had a giant whale built on stage and she dressed up as Jonah to preach. Another time she preached to the LA Police and came on stage on a motorbike in police uniform, dismounted it, blew the whistle, and shouted:”Stop! You are breaking the law! ” That’s drama for you. According to Wikipedia, her “illustrated sermons attracted people from the entertainment industry, looking to see a “show” that rivaled what Hollywood had to offer. These famous stage productions drew people who would never have thought to enter a church, and then presented them with her interpretation of the message of salvation. McPherson believed that the Gospel was to be presented at every opportunity, and used worldly means at her disposal to present it to as many people as possible”. She preached a gospel of love and reconciliation and grace, unlike the many preaching the hell and brimstone gospel. “McPherson was famous both inside and outside of religious circles. Every city where services were held usually had civic leaders in attendance, as well as pastors representing the local churches of every denomination. She made sure that Angelus Temple was represented in local parades and entered floats into the famous Rose Parade in Pasadena”.
Multi-gifted megachurch leader with a social conscience
Her messages were accompanied with signs following: people were “slain in the Spirit”, “drunk in spirit”, healed, speaking in tongues and other supernatural phenomena. The church was filled to capacity three times each day, seven days a week.
“She was also very skillful at fundraising. Collections were taken at every meeting, usually with the admonishment of “no coins, please”. When the $1.5 million Angelus Temple opened its doors, construction was already entirely paid for through private donations.”(Wikipedia)
She started a Bible School to train pastors and missionaries and by 1944 over 4000 have graduated from its doors. She also planted many satellite churches in the pattern of the Salvation Army and they evolved into a denomination called the International Church of the Foursquare Gospel.
When it came to communications Aimee was way ahead of many: she wrote scores of books, 180 songs, 7 sacred operas. She also published the weekly Foursquare Crusader and a monthly magazine called “Bridal Call”. She also began broadcasting on radio in its infancy in the early ’20s. McPherson was the first woman in history to preach a radio sermon, and with the opening of Foursquare Gospel-owned KFSG (now KXOL) on and was also the first woman to be granted a broadcast license by the Federal Radio Commission.
But her life was marked by controversy: her divorces, a suspicious kidnap and an alleged adulterous relationship, and her death from sedatives. Read more about Aimee Semple MacPherson (Wikipedia).
The contemporary model of the megachurch is not a new idea: it’s almost a century-old!
And it was founded by a woman!
(This article was first published on the 28th Jan 2008.)