(Photo: Joel Osteen Ministries/Brad Person)
Joel Osteen, the pastor of America's largest church, was given the honor of throwing out the ceremonial first pitch at the annual "Faith and Family Night" event in Houston, Texas, on Saturday that was attended by over 34,000 people.
Osteen, the pastor of Lakewood Church in Houston, performed the longstanding ritual of American baseball prior to a game between the Major League Baseball teams Houston Astros and Cleveland Indians at Houston's Minute Maid Park on Saturday afternoon.
The Astros finished off an 8-1 victory over the Indians, according to the Houston team's website. The event, hosted by the Astros, also featured a free post-game concert with Grammy award-winning Christian rock band Third Day. It drew about 34,200 people, the organizers said.
The Christian band has garnered 25 No. 1 singles across multiple formats, including armloads of Grammy and Dove Awards. Billboard magazine noted the act is "not only one of the best Christian bands of the '90s but one of the best rock bands, period."
Baseball teams periodically host the "Faith and Family Night" event, meant mostly for Christian individuals and groups and where players and others share their testimonies and bands play Christian music. Many see it as a promotion designed to get Christians out of the church and into the stands. Some say the event has become a marketing tool, targeting churches with promotional campaigns.
The idea comes from Third Coast Sports, which began faith nights in the minor leagues about eight years ago, staging a Christian music concert before or after the game, and players presenting testimony, according to The New York Times.
Preacher and author Osteen, who was the guest at the latest event, is a crowd drawer. He has held over 100 "Night of Hope" events across the United States since 2004, drawing tens of thousands to each event.
Osteen's church, founded by his father John Osteen in 1959, seats 16,000 people and has over 40,000 members.