Barbara and I visited Lakewood Church in Houston, TX on one of our recent trips. The church and its pastor, Joel Osteen, are controversial for many. I was much more aware of this than Barbara. I still wanted to visit. This is not a post to defend or condemn, so I would ask those comments get shared somewhere else. When traveling, sometimes I visit a church because I want to hear the pastor. Other times I go to check out their facility. Occasionally I just want to see how they do things and experience their service. We got a hotel just across the street from the church and Sunday morning we headed over.
When I visit a church I am always looking for new ideas and better ways to do things. I want to walk the entire complex and take pictures and make notes. I did all of that. Sometimes people wonder what things stick out. Usually, only my staff hears about these things and then still only a few. I just thought I would share publically a few of the notes I made while I visited.
I know an image just popped into your head. There are plenty of smiling Joel Osteen jokes. But every volunteer we came in contact with had a smile on their face. As a matter of fact, the young lady who was assigned as our host said that was what caused her to become a volunteer. Pastor Joel had mentioned that if you could smile they could use you and she signed up. I will explain the host situation later. Smiling makes people feel welcome and most often they will smile back. It can change the entire atmosphere of a room. Your smile matters at church, and everywhere else.
Engagement Is Critical
Occasionally when I visit a church I will let them know ahead of time and they will go out of their way to make me feel welcome. This was a last minute trip so I had not done that. But everywhere we went to that church, a volunteer engaged us. They asked if it was our first time there. They offered to help with any information. One of the people who engaged us was the head of their host ministry. These people specifically engage new people. She went and found us a personal host and gave us each a devotional. They didn’t interact with us because I was a pastor. They interacted with us because they did that for everyone who walked through the door. One of their hosts went from row to row after you were seated to talk with you. Having lots of people was not an excuse. They engaged people and of course, it makes you want to come back.
From the first single note that was played, there was an enormous amount of energy. Every single person on that stage was fully engaged and giving everything they had. When the pastors walked out on the stage a few minutes in to greet and pray, they came with energy. For the first 40 minutes, there was not a single silent moment. It was geared to draw you in and get you engaged in the service. The songs were connected in a theme that just built the energy in the room. Add to that the presence of the Holy Spirit and you have a power packed moment.
In my entire life, I have only been to one other church that spent more time dedicated to prayer than Lakewood. There were pastoral prayers, corporate prayers, extended prayer time to pray for specific needs and a time for people to come to know Jesus at the end of service. The time to pray for specific needs was during the middle of the worship set. They had pastoral staff and prayer team members across the front and at every section in the building. They took time with each person. As long as was needed. This lasted 10-15 minutes. Enough time to sing at least three songs. Prayer is a significant part of their church.
I grew up with testimonies in church. Anyone who wanted to testify could. We even had testimony services. Some were inspiring. Some were embarrassing. Others were just too long. They scare me to death. But during the service, they brought a gentleman and a couple to tell what God had done in their lives. The gentleman was sober for 10 years after finding Christ at the church. The couple’s marriage had been restored and they had learned to handle money and get out of debt through classes at the church. Seeing what God was doing was powerful.
Pastor Was Engaged
There are over 50,000 people each week attending Lakewood. Clearly, he cannot know everyone, but Joel Osteen did his best to engage every single person he could. First service was at 8:30 AM. After that service, he went to the lobby where he did a baby dedication for a family in the church and then greeted anyone who wanted to talk to him until time for the next service. When the service started, he was on the front row worshipping. He hit the stage about two minutes in with energy. He prayed with people at the front during prayer time. He was in the service the entire time except just after prayer time when he went out to collect himself before the message. He was out one song. When service was over he was back in the lobby greeting people. I have been to a lot of megachurches. That is something you just don’t see. For about 6 straight hours there was no letup. I was impressed.
Stand To Acknowledge Christ
He asked them when he got up to preach to stay until the end because it was important. Leaving at the end of the sermon is the worst time to leave by the way. At the end of the sermon, he didn’t ask everyone to stand. He asked those who wanted to know Jesus as their Savior to stand. He was very clear that is was something they could not be ashamed of. That was a new one for me as well. People all over the room were standing. There was a man just to my left with tears flowing down his face. He was having an eternal moment and my heart was thrilled for him. We should not be ashamed to ask people to acknowledge Christ.
You can have the theology debate on another blog. You can learn something from everyone. I learned a few things. I was reminded of a few things. Most importantly I left encouraged. Be a lifelong learner. You will never regret it.