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Houston’s Lakewood Church is the largest church in the country, with around 40,000 people coming to services there each week.
“I never really planned on having a big church,” pastor Joel Osteen told Here & Now’s Jeremy Hobson. “We didn’t want to turn people away. People kept coming and we thought, ‘OK, let’s just build a bigger place.'”
Hobson is broadcasting from KUHF in Houston this week. This is the latest in our View From The Top series of conversations.
On Lakewood Church’s expansion
“My dad started the church in 1959 with 90 people, and I grew up all my young years with 200 people or less in the church. I never really planned on having a big church, but around 1970,’72, something like that, the church started really growing. And then fast forward to when I took over in 1999 and it grew from 6,000 to many thousand. And I always tell people there are pros and cons to having big church. The cons are, I don’t know everybody like I used to. I used to go to all the ball games and stuff like that. The pros are, there’s something about when 10,000 people get together in a service. And also I think the programs we have to offer the people, like bigger companies have more to offer. You know it goes both ways, but the flip side is we didn’t want to turn people away. People kept coming and we thought, ‘OK, well let’s just build big a bigger place.'”
On Lakewood’s approach to preaching
“Our church is very diverse, as well, and my goal is to throw a wide net of hope to let people know that God is for them, he’s got a purpose for their life. And about half the people who watch and listen to us, they don’t consider themselves necessarily a religious people. They didn’t grow up in a church like me. That’s been my goal, how do we get outside the church wall, because that’s easy to keep talking to the same people, but I want to make God relevant to people who maybe weren’t raised like me.”
On the collision of politics and religion
“I have friends who are very political. They’re pastors and that’s what their thing is. But I think sometimes, that the church world, we can take one issue and make it really, really big and it can turn people off where there are many bigger issues. That’s why I don’t like to be defined by one thing. You know our message is about lifting people up, helping them fulfill their destiny, helping them how to forgive in a tough time, how to make it through this life when life tries to push you down.”
On the decline of religion in America
“People don’t like necessarily being associated with religion, with that connotation. Sometimes that means a certain thing politically, and it turns people off. … I believe faith in America is at an all-time high.”
On the church’s relationship with Muslims
“I have Muslims that attend our church and my books sell a lot in Muslim countries as well. You know, I don’t know, I don’t get too deep in those kinds of things, but our ministry is about reaching out to everybody, and so I do and I do have those conversations. I had a whole group of probably about 50 Muslims here at the service about two weeks ago, sitting right on the front row. They came, and we have good, good relations. And I think it’s again, part of our ministry is, you know, our main theme is Jesus says love God with all your heart and love your neighbor as you love yourself. And I don’t try to put people in a box – OK, they’re Jewish or they’re Catholic, they’re this or they’re that. I just say, ‘you know what, they’re somebody that God’s put in our path for us to love,’ and that’s our philosophy.”
On ‘the end of times’
“I think in general the scripture talks abut how there’s earthquakes and famines and wars and you know you’re close to the end times. Well, we see a lot of that happening today. Does that mean a hundred years, a thousand years, or ten thousand years? Well, I don’t know. My thing is let’s make the most of this day. God’s given us this day and it’s a gift and we may not have tomorrow, but let’s be our best today and be a blessing to someone else and live it in vain.”