Sunday, July 10, 2005

Church with No Steeple, But Lots of People

Here's a picture of the Compaq Center in Houston before it was leased to Lakewood Church.

Here's the architectural rendering of the remodeled facility as it will be occupied by Lakewood Church. The church added a five story building to the existing sports arena.

Some would say "only in Texas." But I bet that there are other megachurches on this scale in California or elsewhere. We drove by the old Compaq Center in Houston this weekend (former arena for the Houston Rockets NBA team) and wondered how the old center was now looking inside as the remodeling and addition for the Lakewood Church are nearing completion. For those of you interested here is the front page article in the local newspaper describing it.

The idea that a church is big enough and wealthy enough to buy and remodel a professional sports arena is hard to comprehend. There will be 16,000 seats in the church. The remodeling costs about $95 million. Average weekend attendance at this non-denominational church today averages 30,000 and is one of the most integrated congregations in the country.

Joel Osteen, now a best-selling author (Your Best Life Now) is the pastor of this church, succeeding his late father who died in 1999. Most of us in mainline denominations cannot imagine someone inheriting church leadership in this way--but it seems to have worked for this church.

Maybe my vision is just too small. I can't imagine running a church on this scale. How do you provide Christian community for individual members when you are dealing with crowds like this? Megachurches like this are criticized for not asking much of their members and for preaching a "prosperity gospel". Yet they are clearly doing something compelling when you consider that this church can raise money on the order of almost a hundred million dollars for its facility.

Non-denominational, "seeker-friendly" churches like Lakewood don't keep membership statistics, but focus on attendance so you don't know how many previously unchurched people they are bringing to Christ and what kind of turnover there is in the congregation.

Lakewood Church will dedicate this newly remodeled facility this coming weekend and begin using it for weekend worship, while retaining their old church buildings for other uses in another part of town. There is no cross on the outside of the newly remodeled building--just the logo of the church which symbolizes its motto: The Oasis of Love." (Really!) This is a church with no steeple, but lots of people.


Songbird said...

What do you think of Joel Osteen? After reading articles about him, I made a lot of assumptions based on my small church preferences, but when I saw him on Larry King I was pleasantly surprised. Still, I can't overcome my suspicion of something so gi-normous, as the kids would say.

Apostle John said...

Wow. I can't imagine a church that large and that wealthy.

Thanks for the comment you left on my blog :)

Quotidian Grace said...

Joel Osteen's preaching as well as his book are sounder theologically than I expected. I confess that I am prejudiced against non-denominational churches and suspicious of TV preachers. I am trying to be more open-minded about him and these types of churches because they are obviously meeting the needs of some people in ways that mainstream churches are failing to do.

Songbird said...

I was expecting someone really smarmy, but instead he seemed incredibly, surprisingly solid and faithful. I didn't get to hear much in the way of doctrine, so I am going totally on the vibe I picked up in his conversation with Larry King. (The wife, on the other hand, seems to be wound pretty tight.)
By the way, the cake turned out beautifully!

the reverend mommy said...

I just wonder if we are going the wrong way -- is church a thing to be done with thousands of people, or is church done in small groups, where the pastor knows everyone? Of course, I am on staff at a larger church -- 1200 members. I miss the small church atmosphere. And it is prosperity theology -- just not a strong one.

will spotts said...

I haven't read his books; I also didn't see the Larry King interview. I have seen some of his televised sermons. These (that I saw) did imply a prosperity theology -- which causes me to raise my guard.

I don't have a problem with a non-denomiational church per se, though this can be abused.

Still, I'm leery of reading too much into numbers. It may indicate something, but I'm not always sure what. Many popular things have, when viewed in hindsight, not been the best ideas.

John said...

Church size needs vary. When I became a Christian, I was a broken and shattered man. I wanted to worship God, but I also wanted to hide. My first church was a megachurch, where I could safely disappear into anonymity.

At my current church, worship attendance averages at about 350. It's nice to know a large number of people. I get to have a community, and that's special.

SpookyRach said...

I share your prejudices on this. Yet I also understand the need to "hide" in a large congregation as John said. Prosperity gospel really sours me to any congregation and then I start feeling all-holier-than-they. Is that a log in my eye?

will spotts said...

Good points spookyrach and John.

Also -- watching a service on TV probably really skews my perspective.

Anonymous said...

Young Osteen is a nice speaker but not a bible theologian or teacher.

The reason the church is big is because people love to have their ears tickled with fluff and nothing of substance. If you watch his show on TBN you may note he rarely uses scripture and often when he does use a verse it's like it's added in at the very end.

And I think the fact that there is no cross is very telling don't you. Why, because it's not about Jesus there, its all about you and how you feel.

Shane said...

Amen to the last poster! Way too much fluff! Though, the cross thing, isn't a sticking point with me. One could argue it is a graven image/idol anyway.

Quotidian Grace said...

To anonymous:
Your post reminds me of the verses --" For the time is coming when people will not put up with sound doctrine, but having itching ears, they will accumulate teachers to suit their own desires and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander away to myths." 2 Timothy 4:3-4.