With all the hubbub last week over Joel Osteen’s Mormonism comments, I thought I’d visit Lakewood Church this past weekend as I was in Houston on a songwriting trip.
Lakewood had been leasing the Compaq Center arena since 2001, investing 75 million in renovations. Then, in March 2010, Lakewood announced it would purchase the arena from the city of Houston for 7.5 million. It’s the largest church in the country with 43,500 in weekly attendance.
It’s as impressive as you would imagine. You drive downtown to the ginormous building, park in a garage and trek to the church. Once inside the back entrance you’re greeted by a statue of Joel Osteen’s mother and father – the founders of Lakewood.
Riding the escalators to the main level you’re overwhelmed by the size of just the lobby which wraps around the main auditorium as most arena lobbies do.
That overwhelmed feeling is then doubled as you enter the sanctuary which seats a whopping 16,800 people. Right before the service begins the band rises up on a motorized orchestra pit in the back. Waterfalls and choirs flank the main stage. The band starts, 9 vocalists take the stage and the service begins. I recognized a few songs like Tomlin’s “Our God.” The music is led by one of the 3 worship leaders taking turns (one man and two women) with six BGVs also on stage along with the choir.
The music lasted 50 minutes with a few words of welcome from one of the Osteen clan. John Maxwell spoke as Joel and his co-pastor wife Victoria were in Washington for the Night of Hope.
During the service I posted a pic of the auditorium on my Facebook page which generated a barrage of nasty comments (and only a single nice one.) Joel Osteen and the church are certainly controversial – and with good reason.
However, I have to admit something – I genuinely felt a spirit of worship there. And it’s been a long time since I’ve experienced worship in a megachurch.
I’ve experienced great music in megachurches, but generally not that prescence-of-God feeling. In fact, a “worship” leader at one of those megachurches told me they actually discourage a worship environment since the focus of their service is the message. I know it’s all subjective, but I definitely was moved by the music. During one point in the service people were even encouraged to come forward and pray with counselors.
Walking into the Lakewood arena I noticed a small circle of ushers in a corner holding hands in prayer. If that goes on with the ushers I’d imagine it goes on backstage. If you ask God to show up, He just might.
Yep, Lakewood and Joel Osteen have their problems, but the place sure can worship. My heart was touched and after that experience I’m frankly quite fed up with the whole megachurch worshipless vibe. If God isn’t the center of your service, why bother?
Take a virtual tour of Lakewood at the WorshipIdeas Facebook Page: