~moved to Compaq Center, Buffalo Speedway and US 59~
P.O. Box 23297
Houston, TX 77228
April 2004–When someone considers joining a church, they normally possess a concrete idea about what the church atmosphere and schedule should be like. Formally dressed in a heavily-starched Sunday attire, one walks into the sacred church with a bible in hand and a notepad and pen in the other, sits quietly, listens to the father preach for almost two hours, pray a final prayer, and leave. Lakewood Church does not fall under that “typical church” category. The last time I attended Lakewood Church was almost three years ago on Easter Sunday 2001. So much changed since the last time. In contrast to popular belief, this sanctuary actually exceeded the 7,500- seat limit, which answers the question of why Lakewood Church bought out the Compaq Center for $70 million dollars, which is to be renamed the Lakewood International Center (Alnor 2). An unexplainable excitement overwhelmed me when I returned to Lakewood Church on Sunday, December 14, 2003, the groundbreaking weekend service at Lakewood ’s new home, the Compaq Center .
I decided to attend the 8:30AM service because I figured that traffic would be hard to find. However, hundreds of people attend church that early in the morning. Of course, the first thing to expect on the way to Lakewood Church is traffic, considering that the Compaq Center sits at the second busiest intersection in the city (700 Club 2). Cars appear parked on the service road from so much traffic. After what seemed an endless wait of 20 minutes on the feeder road of 59 South, everyone exits their cars and they head off with ecstatic energy to the sanctuary like ants race towards a piece of sugar when it is in sight.
The moment the clear Lakewood doors open, an immediate feeling of power, glory and faith is present by all those who enter. There are several door greeters dressed in royal blue Sunday attire, who appear bathed in so much perfume that it starts to smell somewhat cheap. Their dove-shaped name badges stay pinned on the left side of their vest, and they shake everybody’s hand and utter, “God Bless You,” with such grace and kindness.
After circulating around the Compaq’s circular-shaped arena and deciding which of the many entrances to enter the summit, the first thing I took notice of, obviously, included the popular white and blue Lakewood podium with the dove in the middle that Pastor Joel Osteen preaches on television in the front center of the sanctuary. Even though the Compaq Center is somewhat old, there existed a new smell to the arena as we entered it part of the Lakewood Church . A huge white screen with the Lakewood dove symbol on it hung behind the stage. I assume the technology crew created that particular effect on purpose for the television viewers.
I could hardly believe my eyes. After two years, I wasn’t watching it on a 19” Sylvania television screen anymore; I was at Lakewood , and not the old Lakewood off of 610-East and Wayside. It was the new Lakewood : the Compaq Center !
I looked around for a moment and saw the hundreds of seats in the arena, which seemed quite endless and I remember saying to myself, “There is no way that this place fills up completely.” Wrong. The sanctuary sure filled up, and fast too.
This specific Sunday, my sister and I fought through the crowd, and, with the greatest luck ever, we found two available sits in the second row on the left side of the stage. It was the perfect view since the cameras don’t reach out that far and they are unable to block the view. A woman seating directly ahead of my sister and me turned around and asked, “Have you ever been to Lakewood before?”
My sister and I explained to her that we normally watch the service on television because we live so far away (in the Woodlands) and because I normally work on weekends. She completely understood and replied with joy, “Well, I’ve been coming here for five years and I still can’t stop crying at every service. You’ll love it! I promise you!!!”
When the service finally began, the choir started to sing with such praise and glory that the room vibrated and roared with faith. The only available sound is the sweet gospel voices from the choir, all dressed in a royal blue gown. The whole sanctuary enhances itself with the mixture of voices singing, hands clapping, feet stopping and the occasional “Hallelujah” shout after certain verses. Forty-five minutes elapsed from singing and cheering, praying, and prayer-partner praying, and Joel began his preaching, in which he always has the tendency to start off with something kind of funny. He told his joke, everyone laughed and giggled, and then the people joined him in the Lakewood Prayer by holding their bibles high in the air and praying, “This is my bible. I am what it says I am, I can do what it says I can do. Today I’ll be taught the word of God. I boldly confess. My mind is alert. My heart is receptive. I’ll never be the same. Never, never, never. I’ll never be the same, in Jesus name, Amen.”
Before actually starting his speech, he took a couple of minutes for a moment of silence to thank the Lord for the new home He has given Lakewood . Joel, his wife Victoria, his mother Dodie and the rest of his family lined up at the front of the stage for the ceremonial groundbreaking event. Each took a shovel, shoved it into the dirt that was planted in front of the them, and turned it around as a symbol of breaking ground at the Compaq Center. At the end of his wonder 45-minute life lesson about looking at life in a positive way because human beings will get further in life that way, he offered his genuine and honest help to anyone that needs it. He also said, “If you just want to stop by and say hi, we would be more than welcome to have you as well.”
My sister and I for sure weren’t going to pass up the one-time opportunity to meet the Joel Osteen of the Lakewood Church . So, we immediately got out of our velvet colored seats and headed towards the north side of the church to meet one of the people I most admire in the world. A rather long line formed in front of me, curving around in each direction possible like a snake often does when it slithers, but it was well worth it. It took no longer than ten minutes anyway. As we approached Joel, also known as one of the top 20 influencers of the Pentecostal/charismatic community, I realized that he stood about 5’10” even with those black shiny shoes he wore (Alnor 1). His intensely curly dark brown hair probably added an inch to his height as well. He gave us a warm welcoming smile, looked straight at us with his ocean blue eyes, and said, “Hello. How are you doing today?”
“Hi Joel. It’s nice to meet you. My name is Cindy and this is my sister, Brittany,” I started. “We just wanted to meet you in person. We watch you all the time on our home television, but we don’t have the opportunity to come and visit as often because we live on the north side of town. We just wanted to meet you and let you know that we love what you do and your words always help us get through tough times.”
“Well, I appreciate you telling me that and I’m glad that everything is okay with you,” he said with excitement.
Once again, the fight against traffic started and this time, worse because there are two sets of traffic going on at once; the ones leaving the first service and the ones coming into the second service. The police lead us out and our Sunday morning at church came to an end.
The last time I presented myself at Lakewood Church , I just wanted to see what Lakewood was all about, but this time my intentions completely changed. I was looking for a permanent non-denominational church and I think I found that at Lakewood . According to Joel Osteen, “…We don’t push some kind of religion…all we push is joy and peace and victory through Jesus Christ” (Alnor 2). Also, at that time, probably because it was my first visit, the ceremony wasn’t as personalized as the groundbreaking ceremony. The place crowded itself so much that my family and I sat in the far corner to the left of the stage. Joel represented a little black dot to us from our seats.
However, there are those who feel anti-Lakewood and their supporters. According to Rand Winburn, “Joel Osteen, an Oral Roberts University dropout, exudes confidence and success. Certainly, in worldly terms, he has achieved this at the young age of 39, thanks to the multitudes of deceived tithing Lakewood churchgoers” (Winburn 2). This character twisted the true situation to fit in his puzzled argument. Sure, Lakewood asks for tithes, just like any other church. People choose to donate that money; they are not in any way, shape or form obligated to give the church money. Those who are against Lakewood , should at least research a little more and know what they are talking about when they are going to argue against it.
Starting off as a small and unknown church on Mother’s Day in 1959 by Pastor John Osteen, Lakewood Church has accomplished new heights never imaginable by the common people ( Lakewood 1). His son, Joel Osteen, took the position of senior pastor in October 1999 (Alnor 2)( Lakewood 1). Every step that Lakewood Church has taken has only been possible for two reasons: to keep faith and spread faith. Lakewood has nationalized itself through television recordings, tape recordings, international visits, and now the big move to the Compaq Center , the old home to the Houston Rockets. As of the year of 2005, after 12 months of remodeling, Lakewood Church will move into the new Lakewood International Center (700 Club 2).