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How institutions constrain or enable leadership: Denominational influences on
megachurch pastors (or “who does what? Predicting pastor’s probability of publishing”)
Marvin Washington
Karen D. W. Patterson
Harry J. Van Buren III
Institutions and their impact on how organizational work is carried out have been
addressed from a number of perspectives, including how institutions are created
(MacGuire, Hardy and Lawrence, 2004) how they are reinforced (DiMaggio and Powell,
1983), and how they are altered (Greenwood, Suddaby and Hinings, 2002). We argue that
one under-developed part of understanding institutions is the role of the institutional
It has been 50 years since Selznick published his seminal work Leadership in
Administration. Many scholars have credited this work with ushering in discussions of
institutions as “organizations infused with value.” However, not only did Selznick
describe how organizations become institutions, he also described the characteristics of
leaders of these organizations. After, describing what Selznick means by institution, as
opposed to organization, he returns to his primary objective of describing the role of
institutional leaders in this process. “Most of this essay will be devoted to identifying
and analyzing the chief functions of institutional leadership (pg 22).” The institutional
leader’s task is “the promotion and protection of values (pg 28)”.
By bringing institutional leadership back to the forefront of institutional analysis,
we argue that institutional leadership might be the reconciliation between the first wave
of institutional analysis which were more interested in a deterministic view of
institutionalized action (DiMaggio and Powell, 1983) and the calls for a more agentic
view of institutions (Hirsch and Lounsbury, 1997). Recently, authors have been calling
attention to a middle ground of institutionalized action; institutional work (Lawrence and
Suddaby, 2006). By institutional work, the concern is on how institutions maintain their
status and legitimacy in the face of their own institutionalized environment. We argue
that the institutional leader’s role in maintaining the legitimacy of their institutions
warrants renewed attention. In his chapter in the edited volume on institutional work,
Kraatz suggest that the “concept of institutional ledership would thus appear to link quite
well with the more contemporary concept of institutional work…(however) this linkage
remains a latent and largely undeveloped one (Kraatz, 2009: 59)”
Our goal in this paper is to examine how institutional leaders maintain the values
inherent in their institution in the face of changing field-level and institutional-level
pressure. After theorizing this aspect of institutional leaders, we then empirically analyze
how pastors of megachurches develop and co-opt practices to maintain the values of their
institution. Our main questions of interest are how what type of institutional leader will
enact a specific set of discursive strategies designed to better maintain the institution they
lead. We examine this question by drawing upon a case study of the rise of the “megachurch” (Thumma, 1996). As we note below, while the mega-church is not a new
phenomenon, the sudden increase in the number of megachurches has had consequences
for the pastors that lead these institutions. The institutional work that reflects these
changes is the other main area of interest, as individuals enact a variety of practices to
better connect to their growing congregations.
Institutional Work
Institutional work is the "purposive action of individuals and organizations aimed
at creating, maintaining and disrupting institutions" (Lawrence and Suddaby, 2006, pg.
215). This does not refer to the processes by which institutions influence action but how
institutions are reproduced, through specific, even individual, practices and processes.
As these processes and practices change, they reproduce and redefine the institutional
claims to an organizational field. These processes may take place purposely, as in the
case of institutional entrepreneurs (DiMaggio, 1988; MacGuire, Hardy and Lawrence,
2004), may co-evolve with the institutions and supporting logics themselves (Clemens,
1993; Haveman and Rao, 1997), or may follow the introduction of logics as a response to
the higher level changes that have already infiltrated the existing field (Suddaby and
Greenwood, 2005). “Thus, a significant part of the promise of institutional work as a
research area is to establish a broader vision of agency in relationship to institutions, one
that avoids depicting actors either as “cultural dopes” trapped by institutional
arrangements, or as hypermuscular institutional entrepreneurs (Lawrence, Suddaby, and
Leca, 2009, pg. 1)”.
Writing about the three different types of institutional work, creating,
maintaining, and disrupting, Lawrence, Suddaby and Leca argue that maintaining
institutions “has received relatively little empirical or theoretical attention (2009: 8)”.
Within this focus on institutional work, we are examining the actions that institutional
leaders take to maintain and respond to institutional challenges. Our project addresses
questions posed by institutional work researchers as they argue that institutional scholars
need to examine activities as opposed to accomplishments. Specifically, Lawrence, et al.
(2009) suggest that there are some neglected questions in the institutional work tradition
such as “understanding which actors are more likely to engage in institutional work, what
factors might support or hinder that work (independent of its success or failure), why
certain actors engage in institutional work while others in similar contexts do not, and
what practices constitute the range of ways in which actors work to create institutions
(Lawrence, et al, 2009, pg. 10)”.
Institutional leadership: Who is doing the work
Most scholars know of Selznick’s work Leadership in Administration as
providing the famous definition of institutions as organizations “infused with value.”
However, this is a secondary concern with his work. Selznick’s primary objective in
Leadership in Administration is to understand the behaviors and characteristics of those
who lead institutions and how these behaviors are different than the behaviors of those
who lead organizations. In Selznick’s own words “The argument of this essay is quite
simply stated: The executive becomes a statesman as he makes the transition from
administrative management to institutional leadership” (pg. 4). This leads to his
discussion of institutionalization as a process; organizations become institutions over
time. The degree of institutionalization depends upon the potential conflict between the
leader’s goals and group’s goals; the more precise an organization’s goals and the more
specialized and technical its operations, the slower the institutionalization process. Thus,
to institutionalize an organization is to “infuse with value beyond the technical
requirements of the task at hand (pg. 17).” This “infuse with value” statement is closely
connected with an organization’s concern with self-maintenance (the organization’s
desire to maintain its existence beyond the technical requirements of the organization).
Rao (2002) also identifies strong individuals as “evangelists” for a practice,
alluding to the significance of a singular powerful actor who drives the legitimation of a
practice much like a religion or ideology. Rao’s terminology most aptly signifies an
important component of institutional leadership at the individual level, specifically, the
strong adherence to a set of principles that drive the actions of the individual. These
pieces (among others) serve to identify and construct the external version of an
institutional leader – an individual who utilizes institutional supporting mechanisms and
existing governance mechanisms and cognitive frameworks to alter power arrangements
through explicit institutional strategies.
In a recently published dissertation, Patterson (2007) extends the idea of
institutional leader as evangelists in her examination of D. D. Palmer and his efforts to
establish the chiropractic medicine. She examined how Palmer created Palmer
Chiropractic College, and other educational and associational organizations, to gain
legitimacy for chiropractic medicine. Her work shows the link between the founding of
chiropractic colleges and professional associations and the growing support and cognitive
legitimacy of chiropractic medicine.Kraatz and Moore’s (2002) study examines the role
of leadership migration in the institutional changes of liberal arts college education. They
argued that except for a few theoretical statements about the role of leadership in
institutional change and the rare empirical exception (Hirsch, 1986; Leblebici, Salancik,
Copay and King, 1991), the role of leadership in institutional change has been neglected
over the past 40 years. Drawing from Selznick’s statement that a critical component of
institutionalization is the selection of leaders from a homogeneous pool of candidates,
Kraatz and Moore examine three mechanisms of how leadership changes lead to
institutional change: 1) knowledge transfer and interorganizational learning; 2)
introduction of new mental models and assumptions; and 3) attenuation or replacement of
institutional values (2002: 123). Kraatz and Moore find support for their hypotheses
regarding the factors that allow leadership migration to impact organizational change.
Other scholars have also contributed to a better understanding of institutional
leadership. In a study examining the role of CEO’s, Tengblad (2004) builds upon
Selznick’s conception of the institutional leader by defining the role of the CEO as
managing internal and external expectations. In a replication of work by Carlson
(Carlson, 1951), Tengblad observed eight CEOs for a total of 159 days. He directly
followed CEOs around for 26 days (more than 300 hours) and had the CEOs conduct
self-recordings of themselves for 133 days. Tengblad focused his study on understanding
how CEOs handled financial expectations. One of his key findings was the increasing
use of organizational culture as a management and communication tool. “Messages
about the desired state of affairs (formulate, for instance, as ‘ten commandments’,
‘cornerstones’, ‘business mission’ or ‘corporate vision’) were transmitted through
booklets and brochures in most companies. During the observations, the CEOs made
numerous efforts to spread these messages” (Tengblad, 2004: 592). Tengblad argued that
the CEOs in his study often resorted to using the mission of the organization as a way of
communicating the financial expectations. The CEOs did not just want to paint a “rosy
picture” but wanted to demonstrate that they were doing all they could to improve their
financial outlook. Internally, Tengblad found that the CEOs used a variety of
assessments to evaluate the senior managers. These assessments created a “carrot and
stick” (pg. 596) approach to managing internal expectations. Similar to Selznick’s
original conclusions, Tengblad concluded that the CEOs in his study spent enormous
energy in managing the external expectations of their organizations. However, this
management process did not automatically lead to changes to the organization.
The role of stories and text in institutional maintenance
Selznick describes one task of institutional leadership that helps in the
institutionalization process as “the elaboration of socially integrating myths (pg 151)”.
These myths are used to help “infuse day-to-day behavior with long-run meaning and
purpose (pg. 151)”. It is clear that institutional leaders play an active role in developing
the vision and mission of the organization. However, while some scholars view the
vision setting process as a strategic or organizational function (Boal and Schultz, 2007;
Nutt and Backoff, 1997), from an institutional perspective, vision setting is also
inherently political. Organizational visions give rise to stories, myths, and ceremonies
(Meyer and Rowan, 1977) they enable the organization to remember the “good old days”
or to reinforce some key values of the organization (Bolman and Deal, 2003). Gregory
Berry (2001) notes, “Stories are a fundamental way through which we understand the
world….By understanding the stories of organizations, we can claim partial
understanding of the reasons behind visible behavior” (p. 59). As such the exchange of
stories, rather than merely routines, allows participants to develop a new “collective
story” through which they can become a social learning system. Stories are thus an
important part of establishing internal consistency. Balancing the past, present, and
future through storytelling is an essential skill for institutional leaders who hope to
promote it. It is in the creating, telling, and retelling of key stories by institutional leaders
that the past, the present, and the future of the organization are connected.
The enduring values, expectations, and responsibilities that maintaining coherence
produces for the organization—and which are manifested in its vision—show the
opportunity that institutional leadership has in defining an organization’s approach to
future circumstances. Although all individual members are “coauthors” of an
organization’s life story (Czarniawska, 1997, p. 14), powerful individuals, such as
institutional leaders, can produce narratives for which the rest of the organization is more
of a passive audience. Control over storytelling and the way members interpret an
organization’s path over time allows control over the vision formation process, and
should significantly influence the character and effectiveness of organizational mission.
Although many individuals may possess experience relevant to the development and
evaluation of past mental models of the organization, institutional leaders have a unique
position from which to influence this critical feedback mechanism in the vision formation
process. Leader background and experience from the past is influential in developing
descriptive mental models and leader experience with those models as they confront the
demands of current organizational situations influence prescriptive mental models.
An institutional leader’s own life story, thus, enters into the vision formation
process along with the life story of the organization itself and its members. The
requirement for coherence in both organizational and leader life stories means that a
institutional leader imparts much of their own meaning and sense-making onto the
organization; actions and events are interpreted through the lenses of thematic and causal
coherence in the context of the histories of both the organization and the institutional
leader. For example, when Jack Welch was the head of General Electric, he taught a
course on Leadership and Values seven times a year to high-potential middle managers.
In addition, courses were taught by the vice-chairman and the CFO. In fact, corporate
leaders taught 60% of the senior-level courses, with Welch often standing in front of the
group (Greiner, 2002).
In the most recent treatment of establishing a link between institutional leadership
and institutional work, Kraatz proposes seven types of institutional work that institutional
leaders might perform. Two of these types of work apply to our context. First, Kraatz
suggest that institutional leaders engage in ongoing and highly consequential symbolic
exchanges with different elements of their environment (Kraatz, 2009). Kraatz, argument
is that while a study of the role of symbols is not in and of itself novel, given the
heterogeneous nature of the institutional environment institutional leaders are a part of,
the creation and management of these symbols become vitally important. Also, creating
symbols in this context goes beyond pure a simple classification of institutional rulefollowing or strategic / instrumental. Institutional leaders in this context can get into as
much trouble “by offering the right symbol to the wrong audienc, by sending inconsistent
symbols, and / or by making a gesture that commits the organization to an unwanted
course of action over the long term (Kraatz, 2009: 75)”. The second suggestion by
Kraatz is that institutional leaders make value commitments in order to win trust and
sustain cooperation among institutional constituencies. Here, Kraatz builds on Selznick’s
suggestion that commitment is the price institutional leaders pay in exchange for trust and
cooperation. Part of Selznick’s concerns with institutional leadership deals expressly with
ideas of integrity and trust. “Leaders may have a genuine need to make moral and
emotional displays of commitment in order to create social cohesion and solve the
collective action problems that exist in such settings (Kraatz, 2009: 77)”.
Drawing from the work in institutional theory, we argue that institutional leaders
perform two tasks to gain external legitimacy for their institution. First, institutional
leaders use supporting mechanisms (Washington & Ventresca, 2004) that help to
maintain their existence and sustain the acceptance and use of the practice. They can
either create new support mechanism that are new creations in and of themselves (such as
websites or blogs in the late 20th and early 21st centuries) or utilize existing mechanisms
that have been proven sources of support for other perspectives or practices (such as
higher education or professional or trade associations). These supporting mechanisms
commonly take the form of state or normative support for particular practices. Drawing
from Scott’s three pillars of institutionalism, these practices could be the development of
an association, interest group, or lobbying group to impact the normative or regulative
aspects of the environment
The second process recalls the major contribution of Berger and Luckman (1966)
in that institutional leaders strive for widespread social acceptance for their organization.
New practices or organizational forms are often contested and surrounded by significant
conflict. They can be opposed or even stigmatized by the status quo (Hudson, 2008).
This aspect provides boundaries to tease apart how an organization might have
established supporting mechanisms yet never gain wide-spread social acceptance
(prostitution, drug use, alternative medicine and same-sex marriage would be existing
examples of such institutions).
The challenge for institutional leaders in their quest to maintain legitimacy is to
avoid the traps of becoming a Celebrity CEO (Rindova, Pollack, & Hayward, 2004).
While institutional leader’s aims might be noble, the more successful an institutional
leader, the more this person might be written about in the media and become a person of
celebrity. Recent research has termed this phenomena “Celebrity CEO” (Wade, Porac,
Pollack, and Graffin, 2006). While research has shown that having a celebrity CEO does
provide short-term economic benefits to the firm, overtime the relationship between CEO
celebrity status and firm performance is negative (Wade, Porac, Pollack, and Graffin,
Empirical Setting and Research Design
The empirical setting where on the institutional work of institutional leaders is the
rise of the “mega-churches” particularly in the US but also in other countries such as
South Korea and Australia. Ironically, while early institutional scholars have argued that
religion would be a place (similar to law firms, schools, and health care) where
institutional processes would matter most (Scott & Meyer, 1991), they have not received
similar research focus as the other settings. “(F)or the most part, management
researchers have stubbornly refused to engage meaningfully with religion and religious
forms of organization” (Tracey, 2012: 2).
The United States is a great laboratory to study religion and religious institutions:
there are numerous home-grown faiths (e.g. Christian Science, The Church of Jesus
Christ of Latter-Day Saints [Mormons], Jehovah’s Witnesses, Scientology, Seventh-Day
Adventists) as well as many new immigrant religions (Warf & Winsberg, 2010). In this
respect the US is quite different from other countries at a similar stage of economic
development: “by almost every measure, the United States is the most religious rich
nation in the world. Indeed, it is the only religious rich nation in the world…Americans
are more religious than other wealthy, educated peoples because they live in a more open
religious market, with more churches and great variety of religious perspectives
competing for their devotion. With more options, Americans have blossomed into great
consumers of religion” (Kohut & Stokes, 2006: 103). Churches in the US are for many
people their most important civic organization. Churches also promote civic virtues,
community and charitable service, and organizational skills such as volunteer work and
fundraising experiences (Kohut & Stokes, 2006). Religious affiliation creates social
connectedness and dense social networks that allow church members to develop skills
and to generate social capital. This is especially important in newly created communities;
here it is the case that “in the rapidly growing suburbs and exurbs in which most
megachurches are located, these ties are central to many people’s overall happiness and
quality of life” (Warf & Winsberg, 2010: 36). While the number of traditional/mainline
churches has consistently declined since the 1960s (Pew Research Center, 2007), in that
same time, the number of megachurches has grown.
“By the latest count, there are approximately 1,200 protestant churches with
weekly attendance of at least 2,000 people (Thumma, 2005) and by every account these
very large churches have proliferated in recent decades (Chaves, 329: 2006)”. We view
megachurches as an institution in a field with other largely entrepreneurial institutions
such as tent revivals, small “street corner” churches, as well as other institutions such as
denominations, the Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA), the Women’s Christian
Temperance Union (WCTU), parachurch organizations, and other similar organizational
types. To analyze megachurches we draw upon Selznick’s concept of organizations as
institutions, as opposed to other approaches that might define institutions as a “more or
less taken-for granted repetitive social behavior that is underpinned by normative systems
and cognitive understandings that give meaning to social exchange and thus enable selfreproducing social order” (Greenwood, Oliver, Sahlin, & Suddaby, 2008: 4–5) or as
“mechanisms of stability and social reproduction” (Suddaby & Viale, 2011: 424). We
follow Selznick’s approach, as examining institutions as organizations focuses attention
on what institutions do and who actually leads them. We further posit that such an
approach better captures the dynamism of megachurches than alternative theoretical
frames. What makes the megachurch movement even more fascinating is that while there
has been a rise in the number of megachurches, overall participation in churches and the
growth in the number of churches have declined since the 1960s (Pew Research Center,
2010). “In practice, these dramatically out-sized (and often wealthy) congregations
represent a new aspect of religious life in the United States and are already having a
profound impact on the way in which Americans worship” (Karnes, McIntosh, Morris, &
Pearson-Merkowitz, 2007: 261).
In an overview of this phenomenon, Chaves (2006) offer many contending
reasons for the rise of this phenomenon. They range (as one could imagine) from
institutional entrepreneurs “attuned to post-1970 society and culture (339)” to changing
demands of “the unchurched (337)”. While one could argue that the mega-church is not a
new organizational form--there were large churches in the pre-civil war days (Chaves,
2006)—the speed at which they are developing does lead most scholars to argue that they
represent a significant change to the institutional of religion; sort of a “marriage between
the institutional church and the tent revival (Chaves, 2006: 340)”. One dominant
explanation is that as we have become more comfortable with big box stores--Wal-Mart,
Best buy, Home Depot--we have similarly come to expect church to look the same way.
In addition to the notion of the megachurch as an institution, the megachurch is
also influenced by broader institutions, which in religious language are called
denominations. A denomination focuses on the interpretation and production of a specific
religious belief system. Affiliated congregations draw upon their denominations to create
or to shape their statements of belief, which in the main are mission statements. While
many can think of the typical Protestant denominations of Baptist, Episcopal, Lutheran,
Methodist, or Presbyterian, from our own research, of the 1,400 or so megachurches in
the US, over 60 different denominations are represented.
Denominations are often—but not always—categorized based on a fundamentalist
to liberal continuum (Smith, 1990). Smith and Faris (2005) found that denominational
memberships are stratified based on socioeconomic differences, and the “socioeconomic
inequality evident in the American religious system appears to be patterned by theology,
race and ethnicity, and liturgical style” (102). However, denominations have often split
and emerged based on other historical factors, including nineteenth-century debates about
slavery (Woodbury & Smith, 1998) and the practical need to organize expansion as the
United States grew geographically (Loetscher, 1963).
Our theoretical research question is why do different institutional leaders adopt
some maintenance practices and not others? The specific practice that we examine is the
growing and changing phenomenon of pastors of mega-churches not only writing
religious books, but also writing religious books that are becoming best sellers. “With the
capacity to leverage effectively the organizational resources and technological tools of
our time—through educational programs, pastoral associations, and a wealth of materials
(including best-sellers such as Rick Warren’s (2002) The Purpose-Driven Life)—these
churches are in a position to alter the social economic, and political circumstances of the
communities in with they reside” (Karnes et al, 2007: 261). We think this represents the
movement of church leaders to see themselves not just as spiritual leaders, but also as
organizational leaders who have life lessons for the spiritual person as well as the nonspiritual person. In addition, we believe that the extended scope for publications from
mega-church pastors represents recognition of the agency inherent in organizations, but
not always addressed from the perspective of religion logics (Chaves, 2006).
Pastors of Megachurches
Very few churches start off as megachurches. For example, “the first meeting of
Lakewood Church was held in a converted feed store on the outskirts of Houston on
Mother’s Day, 1959” ( is the
beginning of the story of Lakewood Church. Founded by John and Dodie Osteen, the
church grew to over 10,000 members when John died in 1999 and his son Joel Osteen
became head pastor. With over 43,000 attending one of its weekly services, Lakewood
Church is the largest megachurch in the US. Now located in the former home of the
Houston Rockets National Basketball Association team, Lakewood Church spent $75
million to renovate the former basketball arena. It pays $2.1 million in annual rent to the
city and offers three English services and one Spanish service each week. The church,
with a seating capacity of 16,000, has a family life center, bookstore and a café.
Southern California offers a number of megachurch stories of its own. For
example, “on Easter of 1980, Saddleback Valley Community Church held its very first
public service and 205 people, most of who had never been to church, showed up”
( Saddleback Church, led by Rick Warren,
has become another megachurch with an average weekly attendance of more than 22,000.
Size matters in myriad ways for congregations: “We assume that by the time a church has
reached this general size, it will have made changes to its organizational structure,
staffing, and leadership patterns; programmatic offerings; worship forms; and physical
plant that give it the full range of megachurch characteristics we use as definitive of the
phenomenon” (Thumma & Travis, 2007: XXI). The style of worship is “characterized by
contemporary praise music, led by a worship team, accompanied by orchestra, drums,
and electric guitars and augmented by state-of-the-art sound systems and huge projection
screens” (Thumma & Travis, 2007: 27). Megachurches have “removed every obstacle
that keeps people from coming to the Christian church. Plus, they give people a feeling of
anonymity. And that is particularly important to those who have been hurt or burned out
in smaller churches” (Axtman, 2003).
However, critics argue that megachurches have a “consumer mentality, meaning
they begin with the individual and not with God and are thus accused of inverting the
faith” (Thumma & Travis, 2007: 98). In this line of analysis, the cost of “removing every
obstacle that prevents people from coming to the Christian church” is a kind of lowestcommon-denominator approach to church in which the distinctive elements of Christian
worship and witness are subsumed to fulfilling market expectations. Other critics
compare “McChurches” to Wal-Mart (Liu, 2003; Symonds, 2005), citing their secular, if
highly successful, homogenized, and unapologetic business models that succeed at the
expense of smaller congregations. The business magazine Forbes has referred to megapastors as “essentially CEOs who successfully address many of the same issues that
challenge their business brethren” (Buss, 2007). Megachurches, viewed in this way, are
critiqued for having a consumerist approach to theology that is absent of the rigor and
sacrifice often demanded by traditional churches, while simultaneously servicing as
havens for a moral community craving for purpose in an increasingly secularized society
(Twitchell, 2004; Warf & Winsberg, 2010).
***insert table 1 about here***
Table 1 presents the descriptive statistics on the pastors of the largest 20
protestant churches as measured by the Hartford Institute for Religious Research
Database on Megachurches. As indicated by the data, the top 20 churches are very large
(average church membership of 20,000). Many of these churches have satellite churches
or multiple campuses. Out of these 20 pastors, 17 have authored at least one book, 5 have
authored a self-proclaimed best seller, and 3 have authored a New York Times best seller.
In addition, most of these pastors have their own website (for example, Joel Osteen has; he is pastor of Lakewood Church, which is on
which they sell their books directly. On the uses of other social media technologies
(Facebook, Twitter, blog), virtually all pastors used these technologies.
This consistent output of discourse complements numerous book publications by
these same pastors. In fact, many of the largest megachurches are led by people who have
also penned bestsellers. Out of the broader set of megachurch pastors, we have identified
19 pastors that have self-identified their published books as bestsellers. One such pastor,
Reverend T. D. Jakes, whose church “The Potter’s House” has over 30,000 members, has
written over 30 books. We find the co-evolution of megachurches and pastors’ writings to
be a fruitful area of research to explore institutional maintenance and improvisation and
modifying strategies (Battilana & D’Aunno, 2009). Furthermore, many of the authors
have a wide breadth of subjects that they write about, from the intuitive topics of religion
and self-help to the less obvious topics of organization and leadership. In fact many of the
bestsellers have several commonalities with more traditional business literature, including
motivation, change and leadership concepts. For example, books such as Courageous
Leadership by Bill Hybels, pastor of Willow Creek Community Church in Chicago, IL,
contains topics such as “The Power of Vision,” “Developing Emerging Leaders,” and
“The Sources of Decision Making.” But these business topics are not limited to books
that happen to be focused on traditional business topics. In Your Best Life Now: 7 Steps to
Living at Your Full Potential, by Joel Osteen, pastor of Lakewood Church in Houston,
the author includes chapters on having a vision, developing strategic goals, and setting
appropriate expectations. In fact, among the pastors of the top 10 largest megachurches in
the United States, six of them have books with topics that include traditional business
Another example of the information provided in books that speak to business
rather than religious logic is the book by bestselling author, Joel Osteen, called Be a
People Builder. As noted previously, Osteen is the pastor of Lakewood church in
Houston, Texas, which boasts a non-denominational congregation of more than 43,000
people. This title and the information contained in the book itself are indicative of
leadership, organizational behavior, human resources, or numerous other business topics.
Another example of the inclusion of organizational language is Rick Warren’s The
Purpose Driven Life. Warren is the pastor of Saddleback Church in California, which has
a membership of more than 30,000 people. His best-seller not only discussed spiritual
truths, but also discussed strategies for individuals with regard to how they can become
more effective in other parts of their lives.
***insert table 2 here****
In examining these texts, we found an overwhelming number had language that
supported both a spiritual or religious logic as well as a professional or business logic.
Many of the books were intended as teaching manuals meant to provide guidance to
pastors or other church leaders. T.D. Jakes’ bestseller, Reposition Yourself: Living Life
Without Limits, discusses goal-setting, careers, financial management and even branding.
Ed Young’s book, Sexperiment, tries to address the notion that sexual relationships and
God do not mix. Jentezen Franklin has books on subjects ranging from fasting principles
to how to be the person you want to be. What we find interesting is that most of the
megachurch book authors come from very large non-denominational churches. This
echoes the theory that megachurches are created largely in response to a need for
community, not just religion. Further, the larger the megachurch, the greater the
likelihood and need for the megachurch pastor to engage in personal branding as a means
of building the megachurch—especially as non-denominational megachurches do not
benefit from the built-in legitimacy offered by established denominations.
Hypothesis development
Drawing from insights on institutional leaders and the megachurch literature, we
argue that there are some defining characteristics of megachurches that would lead them
to write books as a way of connecting to their membership. The first hypothesis deals
with the leader of the church. One of the key insights from Selznick’s work is that
similar to how organizations become institutions as they become “infused with value”, so
to does the leader of an organization become an institutional leader once he “assumes
personal responsibility for the well-being of the organizational “whole” identifying
himself with it, and reconceptualizign himself as its steward (Kraatz, 2009: 64). Given
that there is variation among the tenures of pastors of churches, we argue that this
personal responsibility characteristic would be mostly closely affiliated with the founder
of the church. As such, our first hypothesis is:
Hypothesis 1: Founders of megachurches are more likely to write books than nonfounders
Our second hypothesis connects to insights from institutional theory. Scott’s
(1991) work on institutional theory suggest three pillars, regulatory, normative, and
cultural cognitive. From this work, Washington and Ventresca (2005) argued that
instutional pillars are not only constraints, but might also be supporting mechanisms as
the pillars provide templates for action. Combining this insight, we argue that if a pastor
is wanting to connect to their growing congregation, they would use practices that they
already know. Similar to Kraatz and Moore’s (2002) study predicting that presidents that
had some familiarity with adopting professional programs in their previous position
would be more likely to adopt professional programs in their new position, we argue that
pastors that have and experience with books—specifically their value as a
communication and commitment tool—would be more likely to engage in the practice of
writing one. One way a pastor can obtain this experience is by having a level of higher
education. There are no formal degree requirements to becoming a pastor. However,
having a university degree would expose a pastor to the utility of reading books as a way
of communicating, learning, and consolidating insights and wisdom. This leads to our
second hypothesis:
Hypothesis 2: Pastors that have a university degree are more likely to write a book that
pastors that do not have a university degree.
Our third hypothesis deals with the statesmen part of Selznick’s view of institutional
leaders. If an institutional leader’s world revolves around politics “speaking to
subordinates’ values and ideas, as well as their interests, and is wise to the importance of
rhetoric, culture, and symbols (Kraatz, 2009: 77)”, an institutional leader would use
multiple tools to get his message out. In our dataset, we have identified 3 tools that can
be used. The first is a personal website. Drawing from our earlier example, some pastors
can be found by looking up website of the church (Lakewood church for example), but
other pastors can be found by “googling” their name (Joel Osteen). We argue when
pastor is using their name to be identified / recognized, he is communicating that he has a
message to share above and beyond the message of the church. This tools (his own
website) would be a ripe for text dissemination. Thus, we argue:
Hypothesis 3: Pastors that have a website, are more likely to write books than pastors that
do not have a website.
Our fourth hypothesis connects to the broader reach of the pastor. While one could argue
that if a pastor has a large church, they might be writing books as a way to communicate
to the audience that comes to the church every Sunday (or Saturday). We suggest that a
different purpose of the book might be to connect to the people that connect with the
pastor, but not through a face-to-face audience. Books in this sense is something that
people that hear or see the pastor can have so that they can reach a deeper connection.
Thus, we argue:
Hypothesis 4a: Pastors that have a television presence are more likely to a write book
than pastors that do not have a television presence.
Hypothesis 4b: Pastors that have a radio presence are more likely to write a book than
pastors that do not have a radio presence.
Methodology and Analytical Design
Our work is also shaped by preliminary analysis of over 1400 megachurches in
the United States. The Hartford Institution for Religious Research
( tracks data at the congregational and denominational levels.
Relevant to the present analysis, this institution has collected information on all churches
with a weekly attendance of more than 2,000 members. To this database, we have
consulted numerous websites such as the websites of individual pastors, the websites of
the churches themselves as well as other religious databases to identify additional
variables of interest..
Our dependent variable of interest is book which denotes that a pastor has written
a book after having been pastor of a megachurch. Our first independent variable of
interest is founder. Founder receives a 1 if the pastor of the megachurch was the original
founder of the church. Our second independent variable of interest is degree. Degree
measures of the pastor of the church has at least a 4-year college degree. Our third
independent variable of interest is website. Website receives a 1 of the pastor has a
website that links directly to the pastor (as opposed to the church), if not, this variable
receives a 0. Our third independent variables of interest TV and Radio. TV and Radio
measures 1 if the church that the pastor is the leader of broadcasts on Television and the
To control against other arguments, we include a measure of race labeled Black.
Black receives a 1 if the pastor identifies as black (based upon reading the biographies of
the pastor from their own website, or Wikipedia page) and 0 if we could not determine
the race, or the pastor was not black. We also control for 3 different denominational
differences. While there are numerous types of denominations (Baptist, Methodist, etc.),
some churches are non-demoninational. This means that they do not profess an allegiance
to a specific religious body of knowledge. One could argue that being nondemoninational might results in more religious freedom (or less denominational
constraint) which might influence a pastor work. Nondenom receives a value of 1 if the
church is non-denominational and 0 if not. As opposed to controlling for the more than
63 denominations represented in our database, we used (citation here needed) a generally
accepted classification to determine if the denomination is considered evangelical (more
charismatic) or mainline (more traditional). If the denomination is considered evangelical
or mainline, we coded that church with a 1,otherwise the church was coded with a 0.
Connecting to the historical legacy of some churches, we also coded if the church was
considered a historically black church. While many different denominations could be part
of this grouping, churches that identified themselves (from reading their websites) as
historically black, were coded as a 1, otherwise they were coded 0. Lastly, we controlled
for the size of the church with the variable attend. To reflect the range of size in our
database, we log the attendance as reported on the Hartford Institution of Religious
Research database.
Using Stata 12, we ran a logistic regression. Table 4 presents our descriptive
statistics. Given the large number of variables that were correlated, we ran Variance
Inflation Factors for our variables. For all but the attendance measure, the VIF scores
were well below 5. While we kept the attendance measure in our final results, we ran
additional analysis with this variable absent and our results stayed the same. Table 4
presents our results.
Model 1 of table 4 presents the results of our control variables. As you can see the larger
the church, the more likely a pastor is to have published one book. We also see that race
is significant in that black pastors are more likely to have published a book than nonblack pastors. Model 1 presents the results of our first hypothesis. In this model, founder
is significant, meaning that if a pastor was the founder of the church, they were more
likely to write a book. This result supports hypothesis 1. Hypothesis 2 is presented in
model 3. Here there is also support for our hypothesis as Degree is positive and
significant. This means that pastors with a college degree are more likely to have
published a book than pastors without a college degree. Model 4 presents our findings
from our 3rd hypothesis. There is also support for this hypothesis as website is positive
and significant. This suggests that pastors that have a website of their own name are more
likely to publish a book than pastors that do not have a website of their own name. Model
5 provides the results of our 4th hypothesis. Here we see partial support. Showing your
church service on the TV increases the likelihood of you publishing a book, but having
your show on the radio does not. Model 6 presents all of the hypotheses together. Here
we see that founder, degree and website remain significant (along with the control
variables of black and attendance). However, having a television program no longer
predicts publishing a book.
Post hoc analysis
While our main interests is in analysis which pastor will be likely to publish a
book, our database also affords us the opportunity to examine which pastor is more likely
to have a book become a best seller. To determine if a book was a best seller, we first
started with the pastors who listed either own their own website, or on the church’s
website that their book was a best seller. We then corroborated this information looks at
lists from the NY Times, and Our search determined 19 books were indeed
best sellers. Table 7 presents the results of our analyes examining what predicts a pastor’s
likelihood of writing a best seller. Here we find that some of the variables that predict
writing a book, also predict writing a best seller (website, founder, TV, attendance).
Interesting, having a degree is not a predictor, neither is being black.
A second set of post-hoc analysis we conducted were on the number of books
written. Of those that have written a book, the average number of books written were 2.7
and the maximum number was 200! To examine who writes a lot of books, we ran a
regression analysis with our dependent variable being number of books. Model 8
presents those analyses. Here we see that founder, website, TV and Radio predice the
number of books written. Interestingly black is a negative predictor, and attendance is not
a predictor.
The goal of this paper was to examine the institutional work of institutional
leaders. We focused this inquiry on the empirical setting of megachurches and the work
of writing books. For pastors that are institutional leaders, we argue that writing books is
a way of communicating the pastor’s values to their audience in an effort to maintain
internal integrity and gain / maintain trust with their members. Our major findings were
that pastors that were founders of the church and had a website were more likely to write
books. Our intuition is that founders carry an additional set of commitments to the
church which results in them being more likely to engage in producing text. We also find
support that pastors that come from a background where knowledge is produced and
valued (a college education) were also more likely to write books.
Of keen interests to us is that one set of variables were not significant. As you can
see from the title, an assumption we had was that the denomination would also have an
influence on a pastor’s likelihood of writing books. In this case, we did not find any
significant effects of the denomination of the church on a pastor’s likelihood of writing
books. Future research could better tease out the denominations to see if indeed there
might be an effect.
Though not hypothesized, we have an interesting set of findings with regards to
best sellers and number of books. It appears that pastors that write a lot of books, also
have a website, a TV program and a radio program. This could be views as pastors that
have a way to get a message out, create messages to deliver. However, one could also
cynically relate this to Leblebici, Salancik, Copay and King’s (1991) study of the radio
industry where it was the “snake oil” salesmen on the periphery of the industry who first
advertised on the radio. Maybe we have a case where pastors take advantage of their
media (website, radio, tv) in an effort to create an audience for their products (in this case
books). Future research could also further tease out the relationship between media
outlets and book or text production.
As with any study, there are some inherent limitations in this one. The biggest is
that our data come from self-reported websites. We examined the church’s websites and
the pastor’s websites (those that had one) to determine many of our variables. Thus, some
pastors might have had a degree, but did not choose to list that information in the
biographical information we found on the church’s website. Similarly, some churches
might have had a radio or TV program, but did not list that on their website. However,
since we are interested in the institutional aspects of work and leadership, we think that if
a pastor did not include this information, than it wasn’t institutionally relevant and we
would argue, would not be a factor in how they view writing books.
Selznick suggests that leading an institution is:
“far more than the capacity to mobilize personal support; it is more than
the maintenance of equilibrium through the routine solution of everyday
problems; it is the function of the leader-statesman—whether of a nation
or a private association—to define the ends of group existence, to design
an enterprise distinctively adapted to these ends, and to see that the design
becomes a living reality. These tasks are not routine; they call for
continuous self-appraisal on the part of the leaders; and they may require
only a few critical decisions over a long period of time” (Selznick 1957, p.
The institutional leaders that we examine in this study are pastors of
megachurches. Pastors of megachurches continually look for ways to connect with
their growing members. Pastors can choose to adopt new practices such as websites
or blogs, or utilize connection practices that have been proven sources of support
such as television or radio ministry as a means of broadcasting their services.
However, new practices or organizational forms are often contested and surrounded
by significant conflict. They can be opposed or even stigmatized by the status quo
(Hudson, 2008). The challenge for the megachurch pastor as they attempt to
connect to their members is to avoid the traps of becoming a Celebrity CEO
(Rindova, Pollock, & Hayward, 2006). Appearing on TV, radio, or the internet
could allow the pastor to connect to her membership, but it also pushes the pastor
into the spotlight, which might create unwanted attention (see for example the
unwanted attention on Jeremiah Wright, pastor of Trinity United Church of Christ,
which is a Chicago megachurch with over 6,000 members, after a YouTube post
that shared his views were brought to light once one of his members—Presidential
candidate Barack Obama—was questioned about his pastor’s views). While a
pastor’s aims might be noble, the more successful the pastor, the more this person
might be written about in the media and become a person of celebrity.
After describing some characteristics of megachurches and providing a
description of the types of books pastors publish, we turned our attention to
examining which pastor is more likely to write a book. We found that those leaders
that founded the institution, had prior experience with the value of writing texts,
and had a visible presence were more likely to write a book than those that did not.
We think our results make numerous contributions. Using insights from
institutional theory, specifically the concepts of institutional leadership (Selznick, 1957;
Washington et al., 2008), and institutional work (Lawrence & Suddaby, 2006; Lawrence,
Suddaby, & Leca, 2009), we suggest that pastors of megachurches have adopted the
practice of writing books as a way of reaffirming the megachurch organization as an
institution. These books not only help a pastor to connect to his internal members, but
also help the pastor communicate to an external audience.
Similar to the explosion of studies that examine sport, healthcare, or internet
phenomena as a way of testing various organizational theories (Wolfe et al., 2006), we
think that as an empirical setting, megachurches can extend the growing intersection of
institutional work and identity (Creed, Dejordy, & Lok, 2010), institutions and emotions
(Voronov & Vince, 2012) and organizational rituals (Dacin, Munir, & Tracey, 2010).
While Creed’s work examined the perceived identity contradiction of being a gay,
lesbian, bisexual, or transgender minister, examining megachurches provides a lens into
understanding how pastors navigate a new identity of “Protestant Christian” for their
mega-congregations. While Dacin, Munir, & Tracey, (2010) examine how rituals and
traditions enable institutional maintenance work, megachurches provide an interesting
setting to examine the creation, maintenance (and destruction) of extremely
institutionalized rituals and traditions. While the conversation connecting emotions to
institutions has mostly been conceptual or theoretical, the field of religion provides a
fascinating empirical setting to examine how this connection works, is created, and
potentially disrupted. Similarly, one dimension where many denominations vary is in the
role of emotional expression in the church service. Thus, the variation across
denominations might also be a place to explore how different institutional arrangements
support or destroy “emotional work.” Lastly, the newness of the megachurch allows
researchers to gather longitudinal data to test theories about institutional development and
work. We encourage research that fleshes out what we know about this institutional form.
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Table 1: Summary Statistics of top 20 mega-churches
Average Size of Church
Number non-demoninational
Number Baptist Affiliation
Number that have authored a book
Number with a self-proclaimed "best seller"
Number with New York Times Best Seller
Have their own website
Table 2: Table of books written by pastors of megachurches
Pastor Name
Church Attendance
Joel Osteen
Thomas Dexter (TD)
Jakes Sr.
Craig Groeschel
Ed Young Jr.
Bill Hybels
Andy Stanley
Homer Edwin Young
Richard "Rick"
Greg Laurie
Joel Carl Hunter
Jentezen Franklin
Mark Balmer
Robert Holmes Bell
Max Lucado
Timothy J. Keller
John Ortberg, Jr.
Rick Joyner
Francis Chan
R. Kent Hughes
Number of books
Southern Baptist
Southern Baptist
Over 20 books
Over 30 books
7 books
14 books
Over 50 books
16 books
10 books
1 book
1 book
1 book
2 books
2 books
2 books
Over 50 books
1 book
3 books
1 book
2 books
1 book
Table 3
Summary statistics of variables in the model
Average /
81 attend
all coefficiens >.05 significant at P>.05
0 0.08
0.01 0.01
0.55 0.21
0.28 0.15 0.38
0.1 0.02 0.14 0.06
0.2 0.03 0.14 0.11
0.09 0.013 0.07 0.06
0.06 0.001 0.07 0.02
0.03 -0.01 0.01 0.03
0.2 0.67
0.01 0.56
0.01 0.19 0.23
0.01 0.15 0.08 0.22
0.21 0.55 0.35 0.11 0.21 0.11 0.06 0.05
Table 4
Models predicting which characteristics influence Pastor's likelihood of writing a book
Model 1
Model 2
Model 3
Model 4
Model 5
Historically black
model 7
Model 6
log likelihood of base model
log likelihood
degrees of freedom
Chi Square
Model 8
N=1355, + p<.1* p<.05, ** p<.01, *** P<.001 Standard errors below coefficents