Lakewood Church in Texas reopened its doors for its first in-person worship service on Sunday since the COVID-19 pandemic-related restrictions began in March. An emotional Pastor Joel Osteen spoke about reigning over problems to more than 4,000 people.
“About a month ago, or a few weeks ago, I felt like God put in my spirit it was time to come back,” said the pastor of the Houston megachurch, which held the indoor service at 25% capacity. Attendees were required to wear masks at all times and follow social distancing.
“We’ve never been closed; the building was closed but can I tell you these last months, we have had our greatest outreach of ministry in 61 years,” Osteen told the congregation, sharing that 12 million people watched the service online during Easter weekend.
“God has raised up Lakewood for this time. Hey, when does the world need hope any more than now?”
During his sermon, Osteen said, "We were not created to go through life overcome by problems, struggling to make it in mediocrity … God created us to reign, to be the victor, not the victim.”
We can reign over all our problems, he added. "Things that have been reigning over you, the loneliness, the guilt, the bad breaks, there's about to be a turnaround. It's your time to reign."
He later added, "You don't have to be perfect. We've all made mistakes. It's not so much about your performance. It's about your heart. Keep God first place. Do the right thing when it's hard. Say no to things that are pulling you down ... God is saying to you what He's saying to Joash (2 Chronicles 23), 'It's time for the King's children to reign.'"
Calling on the congregation to be believers, not doubters, he stressed, "God's brought us this far ... He's going to continue to protect you, give you wisdom ... Let's watch God do what He's famous for — shutting mouths of lions, parting Red Seas, and bringing us through pandemics."
Since the onset of the pandemic, Lakewood had been holding services online. Osteen told the congregation that it had been tough preaching to an empty hall during the pandemic.
The last time the church held an in-person service was in March.
After the service, Osteen told ABC13 that he didn’t want to pressure people to come because some, especially older people, still need to be careful.
“I was so excited to walk in the building and see all the people that came … you feel enthusiasm and passion, there’s faith. There’s nothing like a building filled with faith-filled people … It felt overwhelming, it felt emotional … couldn’t see their faces, but to feel the warmth, the excitement, the applause, people wanting to worship …,” he said.
It was like meeting a family member after a long time, he added.
Before reopening, the church had announced in a statement, “For the past six months we have been consulting with medical experts here in Houston and adhering to the guidelines set by the Texas Governor and the Houston Mayor, and feel that it is the appropriate time to begin reopening the church for in-person worship services.”
According to the Barna Group, more than half of pastors have now resumed in-person worship services, many with precautions in place. Some megachurches have chosen to remain closed during the pandemic, including North Point Community Church in Georgia, Saddleback Church in California and The Potter's House in Texas.