The World’s First Megachurch

Istanbul: This morning I did a tour of the world’s first megachurch. The Hagia Sophia (Aya Sofia in Turkish), opened in 537AD. The original name given to the first construction of this church (360 AD) was “Megalo Ecclesia”. Translation: MEGA CHURCH.

Andrew at hagia sophia

Hagia Sophia is one of the Top 20 largest churches in the world if you measure the square footage but only has room for 10,000 people. Its so tall that some people say you could stand the Statue of Liberty under the dome without a problem and there would still be room for Notre Dame. It’s now a museum and no longer functions as a church. In fact, when the Moslems took it over in 1453, they covered up the mosaics with plaster and paint. But as a museum the images are allowed and gradually the mosaics are coming back into public view.


Last year I took my family to a different kind of megachurch – Lakewood Church in Houston, Texas. Seating for 46,000 but not nearly as grand as the Hagia Sophia.

I used to be quite harsh in my critiques of modern-day megachurches but have since softened and become quite ecumenical. One book that opened my eyes and made me repent of some of my biases was Beyond Megachurch Myths: What We Can Learn from America’s Largest Churches (Jossey-Bass Leadership Network Series).


Andrew Jones launched his first internet space in 1997 and has been teaching on related issues for the past 20 years. He travels all the time but lives between Wellington, San Francisco and a hobbit home in Prague.


  • Bob Hall says:

    A pertinent comment from Arzola, Exploring Worship:
    “In AD 987, Prince Vladimir of Kiev was seeking a religion. He sent a delegation to the Hagia Sophia in Constantinople to attend the liturgy, “…so that the Russes might behold the glory of the God of the Greeks.” On returning home his envoys described what they had observed in the following words: “We knew not whether we were in heaven or earth. For on earth there is no such splendor or such beauty, and we are at a loss to describe it. We know only that God dwells there among men, and their service is fairer than the ceremonies of other nations. For we cannot forget their beauty.” (quoted in Arzola, page 35)

  • Interesting post! Will definitely have to look at that book you mentioned! 🙂

  • I read your past comments on the megachurch. We have always had different size churches and it is really not a problem. The problem has come in largely, I think, when people begin to think that unless a church is mega, it is not a real church or it is somehow lacking. If God works and a large group of people end up gathering together in one place, so be it. God is working that way. But, if that doesn’t happen, it does not mean that the work is less significant. I guess my biggest problem with the proliferation of megachurches is what goes along with them in regard to expectations.
    Love the pics of the Hagia Sophia, by the way.

  • I was in Istanbul about half a year ago, but I didn’t have time to see the sights. What a shame! But about mega-churches: I was part of a house-church in the south of Poland for about four years. It had about fifteen members, but each of them became my life-long friend. I also frequented Willow Creek for a while. I haven’t heard much from my brethern there, now that I think of it.

  • Jason says:

    Wow pretty amazing looking. Would love to check it out myself someday.

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