America's Largest Church to Mark 50th Anniversary

Mother's Day this year falls on May 10 – the same date as it did in 1959.

And while few Americans may know that historical fact, members of the largest church in America are almost certain to say they knew given that it was that same day 50 years ago that its church first opened its doors.

This weekend, Lakewood Church in Houston will be marking its 50th anniversary in a place far different from the old, abandoned feed store that it started off at.

Its 38,000-large congregation will be celebrating in the arena formerly home to the Houston Rockets, where it has worshipped for the past four years.

"I can hardly believe that we are celebrating the 50th anniversary of Lakewood Church this coming weekend on Mother's Day," the megachurch's senior minister, Pastor Joel Osteen, expressed Wednesday.

"Most people know the story of how the church started off in an old, abandoned feed store with less than 100 people. But who would have ever guessed that my parent's hard work and dedication would establish a ministry that has literally affected people all over the world in every country from every race, tribe, and tongue," he added.

Aside from the 38,000 churchgoers that Osteen draws each week to his 16,000-seat church, 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 and in over 100 nations around the world including Canada, Australia, India, South Korea, Africa and throughout Europe.

"I can't even begin to imagine how many lives have been touched over the years through the seeds they've sown," Osteen wrote in his blog Wednesday.

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.

"I don't know what can be so dangerous about giving people hope [or] causing people to have better relationships. I'm not leading them to some false God or something like that," Osteen said last year to Byron Pitts of CBS.

"You know, you get people that wanna criticize, 'You're not doing enough of this, enough of that.' Well, we're not perfect," he continued.

"But to have ... hundreds of people tellin' ya 'You changed my life,' 'I haven't been in church in 30 years,' or 'You saved my marriage' ... you just feel very rewarded. You feel very humbled ... that you could help impact somebody's life," Osteen said after getting emotional.

In the months leading up to this weekend's anniversary celebration, 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.

He also recently held the first non-baseball event in the new Yankee stadium in New York – a one-night inspirational event that drew nearly 42,000 people.

"Overall, the week was a tremendous success and the highlight ... 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.

Though it was under Osteen that Lakewood grew from 8,000 attendees to 38,000, the popular preacher said Wednesday that he and his wife, Victoria, merely "picked up the baton" and continued the work that his parents had started.

"[M]y dad used to talk about how one day he was going to build a sanctuary that could hold 20,000 people. He prayed. He sacrificed. He and my mother stayed in faith year after year. When he went to be with the Lord, it looked as if the dream had died. It looked like as if it wasn't going to happen. But when you live a life of faith, when you honor God and go out each day being your best, you are storing up favor for future generations," he stated.

Osteen succeeded the position of senior pastor from his father in 1999, more than eight months after the elder Osteen died of a heart attack. Before his father's death, Osteen had only preached before a church once in his life – the week before his father died.

Today, aside from being the pastor of the largest church in America, Osteen is also author of two bestselling books. His first book, Your Best Life Now: 7 Steps to Living at Your Full Potential, remained on the New York Times bestsellers list for more than two years and has sold more than 4 million copies. His second book, Become a Better You: 7 Keys to Improving Your Life Every Day, was released in October of 2007 and was an instant New York Times bestseller, remaining on the list for more than seven months and selling more than 1.6 million copies.

Osteen is also the most watched inspirational figure in America, according to Nielsen Media Research, and was featured as one of ABC News' "10 Most Fascinating People of 2006."

According to Osteen's ministry, more than one million people each week download audio and video podcasts of Osteen's messages, making his podcast consistently one of the top five in the world.

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