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by Marianne Horton July 2005

Lakewood Church Set to Open Doors

The nation's largest church

It has been home to several concerts and performances throughout the years, and even saw the Houston Rockets win two NBA Championships, but now the Compaq Center will host another type of show: one involving Christian praise, worship, music and charismatic sermons.

For Lakewood Community Church, the long-anticipated transformation of the Compaq Center will take place on July 16-17, and its 30,000-member, non-denominational congregation will move from its current, somewhat-obscure location at the 610 North Loop to attend regular Sunday services at the Compaq Center, which happens to be located at the second busiest intersection in America. The locale is fitting, given that Lakewood Community Church is one of the busiest churches in America - it's the largest church in the nation according to Forbes magazine, and the congregation has quadrupled since Joel Osteen became pastor in 1999, doubling over the past two years.

Houston's very own Lakewood has joined the ranks as one of the nation's increasingly popular megachurches, and it expects to keep on growing. An estimated 100,000 people will be able to attend each week with the Compaq Center seating 16,000 worshipers; and a projected 2 million guests will attend each year.

This must be every pastor's dream - so how is it done? First of all, Lakewood has an intense marketing strategy that is rooted in its television evangelism program. Viewers tune in each week as the church's sermons are broadcast across all 50 states and throughout more than 100 countries on channels such as the ABC-Family Channel, Black Entertainment Television, the PAX-TV Network, Trinity Broadcasting, USA Network, Discovery and the Daystar Satellite Networks. Osteen's sincerity and somehow always-sparkling eyes also differ from the cliché television evangelizers with big hair and heavy makeup. His southern drawl may be the same, but his commitment to evangelism tells a different story.

Osteen was a freshman at Oral Roberts University when he decided to drop out of school to help with his father's ministry. His father, John Osteen, founded Lakewood Church in 1959 on Mother's Day. The church's beginnings, however, were no Compaq Center extravaganza. Instead, the first congregation met at an abandoned feed store with dust on the floors.

But the humble building didn't deter John from following his passionate, evangelistic vision. He continued to find innovative ways to promote the gospel, one of which was through television. For 17 years, John Osteen televised his sermons with Joel's help. When John died in 1999, Joel assumed his father's role by continuing his ministry though the church and on TV.

Additionally, Joel Osteen began traveling to cities across America and holding "An Evening with Joel Osteen," a televised worship service and fellowship event for those not in Houston. His most recent book, "Your Best Life Now," was released at the end of 2004 and quickly became a national best seller.

However, as Lakewood approaches the opening of its new building, old controversies about the church's intentions have resurfaced, with many vocalizing their opinions on websites such as www.iconbusters.com. Some believe the church is acting more as a money-making corporation than as center for the gospel's truth.

Speculations have arisen over the church's fundraising strategy, "Sponsor-A-Seat." Through the program, members and attendees are asked to pay $16 a week to "sponsor" a seat for themselves or their family members. The money raised will be used to renovate the Compaq Center, an estimated $70 million dollars, which the church contends will benefit the congregation and future ministries by allowing continued usage of the facility.

The basketball court and ice rink, for example, will be open to families and city leagues. But Lakewood's approach to raise money might not be too different from those of other Christian churches, where members are asked to pledge a percentage of their income each year to maintain the church and promote its ministries.

Either way, the Compaq Center will soon open its doors to thousands of visitors, as it has done so in the past. Whether it is the cheers of basketball fans or the songs of praise, the Houston venue will continue to make some noise. H

About the Author:
Shopping Editor Marianne Horton scours the streets of Houston to bring readers the latest in shopping and fashion trends. Her page, In the Bag, features themed shopping with anything from kitchen accessories one month to holiday gifts the next. Marianne graduated with a degree in journalism from Texas A&M University, where she was an editor for the university. newspaper. She also held two internships at CNN Headline News and interned at H Texas Magazine before starting her position in June 2004.

Marianne Horton
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Contact Marianne Horton via e-mail mhorton@htexas.com

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