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Growth of megachurches worries church council head

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PORTO ALEGRE, Brazil, Feb 22 (Reuters) The head of the World Council of Churches expressed concern about the spread of megachurches around the world, saying they could lead to a Christianity that is ''two miles long and one inch deep.'' WCC General Secretary Samuel Kobia yesterday said megachurches -- huge Protestant churches with charismatic pastors, lively music and other services -- mostly ran on a business model to make worshipers feel good and were shallow in their theology.

Megachurches, which pack in thousands for rousing Sunday worship services, are popular in suburbs in the United States. Most are evangelical or Pentecostal, with few or no ties to mainline churches such as the Lutherans or Episcopalians.

Kobia said the megachurch movement, which is not represented in the mostly mainline Protestant or Orthodox World Council of Churches, broke down borders among denominations with a populist message.

''It has no depth, in most cases, theologically speaking, and has no appeal for any commitment,'' the Kenyan Methodist told Reuters at the WCC world assembly in this Brazilian city.

The megachurches simply wanted individuals to feel good about themselves, he said.

''It's a church being organized on corporate logic. That can be quite dangerous if we are not very careful, because this may become a Christianity which I describe as 'two miles long and one inch deep'.'' Rev. Geoff Tunnicliffe, international director of the 400 million member World Evangelical Alliance, said at the assembly that ''historical and deeply-felt issues'' separated them from other branches of Christianity.

The largest U.S. megachurches attract some 20,000 worshipers every Sunday. Abroad, megachurches have also sprouted up in South Korea, Australia, Britain, Canada, and other countries.

According to a report by the Hartford Institute for Religion Research, there were 1,210 U.S. churches drawing more than 2,000 worshipers, the official minimum for a megachurch. That was double the number in 2000.

Kobia also said so many Christian churches and groups are now functioning that they undermined the unity promoted by the council.

Their activities should be streamlined.

''What troubles me at this time is the proliferation of ecumenical structures. We have to find ways of integrating them.

Most have no clear goal and are hard to distinguish.'' The WCC groups nearly 350 Protestant and Orthodox churches that mostly broke away from the Roman Catholic Church in the Great Schism of 1054 or in the 16th century Reformation.

Having fewer groups and less overlapping would also allow churches to better focus on such issues as poverty and hunger in the world, Kobia said.

Reuters SI DB0904

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