Pastor Joel Osteen’s Lakewood Church in Houston, Texas, will reopen its doors for in-person services next month as the city continues to see a decline in COVID-19 cases.
On Monday, Osteen announced that on Oct. 18, the megachurch will resume in-person worship services at 25% capacity and require that all attendees wear masks.
“We have a very exciting announcement: We’re going to come back to in-person services on October the 18th. We can’t wait to see you guys. We’ve missed you the whole time,” the pastor said in a video message to the congregation.
He added that worshipers must sign up before services on the church's website, and people will have to practice safe social distancing.
Lakewood has remained shuttered since February due to ongoing lockdowns in response to COVID-19. However, the church has continued to hold worship in an empty chapel and stream the services online, via social media, satellite television, and SiriusXM.
“It is going to be so much fun to get together, to worship together,” Victoria Osteen said in the video. “We know we’ve been doing it online, but to be in the presence of God in the house — it is going to be phenomenal.”
On its website, Lakewood identifies measures the church has undertaken to ensure a more sanitary environment for church attendees in adherence to CDC guidelines, such as restroom and touchless upgrades; interior building air purification, and sanitizing high-traffic public areas.
“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,” said Pastor Joel Osteen. “We are moving forward carefully and will reopen in a steady, gradual manner. We have undertaken many effective safety precautions, as well, that are designed to create a safe environment for our members who wish to attend.”
The church’s announcement comes just days after Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner allowed the return of special events with a 25% capacity limit. Attendees are also required to adhere to strict guidelines including social distancing, mask requirements, answering coronavirus screening questions before entering venues, and a temperature check at entrances.
According to Turner, the COVID-19 positivity rate in Houston is continuing to decrease, standing at just 6.1% positivity rate compared to 6.6% last week.
Harris County Public Health announced Monday that among a population of more than 4.7 million residents, the county has seen "117,568 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Houston/Harris County and 1,578 [COVID-related] deaths. A total of 100,941 patients have recovered."
Over the last few months, churches have grappled with how to safely operate amid state closure orders and the lifting of regulations to allow for reopening.
Ed Young, founding and senior pastor of Fellowship Church — one of the first churches to re-open in Texas after Gov. Greg Abbott’s stay-at-home order expired — told The Christian Post that physical worship is important to God — “and so it should matter to the Body of Christ.”
“I want to applaud churches that are reopening and would encourage the ones who aren't to really think through why they aren’t reopening,” he said. “Something supernatural happens when we gather physically in a house of worship. I believe the risk of not coming together is greater than the risk of meeting."
Acknowledging that there are at-risk groups, Young highlighted the importance of providing “options” when it comes to worship.
“Options are important. I am very much a proponent of having different doors of the church open, whether they be physical doors or digital doors,” he said. “We want to show love to those who aren’t comfortable with meeting physically. That’s their prerogative.”