(Photo: Christianity Daily / Joy Yoon)
Nearly 42,000 people filled the seats at the new Yankee stadium in New York this past weekend and they weren’t there to watch baseball.
They were there to listen to an uplifting message from the pastor of America’s largest church – Lakewood Church’s Joel Osteen.
During the first non-baseball event at the newly opened stadium, Osteen delivered the same message that has made him one of the most watched pastors in America and also the author of two bestselling books.
Throughout the evening, Osteen encouraged attendees to “magnify God” and not their problems, to live each day in faith and not discouragement, to give God praise first even when things are bad, and to get their hopes up.
“You can’t have faith ‘til you first have hope,” he exhorted.
Aside from marking a first for the new Yankee stadium, Saturday night marked a first for Osteen, who didn’t go searching for his biggest venue to date but was contacted by the Yankees baseball organization to preach there Saturday.
“As I look back over the events of last week, I am overwhelmed by God's favor and faithfulness; both to us and to the people of New York,” expressed Osteen on Wednesday.
“We received such a warm welcome everywhere we went, and we had so many opportunities throughout the week to share God's love,” he wrote in his blog.
In addition to Saturday’s “Historic Night of Hope,” Osteen was invited last week to join members of the New York City Council, community leaders, and clergy in the Bronx for a Luncheon of Hope to kick off the week.
He and his wife, Victoria, also later teamed up with Feed The Children to distribute food and supplies to needy families.
“Overall, the week was a tremendous success and the highlight, as I mentioned Monday, was when over 20,000 people stood in Yankee Stadium to dedicate their lives to Christ and renew their faith in Him! We couldn't have asked for a better night,” Osteen exclaimed.
And the 20,000 doesn’t include the countless numbers that participated via the live broadcast Saturday.
For the event, Osteen had formed an exclusive partnership with the Trinity Broadcasting Network, which broadcasted Saturday night’s event around the globe.
With more than 90 percent national coverage, TBN touts itself as the most watched and most requested faith-based channel in the United States and the world leader in faith-based broadcasting.
“We're so thankful to Matt and Laurie Crouch and the team at TBN for their love and support and for broadcasting the event all over the world,” Osteen reported Wednesday.
In less than two weeks, Osteen will be marking 50 years since his church in Houston was founded by his father, John Osteen, a former Southern Baptist pastor who later became charismatic. Osteen succeeded his father in 1999, more than eight months after the elder Osteen died of a heart attack.
Ahead of the anniversary, Osteen has pushed forward with a number of new projects, including a collection of greeting cards that feature his inspirational messages and the Hope for Today Bible that features insights, notes, and encouragements from Osteen and his wife.
Though Osteen has been praised by many for his uplifting messages and popular bestsellers, the charismatic minister has also received much criticism for his lack of formal theological training and for preaching what critics call the “prosperity gospel,” a belief that prosperity and success – particularly financial – is a sign of God’s favor.
Osteen, however, insists that his theology is not “dangerous,” as some say it is, and that God has used him to turn people’s lives around and to give them hope.
Aside from the 38,000 churchgoers that Osteen draws each week to his 16,000-seat church – previously the arena of the Houston Rockets – up to seven million Americans each week and more than 20 million each month reportedly view Osteen’s weekly sermon, which is broadcast into television markets across the United States.
According to Nielsen Media Research, Osteen is the most watched inspirational figure in America.