A couple years ago, I was working in Houston and I asked if any of my Facebook friends in Houston wanted to meet up. Mike Carter messaged me and asked if I wanted to go to Lakewood Church with him. I had never heard of it, so he told me it was Joel Osteen’s church.
To be honest, I was like most of my Facebook friends who think the worst of him without really knowing anything about him. I was sure that I would not agree with his theology (without knowing anything about that either). Also, Houston is VERY large city and I wasn’t sure how far I would have drive to get there and I had a very tight work schedule.
However, I figured that I had posted something on Facebook asking to meet my friends and this is what my friend, Mike, offered, so I might as well go and just experience it for myself. As “luck” would have it, I was literally working across the street from Lakewood Church, so I had NO excuses!
I want to know why 45,000 people attend this church every week
What makes this church so different?
I‘ve long ago learned that the best experiences in life are those where you are completely open-minded to the experience and don’t pre-judge. So I shifted my thinking to: “I want to know why 45,000 people attend this church every week. What makes this church so different?” I knew that just teaching a “feel good” message would not be enough to keep that many people coming back, week after week.
Lakewood Church meets in this HUGE sports arena (I don’t remember which one), but Mike told me exactly where to meet him. When I got there, he and his beautiful wife, Beverly, took me to the visitor’s section, which is the front and center section they have reserved for first time visitors. Immediately I felt important, as a visitor.
Before the service began, everyone around me introduced themselves (the members could sit with their visiting guests), and I was made to feel very welcome from my first moment there.
When the praise and worship began, I thought I had died and gone to heaven! I have NEVER experienced anything like that! Yes, it was a fairly typical contemporary praise and worship band, only better.
But have you ever praised the Lord with THOUSANDS and THOUSANDS of other people, live? That alone was enough to make the whole thing worth it! It was so loud, with so many people singing and worshiping, that I couldn’t hear myself sing, but it made me sing all the louder! And when the band really got going, it rocked that whole arena to the point where we could physically feel it — you know, like going to good rock concert!
I don’t remember the exact details of the service, but I’ve been to several others since then. What I do remember is that they will often bring up someone on stage to give a short testimony of how God, through Joel Osteen’s church, has recently changed their life, usually dramatically. It was not your typical “I prayed a magical prayer” testimony. It was a story of a homeless man who now had a job and a place to live, thanks to the church, and how God was working in his heart to change him from the inside out.
Or the four couples who went to a marriage conference because they were separated or going through a divorce. And how God restored their marriages through the help they received at the church.
Or the way the church helps, both practically and spiritually, families who have special needs kids, like mine. I never had that in any church I’ve ever attended. It was always a hardship at church. Not only does Joel’s mother have a special prayer service once a month for anyone with special needs, and not only do all the Sunday School classes have help for anyone with special needs, but they also provide respite care for those families as well. I cried when I heard that.
Or the program Joel Osteen’s church has so that when the state steps in to take children away from their parents in what they deem to be a bad situation. Lakewood has an alternative program where they actually work together with the families, helping them learn better parenting skills, so they can keep their children.
And hundreds more like that. You know, REAL life-changing stuff that I’ve never witnessed in a church before. I heard some stories in real life, and some from the pulpit.
Jesus central to the preaching and teaching
I don’t remember any particular sermon, although I heard both Joel Osteen and John Gray preach. John Gray is much more meatier, as far as teaching Scripture goes, and Joel Osteen was much more encouraging. There was no judgment there. They met people right where they were, BUT at the same time, encouraged them to grow and mature as well.
Jesus was central to the preaching and teaching, and there was an “altar call,” of sorts, for people to give their lives to Jesus at every service. And there were many who responded at each one. And they were helped to moved forward from there.
In the sermons I have heard so far, I found NOTHING wrong theologically, and I’m pretty good at finding theological errors! Now, I am sure if I attended more services, I would find something wrong. But the fact that there was nothing glaringly wrong was encouraging to me!
Joel didn’t focus on the boogeyman, Satan. He didn’t scare people with hell-fire and damnation. And he didn’t give any false prophesies about Jesus coming any time soon. He didn’t twist any Scriptures out of context. Instead, he just brought hope and help to thousands of hurting people.
Touring the arena
I found out that they had many Sunday School classes and Bible studies that were designed for more in-depth Bible study and learning, as well as John Gray’s mid-week service.
After the service, Mike and Beverly gave me a tour of the HUGE arena/church and Beverly must have introduced me to a thousand people! It seemed like she knew everyone there!
What struck me most about meeting all these people was, when they found out I was visiting, without prompting, nearly everyone wanted to tell me two things, in addition to welcoming me: “Let me tell you what Jesus has done for me, and let me tell you how this church has changed my life.” I have to say that I have never seen anything like that in all the oodles of churches I have either visited or attended in all my life.
The personal touch
Oh, yes, I almost forgot! I did get to meet Joel Osteen and shake his hand at the end of the service. He does that at every service, which is pretty incredible, considering how many people are there each week!
And so what I experienced that first day at Lakewood, and several times afterward, was not only the love of God, which permeated that place and those people. It was also thousands of lives who were truly changed by that love of God, and by all the people at Lakewood, including Joel Osteen.
So when ignorant, but well-meaning, friends want to slander Joel Osteen, usually because they don’t know anything about him in real life, I stand up for a man who has given his life to help thousands and thousands of people, both in real life and on TV. And for a man who relentlessly teaches about the love of God.
In the end, LOVE wins. And Joel Osteen “gets” that.