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Joel Osteen's popularity can largely be explained by the fact that he sounds and acts more like a motivational teacher or a success coach than as a Christian preacher.
"There is a simplicity to his message," explains John Vaughn, president of Church Growth Today. Almost immediately, Osteen is able to win the trust of those who hear him. "His age has a lot to do with it," Vaughn says. "He's able to tap into a whole new generation. He's like the guy next door."
The young minister, who bears a passing resemblance to comedian Jerry Seinfeld, is connecting with believers through his upbeat, motivational approach to Christianity.
"I don't condemn," he says. "I don't believe in being judgmental. What I preach is that it is the goodness of God that leads people to repentance -- that's right out of the Bible. God has a good plan. It doesn't matter what we've done. We can ask for forgiveness and move on."
The message clearly resonates beyond Houston.
Osteen's weekly television show -- which airs three times a week in Central Florida, on WOPX-Channel 56 and WACX-Channel 55 -- is carried on six cable networks and in 150 countries, at an annual cost of $20 million. According to Nielsen Media Research, Osteen's broadcast is the highest-ranked inspirational program in the nation, based on average television viewers per market.
"He strikes me as very self-confident, and that seems to project across the airwaves," says Randall Balmer, professor of religion at Barnard College in New York. "He is similar to a young, up-and-coming corporate executive, a go-getter."
Scott Thumma of the Hartford Institute for Religion Research agrees.
"A lot of his success I attribute to his savvy understanding of the media and the technology," says Thumma, who studies megachurches. "There is a real media gift there," including knowing which markets, cable systems and time slots to buy for his show.
- Source: Fate put him in pulpit, Joel Osteen does the rest, Orlando Sentinel, Nov. 27, 2004.
At the biggest church in the country, Lakewood Church in Houston, Texas, Pastor Joel Osteen preaches to some 25,000 people each week -- and sin is not on the menu. Osteen said his goal is to "give people a boost for the week."
"I think for years there's been a lot of hellfire and damnation. You go to church to figure out what you're doing wrong and you leave feeling bad like you're not going to make it," Osteen said. "We believe in focusing on the goodness of God."
- Source: Religion Gets Supersized at Megachurches, by Amy C. Sims, FOX News, Feb. 3, 2005
The pastor once startled his own mother by exhorting the women in his congregation to shop at Victoria's Secret to improve their marriages. Last weekend, his glamorous musical director led four services in a hot pink coat and black spiky boots, stomping around the stage and singing the praises of Jesus in rousing, original rock sounds.
No one needed to know the words. The lyrics scrolled high above, across three gigantic screens, as a dynamic 10-piece orchestra and 100-person choir shook the church. The captivated flock of 8,000 stood singing for 30 minutes.
And then, not unlike in a Las Vegas production, the stars of this show bounded up to the pulpit of Lakewood Church. Pastor Joel Osteen and his wife, Victoria, were greeted like royalty.
Osteen is called "the Smiling Preacher," and he is perhaps the hottest commodity in the world of multimedia religion these days. His is the new face of Christianity, upbeat and contemporary, media-smart with a heightened sense of entertainment and general appeal.
The charismatic, nondenominational church he inherited from his late father six years ago has quadrupled in size, and today is the largest and fastest-growing in the country, welcoming upward of 30,000 visitors a week, according to Church Growth Today, a research center that follows church trends. Osteen's television broadcast is shown in every U.S. market, reaching 95 percent of the nation's households, and in 150 countries.
This summer, he will move his church into Houston's 16,000-seat Compaq Center, former home of pro basketball's Houston Rockets. The $92 million renovation is, Osteen says, "a leap of faith" that if he builds it, they will come.
All this from a man who dropped out of Oral Roberts University after one year and never received formal theological training -- although he does note that religion is the family business and he benefited greatly from on-the-job training. (He was ordained through his father's church in 1983.)
Osteen, 41, does not sweat or yell, or cry for sinners to repent. He preaches an energetic, New Age gospel of hope and self-help -- simple Scripture-based motivational messages, notably devoid of politics and hot-button policy issues.
- Source: 'The Smiling Preacher' Builds on Large Following, The Washington Post, Jan. 30, 2005.
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