For the first time since the COVID-19 pandemic ravaged the U.S., shutting down gatherings across the nation, Joel and Victoria Osteen are holding a night of hope and inspiration at Yankee Stadium — an event the duo hopes will bring “healing and wholeness” to the country.
In an interview with The Christian Post, Osteen, who with his wife leads Lakewood Church in Houston, Texas, said that the church has held Nights of Hope annually since 2004 — until the COVID-19 pandemic disrupted those plans.
“We never dreamed we'd have a break like we did,” the 59-year-old pastor said. “Once we stopped, I didn't know when we would come back. So when Yankee Stadium called us and said, ‘We have a date for you,’ it just felt right. It felt like God opened the door.”
Osteen said it’s no coincidence that the church’s first large-scale, in-person event in a while is going to be held at Yankee Stadium in New York City, one of the largest and most iconic venues in one of the most diverse cities in the country.
“I think it’s God’s way of saying, ‘Come back to hope, come back to faith, come back to church, come back to living again,’” he said, adding: “A lot of dreams have been put on hold, but hopefully we can inspire some people to believe again.”
This year’s event, held onAug. 6 at 7 p.m.,will feature music from CeCe Winans, Tauren Wells and the Lakewood music team, along with a message from the Osteens where the duo will “share what God has done in our lives, including how my mother recovered from cancer,” the pastor said.
“It's a night filled with inspiration. It’s about letting go of the old, getting ready for the new things God wants to do and believing for the goodness that God has for us,” he said. “We want to ignite people’s faith. A lot of times, we get weighed down with life, worry and stress, and we forget to breathe and believe that God has good things in store for us.”
Over the years, Lakewood's Night of Hope events have drawn thousands of attendees from around the county. Osteen estimated that about half of the people who attend the events hadn’t been exposed to church before, yet about 70% to 80% of attendees dedicate their lives to Christ at the end of the night.
“They stand for salvation even though they’ve never made a public declaration of faith before,” he said. “The ultimate goal is to make sure people know the Lord and have them take a stand for their faith. It’s a fun, upbeat night of inspiration.”
“When thousands of people get together — and they may not all know the Lord — but they're coming there because they're drawn to God, I believe that just creates an atmosphere for healing and miracles and salvation and new beginnings,” he added.
With more than 50,000 members, Lakewood is America’s largest church and one of the nation’s most racially and socioeconomically diverse.
Osteen, who has penned several New York Times bestsellers, has been criticized by some in the Evangelical community for preaching what they consider a watered-down Gospel. But according to the pastor, his message of inclusivity plays a role in the size and diversity of Lakewood.
“Lakewood was diverse when my father pastored, and when I took over 22 years ago, we continued those trends,” he said. “I think part of it is, we’re accepting of everybody. Part of it is, the message is not deep and theological — it’s theological, maybe not deep, but it’s something that everyone can understand, and it permeates with love for people and for God and not judging people.”
According to Osteen, over 50 nationalities are represented at every Lakewood service, along with everyone from “someone who took the bus to someone running a Fortune 500 company."
“It’s the hand of God,” he said. “I think it's a beautiful thing because it looks like the city of Houston. If you go to a Texas football game, you'll see the same makeup of people sitting in our church, and I think that's what it should be. I can't take credit for it. I don't know exactly how it happened. I just feel grateful and blessed to be a part of it."
Based on the diversity in his church, Osteen also shed doubt on statistics that say teenagers today are the most non-Christian generation in American history. He emphasized that “those statistics are not what I see.”
“We go to stadiums and basketball arenas full of people who love God that are coming to Christ, and many of them are young,” he said. “I think about that Scripture that says that the darker it gets, the brighter it’s going to be for the Church. This is the time to shine brightly.”
“I'm more excited now than ever because I never dreamed we’d see stadiums filled like this or the opportunities we see in the media, the ways we can impact people for Christ. It’s an impressive, unprecedented time, so when the negative gets amplified, I like to amplify what God is doing, and the good people are doing.”
Still, Osteen clarified he doesn’t have his “head in the sand,” acknowledging that social media has changed the way young people process the world around them, and it’s not always positive.
“It’s important that we reach them where they are, and I think that's why we have to be changing,” he said. “Not that the Gospel changes, but we’ve got to change the way we impact them. I try to keep my message simple and relevant and practical. When we take those steps and meet people where they are, it helps change people.”
“A lot of it, too, is when people see our example and see how we love people, they will know we are disciples. I think that's important, too, to love people and respect people.”
As the pandemic subsides, Osteen encouraged believers to gather together, highlighting the importance of community at a time when mental illness is at an all-time high, triggered by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“It's easy to isolate, and, when you isolate, it's easy to go into depression and discouragement — that anxiety just heightens,” he said. “I think when we come together in community, the way we were designed to, encouraging one another, loving one another — I think there's a healing and there's a wholeness that takes place. We weren’t designed to be ingrown and focused on ourselves, not having this community that we are able to touch and see their smiles and hear their voices.”
And through this year’s Night of Hope, Osteen hopes to bring a bit of that encouragement to a country desperately in need of healing. He compared the event to “rebooting your computer and getting the viruses out.”
“I hope that His people will be renewed in their faith, that people will come to know the Lord and then people will just be inspired to dream bigger, believe bigger, to take the limits off of God and live the abundant life God has,” Osteen said.
“In other words, I think we get weighed down by stress and worry and mistakes; we live in guilt and condemnation. I’m hoping this will be a fresh start for people, a new beginning, that they'll go out knowing that God is good, that He is for them, and He has a great plan for their life.”
Leah M. Klett is a reporter for The Christian Post. She can be reached at: email@example.com