By Phillip Luke Sinitiere
Houston is known for its leading role in energy, oil, and medicine. Texas’ largest city is also the home of Joel Osteen and Lakewood Church. One of the city’s most ubiquitous features is its megachurches—large, Protestant places of worship with over 2,000 regular attendees. Houston is home to over fifty megachurches, and of the largest twenty-five megachurches in the United States, Houston claims three with Lakewood Church headlining the list. If, as Rice sociologist Stephen Klienberg claims, Houston is the “city of the future,” then Houston may well be the megachurch capital of twenty-first century metropolitan areas.
This article presents a brief history of Lakewood Church, currently the nation’s largest megachurch with nearly 50,000 regular attendees. Dubbed the “Oasis of Love” when its founding pastor John Osteen was alive, within the last decade—particularly upon the publication of Your Best Life Now (2004)—the name Lakewood Church has become synonymous with Joel Osteen. Journalists have chronicled the rise of the “smiling preacher,” a designation popularized in 2005 by Washington Post writer Lois Romano. Talk shows such as Larry King Live, The View, and Piers Morgan further established the Joel Osteen brand. And Joel’s three New York Times best sellers helped to disseminate his message of encouragement and positive thinking.
Paving the way for Joel’s ascendency, John Osteen established a reputation as a fiery preacher, impassioned evangelist, charitable giver, and prolific writer. In addition to serving his Houston congregation, John held preaching revivals across the world. Remarkably, John authored over fifty books and edited two magazines, Praise and Manna. Understanding John Osteen’s Lakewood Church as part of his six-decade ministry puts Joel’s meteoric rise in historical context while chronicling an important chapter in Houston’s religious history.